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154 years and counting: May Day returns to New Westminster on May 25

May Day Community Association appeals to New Westminster for support for “longest-running May Day on Earth.”
The New Westminster May Day Community Association organized the city's 153rd May Day festivities in 2023.

Two longtime residents will be recognized when New Westminster’s 154th May Day festivities return to Queen’s Park in May.

Lorraine Brett, president of the New Westminster May Day Community Association, said the city’s longstanding tradition returns on May 25.

“The May Day Community Association will honour two wonderful individuals as honorary May Day ambassadors, and they are Evelyn and Don Benson,” she told council at its March 11 meeting. “Don is the poet laureate emeritus for the City of New Westminster and Evelyn has written two volumes of A Century in a Small Town.”

Don's poem, Queen of the May, has been read out at May Day for the last 25 years and will read, once again, this year’s event, Brett said.

At Monday’s council meeting, Brett said community members can support or participate in May Day in a number of ways.

  • Students in grades two to six can get their parents to sign them up for free dance classes, so they can learn and perform maypole and folk dances at May Day.
  • Children in Grade 5 and 6 can enter a draw to win the roles associated with May Day, such as the May Queen, the Royal Knights and the Royal Suite.
  • Community members can support May Day by attending a fundraising event on Thursday, April 4.

Scott Rains, who is a member of the association, urged the city to support May Day in New Westminster.

“We'd all like to thank council for the increase in funding which we received. We've seen an increase of $500 in cash, along with some shifting of our in-kind support,” he said. “However, unfortunately, the $3,600 of cash and in-kind support that we have right now from the city is just over half of what we received in 2020 and is roughly one- quarter of our operating budget.”

Rains, who was chair of the association’s youth committee last year, believes the city could be putting more money towards May Day, which he called a “definitive symbol” of New Westminster for 153 years. He said more than 100,000 children have participated in the event through the decades.

“It's also been given patronage by our former Queen, by governor generals, by prime ministers, by premiers, by the many First Nations chiefs, and by community members of all creeds,” he said. “I think council can attest to, even today, May Day’s cultural reach and its importance in the community.”

May Day was first held in New West in 1870, when Nellie McColl was crowned New Westminster’s first May Queen.

After a two-year hiatus because of COVID-19, the New Westminster May Day Community Association held its first May Day celebration in Queen’s Park in May 2022. It took over the role of organizing and hosting the event, after the school district decided it would no longer be involved in May Day after 2020.

In that short time, the program has grown, Rains said.

“And we're only getting started,” he said. “It is our aim to include even more groups in this year's program and highlight the cultural richness of New Westminster and of our diverse community today though we need greater support from the city to do this.”

Rains listed some of the ways the City of New Westminster could support May Day, including:  recognizing “May Day's unique position as a definitive part of New Westminster's culture, identity and history”; participating in May Day; providing more funding for the event; and providing assistance with storage of May Day memorabilia, which are currently stored in one of the association member’s garages.

“I think it's important for us to recognize history and to recognize some of our longstanding traditions like May Day and not cast them aside or in the corner, or not recognize them,” said Coun. Daniel Fontaine. “I think it's important for all of us, especially as elected leaders, to continue to support May Day into the future.”

Fontaine said he’s “seeing a lot of activity” about May Day in Port Coquitlam, and Poco Mayor Brad West is all over social media “endorsing” May Day. He questioned if that’s the type of promotion the local group would like to see from members of city council.

Rains said Poco and other Lower Mainland cities have seen a resurgence in their May Day traditions. He said those events were inspired by New Westminster’s event which is the “longest-running May Day on Earth.”

“I think the city could certainly take more of an interest in it,” he said. “I honestly see it aligned with some goals in terms of culture and identity of the city.”

(Note: The date for the fundraiser has been changed from the date that was originally provided to city council.)