There is always considerable interest in the story of the Columbian Methodist College that used to operate in New Westminster. People on walking tours of the Queen's Park area are often surprised to learn that this sizable institution used to stand where College Court is today - on First Street between Third Avenue and Queens Avenue, facing Queen's Park Stadium.
Members of the local Methodist Church, then situated on lower Sixth Street near Carnarvon, began to plan for such an educational facility in the late 1800s. The college began in the basement of the church, as well as in some homes of local Methodists. In time it needed a permanent home and, through the Edmonds family, acquired a house and land, developed a complex of buildings and became a viable educational resource.
The institution operated until the mid-1930s, when a combination of factors, not least of which was the new university that was growing rapidly at Point Grey, the University of British Columbia, caused it to close its doors. There are local stories of the demolition of the buildings, people acquiring a souvenir table, desk, chair, podium and so on, while a feature or two remain - one of which is part of the "swimming tank."
Many people who did not attend the school still remember the site and structures. They talk of the landscaped grounds and the grass tennis courts, the gymnasium in which they played badminton, the meeting rooms in which they attended various discussions and presentations, and even the large banquet and formal functions that made excellent use of the college's facilities.
Some of the early photographs of the Queen's Park exhibition buildings owe their elevated view of the park's structures to the fact that the photographer was able to take his camera equipment to the top of a college building or two, most often the former Edmonds home. An area resident remembered that whenever something new happened in the park, professional photographers would come by to see about making use of an upstairs window or balcony.
One of the items most commonly available from Columbian College days is the school calendar, a booklet that told of the college, its scholastic offerings, its social and cultural amenities, and so on. Many people have these, as do libraries and archives, and they provide a fascinating glimpse into the school. Photos of the site are also available, and postcards of the college were a standard Royal City souvenir.
The background story of the school, how it came about and why it ended will be described at the New Westminster Historical Society on Wednesday, Oct. 19, starting at 7: 30 p.m. in the auditorium of the public library.
Guest speaker Eric Damer, an educator with an interest in this college, will present some fascinating information from his research into its operation.