The Hyack Story
New Westminster has a rich history dating back to 1859 when it was selected as the first capital of the new colony of British Columbia and officially named by Queen Victoria after her favourite part of London.
The official naming by the Queen gave New Westminster its nickname ‘The Royal City” and recognition for being the first city in Western Canada. Probably for that reason, a custom was begun in early days which has survived right up to the present time …… a 21-gun salute to the Monarch on Victoria Day each year. And therein lies a story.
It seems that New Westminster’s volunteer firemen were a lively lot back in the 1860’s. They called themselves the Hyack Fire Company – “Hyack” being a Chinook word which meant ‘hurry up”. Up until 1870, the Army had fired the yearly salute to the Queen, but their cannon was no longer available, and the salute was about to be abandoned.
The Hyack Fire Company members, many former Royal Engineers came to the rescue. One of the volunteers recalled having seen gun powder being put between two anvils and fired off. Blacksmith and later Mayor Thomas Ovens, one of the original Hyacks, donated two of his anvils and after many bruises and burns, the experimenters succeeded in perfecting a method of producing controlled explosions. That ceremony endured for many years as the Hyack Anvil Battery Salute.
Since 1971, the New Westminster Hyack Festival Association has organized a wide range of major family oriented events and programs to help preserve the city’s history and traditions.
The Hyack Festival Association Board of Directors has seen many prominent personalities involved in all the historical activities, and each committee has taken great pride in their work.