Will the real Government House please stand up?

There are a number of items with historical connections in New Westminster that seem to be hard for many citizens to keep straight, and this can lead to errors in the local story of this community. One of these is Government House.

Government House, built during the early 1860s, was the formal home for the governor or lieutenant-governor in the early colonial period, and as New Westminster was the capital of the Colony of B.C. this home was here.

First of all, where was Government House? The building was in the same area as the site referred to as the camp of the Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers. That site was where the B.C. Penitentiary used to be, and today where the Fraserview housing development is situated – inland from Sapperton Landing Park.

When you look at photographs of the Royal Engineers’ camp, overlooking the Fraser River, Government House is the large formal structure located on the left side of the camp – a very prominent, large, high-gabled, light-coloured house. In time, this building was enlarged and a tower feature added, but the location stayed the same.

This building, though not used as a government house for very long, filled various roles in the city for many years. A May Day or two used the grounds, Sir John A. Macdonald and his entourage visited, and some CPR officials held meetings there, but eventually, run down and empty, it was demolished in the winter of 1888/89.

So now, where wasn’t Government House? Although there have been a few suggestions that this building was a structure on the asylum grounds, or one of the warden’s or B.C. Pen staff houses, or even a large mansion on the hill above Queens Avenue, these are incorrect and fortunately isolated comments.

Two other suggestions have been noted as being Government House. One building suggested was the large white house that used to be on the B.C. Penitentiary land near Columbia Street at the southeast corner of the Pen property. The other was the current, large stone mansard-roofed structure halfway up the hill on lower Richmond Street. Neither of these was Government House; both were associated with the B.C. Pen – the latter being the first penitentiary building.

The building we refer to as Government House used to be in the general area of today’s Royal City Manor, between Jamieson Court and Columbia Street.

© New West Record