Canadian Genealogy

The cemeteries of New Westminster, BC, from the BC Pen to Woodlands, and the ones under the high school

[Updated 29 Sep 2020 – See BC Pen below.] On the weekend, I had the pleasure of engaging in a conversation about cemeteries with a group of friendly folk in the Facebook Group Canadian Genealogy. (You know you’re a genealogist when…) We had a conversation about the “old Chinese cemetery” in New Westminster (New West) that is now located under New West High School.

I grew up in Burnaby / New West. I have spent dissolute years smoking illicit cigarettes near that high school, heard the stories, and yet I’ve always been fuzzy on the exact details of which cemetery was where. Here’s a map of the Burnaby / New Westminster area.

Here are my questions:

  • What is the actual name of the cemetery?
  • What were the boundaries of the cemetery?
  • What years was the cemetery in operation?
  • Generally speaking, who was buried there?
  • Are there any records?
  • What are the other cemeteries in the area?

To answer these and other questions I contacted the New West Archives, the BC Genealogical Society, and a few other people, then did some googling based on the answers I got back. See Sources at the end of this post.

It’s funny how finding a cemetery can turn into a genealogy story.

What is the name of the cemetery under New West High School?

There are 5 cemeteries. This might help explain some of the confusion. When I started googling, I used the term “Douglas Road.” Little did I know this is a catchall name for five cemeteries, none of which were actually called “Douglas Road.”

NameYears in operationNotes
New Westminster Public Cemetery1861-1907~5 acres of land
Old Chinese Cemetery1892-1909Developed by the city’s Chinese Benevolent Society (CBA); south of original cemetery area
Potter’s Field1892-1907Burial ground for the 12-bed smallpox hospital
Douglas Cemetery1908-1920~4 acres, 2 each for the asylum and City of New Westminster
New Chinese Cemetery1909-1914The “old” Chinese cemetery being full, ~2 acres leased to the CBA, who improved the land with a $1000 investment; lease cancelled by City in 1914
List of the cemeteries on the site of the New Westminster High School. All information from the 2017 Golder Associates report. See link at Sources below.

What were the boundaries of the cemeteries?

Roughly, they were Eighth Avenue to Tenth Avenue, and then a little over half the area from Eighth Street to Sixth Streets, including North Field. Here is a rough map. For a much better map which clearly lays out the cemetery locations, see the Golder Associates report noted in the Sources below.

The boundaries of the 5 cemeteries, superimposed over a current map of the area.

Who was buried there?

The following institutions and groups used the cemeteries (all located in New Westminster, unless otherwise noted):

  • City of New Westminster, for the poor and for the smallpox patients
  • the Public Hospital for the Insane aka Woodlands Psychiatric
  • New Westminster Gaol
  • BC Penitentiary, 1878-1980
  • Royal Columbian Hospital
  • Holy Trinity Parish (Anglican)
  • Methodist (Wesleyan)
  • St. Andrew’s (Presbyterian)
  • St. Peter’s (Roman Catholic)
  • New Westminster Masonic Lodge
  • Chinese
  • Oakalla Prison Farm, Burnaby
  • Essondale Hospital aka Riverview Mental Hospital, Coquitlam

Are there records for the “Douglas Road” Cemetery?

Okay. Let’s for argument’s sake call the collection of five cemeteries under New West High School “Douglas Road.” Are there any records? The answer is: none I’ve found so far. And for the Chinese cemeteries, old and new, the theory is that all bodies buried there were exhumed for bone repatriation.

New Westminster Area cemeteries

Because I have so often been confused about cemeteries in the area, I thought I might compile a quick list here. In addition to and including the above 5 cemeteries, here are cemeteries active, inactive, and virtual:

BC Penitentiary (BC Pen)

[Update 29 Sep 2020] I had a lot of interest on this post, and want to thank everyone who wrote with tidbits and info. I learned that the cemetery’s headstones listed only the prisoner numbers. Now, thanks to work done by the New Westminster Archives, those numbers have been cross-referenced with names in this document. (Click on the image to see it full size, 111850 x 5400.) Huge note of appreciation to the archives, both for doing the work, and for giving me permission to share it with you here.

