Step into the past—and future—in New West

The 2023 Heritage Homes Tour is happening on Sunday, May 28

L to R: the exterior of the home at 1022 Seventh St., and a bedroom at the same location.

If you’ve ever dreamed of walking into your own MTV ‘Cribs’ episode—or just want to know what some of those older New West houses look like on the inside—your opportunity is en route.

On Sunday, May 28, Heritage New West will be hosting its 41st annual Heritage House Tour, which will feature a stunning line-up of 12 houses. Some of the featured styles include Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Early Cottage and Edwardian.

“[The tours] started in 1980 in response to the demolition of a lot of beautiful heritage old homes in New Westminster to make way for new homes, but it wasn't thoughtful. And the group thought that if they could show people these homes, and educate them, inspire them to see what architectural gems they really are, then they might rethink [demolition],” explains O’Connor, adding that these tours have been done for more than 40 years, with the exception of a three-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part of the reason why some of the homes have been well-preserved for so long, according to Heritage New West director Catherine Hutson, is ironically due to some hard years in the city.

“There was a period where we lost the title of ‘The Golden Capital.’ What we had on Columbia St. [was] great shopping—everyone came here to shop. But things changed, malls were introduced in the suburbs, and we lost allure.”

Hutson says it was common for people to look at the older houses in New Westminster—during the late 70s and early 80s—as an option to purchase.

“[During that time] a group of preservationists came. They knew housing [here] was cheap, they were inspired by some of the shows on TV in the United States—like This Old House—and they started this movement [in New West], one house at a time,” explains Hutson, adding that many of the folks who moved here then were not considered rich at the time—though she notes that someone who owns a house in the current day and age might be considered, relatively speaking, in a better financial position.

“My husband and I had heard about [people moving to New West to fix up old houses], and we lived in Vancouver at the time,” explains Hutson, adding that they eventually made their way to the city to do much of the same.

For her, it’s intriguing to see something that happened 30 or 40 years ago happening again.

“This tour, I've seen a shift, there are younger people, and they're [in their] 30s, they’ve bought [old] homes in the city. They want to do more HGTV-like stuff: you know, modern stuff inside, but keep [the structure of] the old house.”

Adds O’Connor, “One of the things I remember [a homeowner] saying was, that you keep the the period part of it, but you can build in behind the walls all the functionality at today. Really, it's a win-win for everybody, you get this aesthetic charm, but you also get something that works for today.”

A brief look at the city’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement

One of the ways in which older structures in New Westminster can be retained is through the city’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement. (HRA) HRAs offer owners protection in exchange for meeting certain requirements.

So, what are some examples of what allows a home to qualify as eligible under an HRA?

  • It should have character-defining elements that contribute to its heritage value. The elements can include but are not limited to materials, spatial configurations, as well as cultural associations or meanings.

  • Qualifies to be listed on and/or is found on the community heritage register.

  • Conservation work must take place to preserve the historically significant structures/parts in question. The owner and developer have to prove there is a plan in place to do that. At the end of the work, the city will check to ensure that the work satisfies the parameters of the HRA—though the policy notes that compliance with the HRA policy does not necessarily give you an iron-clad guarantee of HRA approval.

  • Currently in New West, there should be a plan in place to develop an HRA with the idea of generating more housing options, especially as the region experiences a housing affordability crisis. We’ve seen plans like this outlined during council meetings: one of the most recent examples includes the restoration and preservation of the Thomas and Stella Sincock house ato 806 Eighth St.

Essentially an HRA should allow for a balance between the interests of the public—within the realm of history and culture—while also ensuring people have places to live.

“We've got a couple of homes on the on the tour that have gone into HRAs. And so they had other newer buildings built on their property while still keeping the house, so contributing to that idea that we’re building thoughtful density in New West,” says O’Connor. “We can show—[we] don’t tell—that it counts as much today as it did back then.”

One of Hutson’s other favourite parts of the tour? The chance to experience the inside of other people’s homes—whether for curiosity or encouragement.

“It's just really kind of cool to go into a house and go, ‘oh, I love this original [item], I love that,’ and, ‘what's that paint color?’ You can go away and do it at your own,” says Hutson. O’Connor says they also request, where possible, that homeowners leave out swatches and other relevant items so people are inspired.

“I think really the most important thing about this tour is—and I’m very protective [of our city]—we moved here in 1989 and I had friends saying, ‘why would you move to New Westminster, blah blah blah.’ But they would come out on tour day, and say, ‘wow. We had no idea,’” Hutson explains proudly, adding that it’s just another way to showcase how overjoyed folks are living here.

If you’d like the opportunity to tour these 12 heritage homes, you’ll need to make a purchase online, then present that receipt to the ticket and brochure pick-up location representatives at Royal City Colours, located at 700-12th St. You can also purchase a ticket and program in-person—with cash—at Royal City Colours. Proceeds go towards the costs of creating the programs, and is also used to raise funds for the work done by Heritage New West, which is a registered charity.