Aldyen Irene Hendry was the longest living, richest, and most influential New Westminster May Queen.
Ms. Hendry lived for 103 years and had a life full of events. She was a May Queen, married a British Columbia Lieutenant Governor, donated a park, owned precious paintings, rubbed shoulders with British royalty, created a foundation, and held one of Canada’s most luxurious houses.
Aldyen Irene Hendry was born in New Westminster, on April 16, 1885, to John Hendry and Adeline McMillan. Mr. Hendry was a prominent lumberman for many years and owned the Hastings Saw Mill in Vancouver. He was one of the first people to own a car in the city.
For her education, Aldyen attended St. Ann’s Academy in the Royal City, Annie Wright School in Tacoma, Washington, and finishing school in Germany.
41st May Queen
While studying at St. Ann’s Academy, the organizers of the 1901 May Day crowned Aldyen as the May Queen when she was 16.
The crowning of the May Queen is one of the key elements of the event, alongside the honour guard of boys and children dancing around the maypoles.
New Westminster’s May Day festival began in 1870, and it originates from the fertility and pagan rituals of spring in pre-Christian England. The ceremony has evolved with time, but the essence and historical parts remain unchanged. Today it is an essential community tradition, giving the city the merit of having the oldest May Day celebration in the British Commonwealth.
Aldyen and Eric Werge Hamber, her future husband, met in Vancouver and became engaged in London when he travelled to open a branch of the Dominion Bank.
The young couple had decided to return to Vancouver to get married once Eric finished his job in England. But at the last minute, they changed their plans and resolved to stay in England for a while longer. It was a providential change since the intention was to travel on the Titanic!
Eric and Aldyen got married in London on May 14, 1912.
On May 1, 1936, Eric became Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, in which position he was until August 29, 1941, achieving considerable popularity.
John Hendry Park
John Hendry Park is the real name for a 67.5-acre recreational park and lake (also known as Trout Lake Park). The field is in what was once one of Vancouver’s first lumbering operations in the late 19th century. Aldyen and Eric donated the land to the Vancouver Parks Board in 1926 to honour her late father, John Hendry.
Antiques Roadshow is a British television program broadcast by the BBC. The program shows how antique appraisers travel to various regions to appraise antiques brought in by local people.
Its Canadian version, Canadian Antiques Roadshow, has always uncovered excellent material. And the most valuable item found on the show (at least until 2005) was a painting that obtained $336,500 at a Sotheby’s auction in London.
The painting is called Eastward Ho! by Henry Nelson O’Neil. Painted in 1858, it represents British troops embarking a ship to fight in India and their families saying goodbye to them.
Eric Hamber bought the painting in London in 1912. When he died in 1960, Aldyen gave the picture to a close friend, who auctioned it in London in 2005.
The Vancouverites at that time knew the close relationship of the Hambers with the British royalty. On May 12, 1937, Eric and Aldyen represented British Columbia at the coronation of King George VI in London. Later, in May of 1939, the Hambers received King George VI and the Queen Mother Elizabeth at Government House in Victoria. According to the British Columbian, September 7, 1982, when the future Queen Elizabeth married in 1947, the Hambers were the only Canadians to be special guests.
In 1964, Aldyen donated $1 million to create the Hamber Foundation, a charitable trust to honour her husband’s memory.
Mrs. Hamber guided the Foundation until 1971. That year, at age 86, she delegated the direction to a board of volunteer administrators who assumed control and allocation of the Foundation’s assets.
When Aldyen died in 1988, she donated a part of her estate to a large number of charities. The Hamber Foundation received the remaining assets.
The Hamber Foundation offers grants for cultural, educational, and charitable purposes within British Columbia. Since 1965, the Foundation has distributed more than $12 million through the province.
The Most Expensive Property in Canada
The Calgary Herald described in 2016 the house located in 3838 Cypress Street, Vancouver, as follows:
Sure, it’s the most expensive property in Canada, but you get three homes on four strata lots for the price — four! That’s like only a little more than $11 million per lot. Who can’t afford that? Heck, if you’re tight for cash, you can rent out some of the 17 bedrooms — with 23 bathrooms and six kitchens, there’s more than enough room for guests. Bonus feature: the real estate agent’s video says it has a heated driveway — you know, for all that snow Vancouver gets. List Price: $44,999,000.
The house was built in 1912 in the First Shaughnessy development, considered the most prestigious residential neighbourhood in Vancouver. Eric and Aldyen bought the house in 1913, and then they named it Greencroft. Its architect is unknown.
The heritage plaque outside of the home reads:
Renowned for their entertaining, the Hambers hosted guests such as Louis St. Laurent, Franklin D. Roosevelt, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth. In 2001 the house and landscaping were protected as part of the heritage revitalization of the property.
The Hambers lived at the house until 1960, the year when Eric died.
End of an Exciting Life
Aldyen lived her last years in her house on Pine Crescent in Vancouver with the help of many nurses and orderlies, plus her secretary, cook, gardener, and housekeeper.
Mrs. Hamber died on October 3, 1988, in Vancouver, at 103 years. She was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, sharing a crypt with her husband, Eric.
The Hambers did not have any children.
Special thanks to Oana Capota, curator of the New Westminster Museum, for editing this text.
About the Author
Jorge Luis Alonso has been a volunteer at the New Westminster Museum since August 2019. He loves to write about the history of the cities where he’s been. Jorge lives with his wife by Irving House.
Caldwell, Linda. “Pioneer May Queen Now in 97th Year.” British Columbian, September 7, 1982.
Community History Resource. “Trout Lake.” (accessed February 17, 2020).
Darbyshire, Peter. “Nine out of the 10 most expensive homes in Canada are in B.C. — and worth more than $300 million.” Calgary Herald, April 20, 2016.
“Death Comes to Former Governor” Vancouver Sun, January 11. 1960.
Hainsworth, G., Freund-Hainsworth, K. (2005). A New Westminster Album: Glimpses of the City As It Was. Dundurn; Canadian First edition.
Mackie, John. “The Canadian Antiques Roadshows unearthed a $330,000 painting in Vancouver two years ago, raising expectations for this month’s B.C visit.” Vancouver Sun, May 12, 2006.
Royal BC Museum, Genealogy. “Registration of Death: Hamber, Aldyen Irene.“ (accessed February 17, 2020).
Royal BC Museum, Genealogy. “Registration of Death: Eric Werge, Hamber.” (accessed February 16, 2020).
The Hamber Foundation (accessed February 17, 2020).