BC Penitentiary Cemetery, New Westminster, BC V3L 5T2 Accessed 9 Sep 2020 at Google Maps

For a 1978 photo, see Boot Hill at BC Penitentiary, New Westminster Archives.

CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project, BC Penitentiary (Boot Hill), Accessed 9 Sep 2020.

Find A Grave, Old British Columbia Penitentiary Cemetery. Website. New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. About 90 memorials online.

Douglas Road Cemetery (Old Chinese, New Chinese, New Westminster Public, Douglas, Potters Field)

For a 1902 photo, see Gravestone in Douglas Cemetery, New Westminster Archives.

CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project, Old Chinese Cemetery. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. No listings.

CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project, Douglas Road Cemetery. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. No listings.

Find A Grave, Douglas Road Cemetery. Website. 10th Avenue and Eighth Street, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. This is the subject of this blog post. No listings.

Essondale (Valley View, Riverview) Cemetery, Coquitlam

Essondale, now called Riverview Hospital, is not in New Westminster, but the next district over in Coquitlam. It’s a 15″ drive east. I include it here because it is of keen interest to genealogists.

Find A Grave, Essondale Virtual Cemetery. Website. New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. A virtual cemetery space for “all who are related or have attended, been in, contributed to” Essondale. About 50 memorials.

Find A Grave, Riverview Hospital Cemetery, aka Essondale Hospital Cemetery, aka Valley View Cemetery. Website. Coquitlam, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. About 980 memorials online.

Fraser Cemetery

For a 1932 photo, see Fraser Cemetery, New Westminster Archives.

BillionGraves, Fraser Cemetery. 100-128 Richmond Street, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. ~700 listings.

BillionGraves, Fraser Cemetery. Richmond Street, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. ~1200 listings. Not sure why BG has two records for Fraser Cemetery, but check both.

British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid Version 2 (BCCFA). Website lookup. Copyright 2009 by Ron Demaray. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. Use the location “New Westminster” and “Fraser”, “St. Peter’s Catholic”, Schara Tzadek” to find some 15K names.

Find A Grave, Fraser Cemetery aka International Order of Oddfellows (IOOF), aka Fraser View Cemetery. New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. Run by the City of New Westminster, circa 1869. About 15K memorials online.

Pioneer Cemetery

CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project, Pioneer Cemetery. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. At the corner of Dufferin and Agnes Streets. No listings. Cemetery possibly predates the Douglas Road Cemetery. No listings.

Saint Peter’s Cemetery

See map of Fraser cemetery, above, showing St. Peter’s to the left.

British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid Version 2 (BCCFA). Website lookup. Copyright 2009 by Ron Demaray. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. Use the location “New Westminster” and “Fraser”, “St. Peter’s Catholic”, Schara Tzadek” to find some 15K names.

Find A Grave, Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Cemetery. Website. 150 Richmond Street, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. Established 1880, about 3700 memorials online.

Schara Tzedeck Cemetery

For a 1984 photo, see Schara Tzedeck Cemetery, New Westminster Archives.

BillionGraves, Schara Tzedeck Cemetery. 2345 Marine Drive, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. ~400 listings.

British Columbia Cemetery Finding Aid Version 2 (BCCFA). Website lookup. Copyright 2009 by Ron Demaray. Accessed 9 Sep 2020. Use the location “New Westminster” and “Fraser”, “St. Peter’s Catholic”, Schara Tzadek” to find some 15K names.

Find A Grave, Schara Tzedeck Cemetery. Website. 23435 Marine Drive, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. Established 1920s, about 1100 memorials online.

Woodlands Cemetery / Memorial Gardens

Map of Woodlands Memorial Gardens, Memorial Dr, New Westminster, BC V3L 5E8, from Google Maps. Accessed 9 Sep 2020.

Dead and buried: what became of the cemetery at Woodlands? Website. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. A project by Michael de Courcy, this site includes extensive information about Woodlands, including a lookup table of listings and a map of each grave. I can’t tell but it appears Mr. de Courcy has mapped the entire cemetery. ~100K names.

Find A Grave, Woodlands Memorial Garden, aka Woodlands Cemetery. Website. McBride Boulevard, New Westminster, BC. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. Old cemetery no longer taking burials. About 3100 memorials online.


