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New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society goes all out for its 40th anniversary

It’s shaping up to be a memorable year for the 2019 New Westminster Heritage Homes Tour.

It’s shaping up to be a memorable year for the 2019 New Westminster Heritage Homes Tour.

This year’s tour celebrates the 40th anniversary of the New Westminster Heritage Society, which formed in 1979 to address the plight of heritage homes in the city and held its first homes tour in 1980. This year’s tour, which has a theme of The Ties That Bind, is on Sunday, May 26 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“They formed the heritage society in 1979 in response to all the heritage homes that were being torn down in New West at the time and being turned into boarding houses. They were falling into decrepit shape. They thought, here is a way to raise awareness that these heritage homes are worth preserving and not tearing down, that they do contribute to the community and the esthetic appeal and the economy,” said Nancy O’Connor, a director with the society. “It does put us on the map.”

In the years since, thousands of people have descended on New Westminster each spring to tour local homes. The society believes this year’s tour will be its most exciting event yet.

“We wanted to do something really special for the 40th anniversary of the society,” O’Connor said. “We had done a survey after the last tour to find out what are people interested in. They said they would like a place to stop during the tour. Things like food trucks kept coming up, and a beer garden or a wine garden. Those kinds of things.”

This year’s anniversary tour is about more than houses, with other features including three 45-minute guided walking tours led by Stephanie Watts of New Westminster and Vancouver Walking Tours and Ghostly Tours.

“She tells these stories in such a compelling way. That’s why we wanted someone who is a professional to lead a walking tour of the neighbourhood – those can get pretty dry,” O’Connor said. “This one is an unhaunted tour, but I think because she is so engaging it’s going to be really neat.”

Tour tickets holders and members of the public are invited to take in all the action of a “heritage hub” in Tipperary Park, where they’ll find a booth highlighting the society’s 40-year history, a curated exhibit of photos and period pieces highlighting remarkable women from New Westminster’s past, a wine and beer tasting with Steel & Oak Brewing and Pacific Breeze Winery and food kiosks.

The 11 venues on this year’s tour include Holy Trinity Cathedral and Irving House, as well as nine homes from a variety of architectural styles including Queen Anne, Edwardian, a West Coast mid-century modern and a California mid-century modern, a Shingle cottage, a British-influenced arts and craft home and loft conversions in the police station/former Canada Post building on Columbia Street.

The New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society is thrilled that “the Ballet House” is back on this year’s tour – this time from the basement to the attic. The prominent Queen’s Park house was the longtime home of Josephine Slater, who ran a dance studio from her house at the corner of Third Street and Third Avenue.

Built in 1906 by hardware merchant Herbert Thomas Kirk, the H.T. Kirk House was Slater’s home and ballet school. After buying the house in January 2009, Jennifer Crews and Lee Cowley began a massive restoration of the home and opened the main floor to the tour in 2013.

“That was pretty neat in itself, but this time you get to see the second floor with all the bedrooms,” O’Connor said. “The Crews have the whole home decorated pretty much to period. It’s quite spectacular.”

Sherri Summers, home tour volunteer coordinator, has created a guided tour of the 7,000-square-foot home that will take 30 minutes and be led by “heritage characters” from the house’s history. Six New Westminster Secondary School drama students will be dressing up as H.T. Kirk, his daughters Elsie and Dora, Slater and others during the tours, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

“They will be dressed up, they will have scripts and they will be acting in character. We will also have volunteers from the heritage society there, who know these houses almost better than they know their own. They will be there to help support, answer questions, things like that. It really will be a neat experience,” O’Connor said. “The ballet house will be open all afternoon.”

For this year’s tour, 1,000 tickets will be available, with 336 of those tickets being earmarked for one of 12 times to tour the Ballet House. Tickets are $35 or $25 for members at, with in-store ticket sales starting April 18 at Royal City Colours at 700 12th St.