On a sunny Sunday afternoon, a group of people gathered on the lawns of New West’s historic Irving House, having cupcakes, taking photos, and sharing conversations.
All of them are descendants of Captain Irving, the renowned 19th century riverboat captain who built the 14-room house in 1865, for all of $10,000.
Irving, who was called the ‘King of the Fraser River,' moved to the colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver Island during the Fraser Gold Rush in 1859 — about 10 years after the California Gold Rush, and around the time when New Westminster was just declared the capital of the colonies.
The captain, his wife and their five children would have lounged in the same garden 150 years ago, where his oldest living descendant, Grant Irving Briggs (Briggs' great-grandmother Mary Irving, who was Captain Irving’s daughter, married Thomas Lasher Briggs, hence starting the Briggs family line) and his wife Jeannette decided to have their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations.
“I remember being a little shaky,” recalled Briggs of his wedding day — June 30, 1962.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” said his wife. On the morning of the wedding day, she was put on a bus from Maillardville to New Westminster to get her hair done, she recalled. Her bridesmaid had put a little lipstick on her, she remembers distinctly.
She was 16; he was 21.
Reminiscing the good old days in New West
Sixty years have passed, during which the couple has changed several homes, raised two sons and a daughter and watched the world around them change significantly.
But, said Briggs, “Westminster has probably changed less than any other community in the Lower Mainland because it was surrounded by communities that had more space.”
“Burnaby is now heavily populated. Vancouver too. That's why they say Surrey is going to be bigger than Vancouver,” he added.
Growing up, Briggs had heard people say that one day, the entire region from Vancouver to Hope would become a big urban community. “And you can see that happening now with the new structures and traffic on the freeway… It was never like that.”
After their wedding, the couple lived in New Westminster for several years before moving to 100 Mile House in 2004.
In New West, the couple recalled going for dinners at the White Spot on Sixth Avenue and 12th Street, shopping at the Woodwards department store on Sixth Street (now permanently closed), and grabbing a hamburger for $0.21 from a drive-in on Kingsway.
“It was 35 cents for a gallon of gas in the '50s,” recalled Briggs, who used to work as a truck driver.
Their kids went to Lord Kelvin Elementary School in New Westminster — the same school that Briggs went to.
He was a student at Vincent Massey Junior High School; and part of the first batch of students at Lester Pearson High School in the 1950s. The two schools would later become New Westminster Secondary School, which shut its doors in 2020.
Irving House, the family home
Briggs was around 10 years old when he visited the Irving House for the first time. “I didn't ever live here, I only visited once or twice.”
The historic home was the residence of his great-great-grandparents Captain Irving and Elizabeth Irving, and his great grandparents Mary Irving Briggs and Thomas Lasher Briggs. It is where his grandfather, Thomas Albert Briggs, grew up, and his two aunts Naomi Spencer and Manuella Octavia lived till 1950 when the house was sold to the city of New Westminster.
It's the oldest intact house in the Lower Mainland and is New Westminster’s first official heritage building. It has been recognized by the Canadian Historical Association and BC Heritage for its contribution to the region’s rich history.
For Briggs, it was a family home where he visited his two aunts as a child. “I remember looking around the house and it was just… it was their home. I never thought of it in terms of how we are thinking about it today.”
Today, it's a historic treasure — a heritage building that preserves every nook and cranny the way Briggs' great-great-grandmother knew it in the 1880s.
Irving House is located on 302 Royal Avenue.
Written by Naveena Vijayan
Video by Abhinaya Natesh