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The New West

January 12, 2015

The novel I’m working on at the moment is steeped in British Columbian history, which is full of the sorts of Wild West imagery we’re used to getting from California and Arizona. You know, cowboys, indigenous peoples, missionaries, prospectors, wagon trains of settlers, burlesque dancers, and, because this is Canada, fur traders. The capital of the Crown Colony of British Columbia*, distinct from the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island even though they were headed by the same guy, was New Westminster. (Newwest, if you’re local.) It’s now a rather nice second-tier city with a decently preserved historical district, which I, in the name of research, visited last summer. I wanted to see what, if any, of the colonial-era buildings were left.

Yes! Some! And one of the ones I was kind of hoping for, too.

May I present to you the first New Westminster courthouse?

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the Old Courthouse in New Westminster

I really should have gotten a shot from the next block up, without the building in the way. Sorry about that. Here it is back in the day.

Anyway, this courthouse. I am kind of thrilled, because it ties into one of the legends that kindled my novel and because of Matthew Baillie Begbie. I know Begbie mostly from childhood visits to Barkerville, where I was regaled with (probably heavily sensationalized) stories of the Hanging Judge, and from Begbie Summit, a point on Highway 97 not far from where I grew up. I need to do some actual research into Begbie at some point, because he was likely involved in most of the law and order stuff I’ve run into from the colonial and early provincial eras, and because he sounds like a pretty interesting fellow just from the Wikipedia page. (I’ve also heard he spent a lot of his time drunk, but that could be malicious rumours or false memories. Again, research needed.)

That last bit does make this next picture, taken a couple blocks away, rather amusing, though.

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Wonder what he’d think of that.

One last bit of trivia: This is the street sign nearest to the courthouse.

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I mean, really. You can’t make this stuff up.

That’s Alexander Mackenzie, the Official First White Man To Cross North America. Note the “official” there. There is, um… more on that another time. Mostly I’m showing you this photo because surely there’s something I can do with the conjunction of those names—and to revel in the Canadian-ness of it all. It’s so Canadian it has crowns!

 

British because Queen Victoria was ultimately in charge; Columbia because of the River, and hoo boy is there a lot of stuff to unpack as to why the Columbia and not the Fraser or the Thompson or any of the others.**

** Another time

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