So there you are. As with so much in genealogy, I learned a lot in writing this post, and I came up with about a dozen more questions I’d like to answer. Genealogy truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

A view of New Westminster from the Fraser River circa 1865. Photographer unknown. Source: Photograph courtesy of the New Westminster Public Library. [http://www.nwheritage.org/database/heritage.php?operation=Display&id=2002]. See [http://www.nwheritage.o

Sources

British Columbia Genealogical Society. British Columbia Cemeteries. PDF Indices. PO Box 88054, Landsdowne Mall, Richmond, BC, V6X 3T6. Website, member access. Accessed 8 Sep 2020.

The Graveyard Rabbit of British Columbia. A graveyard rabbit geneablog by M. Diane Rogers. Accessed 9 Sep 2020.

Golder Associates, Archaeological Impact Interim Report, 12 Jun 2017. PDF, 119 pages. Golder Associates, 200-2920 Virtual Way, Vancouver, BC, V5M 0C4. Accessed 8 Sep 2020. Background information, Section 4.0, pages 5-15; maps PDF pages 56-62 and particularly Map: Historical cemetery drawing overlays PDF page 59. Appendix B, PDF pages 92-94: Cultural and institutional groups affiliated with specific cemetery areas.

New Westminster Museums and Heritage Services, New Westminster Archives. Website. Accessed 8 Sep 2020.

New Westminster Public Library. 716 6 Avenue, New Westminster, BC, B3M 2B3. Conversations by email with Liz Hunter, Coordinator of Digital Learning.

New Westminster Record, Cemetery back to haunt new school? 4 May 2016. Article. Glacier Community Media, The Record, 201A-3430 Brighton Avenue, Burnaby, BC, V5A 3H4. Accessed 8 Sep 2020.

New Westminster Schools, School Board Office No. 40, New Westminster Secondary School Replacement Project. Website. 811 Ontario Street, New Westminster, BC, V3M 0J7. Accessed 8 Sep 2020.

Chinese in North America Research Committee (CINARC), Reburial: exhuming the dead and returning them to China. Website. PO Box 10909, Bainbridge Is., WA, 98110. Accessed 8 Sep 2020.

Old graveyard, New Westminster, BC. About 1902. Image courtesy of the New Westminster Public Library Heritage Database. Photo thought to be the Dufferin Street Cemetery although captioned “Old graveyard now site of Lester Pearson High School, 8th Street.” Accessed 8 Sep 2020 at http://www.nwheritage.org/database/heritage.php?operation=Display&id=177.

Thank yous

I am indebted to the extensive work done by Golder Associates in their review of the history of the land use of the high school site. The siting of the high school and its proposed expansion was and is controversial, and the detailed archaeological analysis was very helpful in my understanding. Any mistakes made in this post are mine alone, and at no time do I mean to demean the high school.

Also thanks to the BC Genealogical Society and its members, the New Westminster Archives, the New Westminster Public Library, and the members of the Canadian Genealogy Group on Facebook, who inspired this post.

3 thoughts on “The cemeteries of New Westminster, BC, from the BC Pen to Woodlands, and the ones under the high school

  1. You have done a lot of research. Archie MILLER, with the new Westminster Historical Society, was able to help me find my 3x great grandfather, William WOODMAN. a shoemaker, who died in 1868 and was buried under the high school, at the top end, I gather. Just before his wife, Mary Ann PUGH) died in 1870, after a stroke, she admitted to her daughter that she had put away $50.00 and wanted her husband moved to be by her in the new Anglican Cemetery. But that was not enough for poor William, for his daughters, staunch Methodists, all three, were upset that he was in an Anglican Cemetery and had a letter written by James CUNNINGHAM, a previous mayor, to New Westminster’s Treasurer, in 1898, asking for William to be exhumed and re-buried in the IOOF part of Fraser Cemetery, and there he lies to this day. James, the husband of one of the daughters, hints in the letter, that he would never make such a request for his own parents, So, William WOODMAN’s death date, on the tombstone, is much earlier than the creation of the Fraser Cemetery

    1. I am so, so thankful you have taken the time to share William’s story here. What a story! We tend to think of a person’s story as ending with their death but this is not the case in all instances, clearly. Thank you again for showing us how a tombstone’s date of death could predate the cemetery’s origins.

      A friend of mine at the BC Genealogical Society has offered to connect with Archie. I wait with anticipation!

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