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Traditional Victoria Day anvil salute continues in New Westminster

Queen’s Park Stadium may have been closed to the public – but folks still found a way to watch the "cherished" anvil salute

The doors to Queen’s Park Stadium may have been closed, but some folks still found a way to watch a longstanding New Westminster tradition on Victoria Day.

The Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery continued its tradition of celebrating the reigning monarch and the memory of Queen Victoria at the annual anvil salute. The 21-shot anvil salute took place inside Queen’s Park Stadium at noon on Monday, May 23.

“It’s a tradition in New West. They have been doing this as long as I have lived here,” said June Witty who moved to New West in the 1980s. “It’s interesting. It’s something you don’t see. There are not many traditions left in life.”

Witty and other residents, young and old, watched the tradition from outside the chainlink fence around the stadium. Some folks could be seen climbing through shrubs to get an unblocked vantage point from where they could view the loud and smoky tradition.

A sign posted on the stadium doors stated: Due to COVID restrictions, this year’s Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery salute will be a closed event. The stadium is not open to the public.”

“If they don’t open it up to the public, they are going to fade into nothing,” said the woman, who did not want to give her name. “We like to come and sit – not stand in the bushes.”

Longtime New West Maura Boguski attended the event with her daughters and grandchildren. Her family came to New Westminster in 1874 – not long after the anvil salute began.

“I am just really pleased that we have it,” she said from the spot on First Street where her family found a spot to view of the anvil salute. “It would have been nice to have been able to go in.”

Jerry Dobrovolny, captain of the Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery, said there’s some question as to whether “continuous firings” occurred in the mid-1800s, but it’s been done continuously for well over 100 years.

“The only year they didn’t fire was 1901, the year that Queen Victoria died,” he said. “The battery set up but they stood at attention and were silent that year.”

The anvil battery kept its streak going throughout COVID by doing the annual salute on Victoria Day – but without an audience in Queen’s Park Stadium.

When the battery met in early 2022 to discuss this year’s event, it wasn’t sure what COVID protocols would be in place come May, Dobrovolny said, and felt the most prudent approach was to do the salute in a closed stadium rather than plan a bigger event and then have to scale back.

“It’s a volunteer group of limited capacity and limited means,” he said. “Our focus is keep the tradition going of the salute.”

Dobrovolny said dozens of people watched Monday’s anvil salute through the fence – something the battery recognizes is less than ideal.

“I feel badly and I apologize that people wanted to come into the stadium; we wanted them to come into the stadium too,” he said. “We know that it means a lot to people, and we hope that we can get back to normality, just like everybody is wanting to get to normality in so many different aspects of their lives. I know it was disappointing, and we completely understand.”

According to Dobrovolny, the group purchased insurance in 2021 and 2022 for a closed-stadium event, so that was a condition of its insurance. He said the decision to have a closed event had nothing to do with the City of New Westminster.

“We apply to the city; our application to the city was for a closed event,” he said. “It was the battery’s decision, and it was what we applied for.”

During the ceremony, members of the Ancient and Honourable Hyack Anvil Battery place gunpowder between two anvils, igniting it from a distance. When ignited, there’s a massive boom and the anvils blast apart.

New Westminster began doing the salute in 1859 in honour of Queen Victoria, who named the City of New Westminster after the part of the London where the parliament buildings are located – Westminster.

Dobrovolny said the anvil salute is a lot of fun and is a longstanding tradition in New Westminster.

“I think traditions are important, and I think all traditions are,” he said.

Dobrovolny noted the anvil salute is a tradition that has changed through the years and will continue to change in the coming years.

“We know that we are important to parts of the community – and we know parts of the community don’t know we exist,” he said. “We want to be representative and continue to evolve.”

During a strategic planning session a couple of years ago, historian Archie Miller discussed the event’s history, Dobrovolny said.

“It was interesting. Firing the anvils was something that was done similar to fireworks – it was a way of celebrating; so, similar to what we might do with fireworks today, they fired anvils. So, often when paddlewheeler or steamship coming in on the river, they would fire anvils to celebrate. A lot of the celebrations included First Nations,” he said. “So, I think it will be interesting to see how we evolve as a tradition. I think traditions need to continue to evolve to stay relevant. In one sense we want to maintain a certain aspect and in another sense to evolve and stay relevant in the current framework. That is one of the things we are interested in is looking at how we can continue to evolve and stay a cherished tradition in the city.”

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