Spotlight on Chemainus
Spotlight on Chemainus
The Cowichan Valley is nestled in the middle of southern Vancouver Island and includes the historic lands of the native Quw’utsun people from whom it takes its name. The word “Quw’utsun” itself comes from a word in the Hul’q’umi’num language which means “to warm one’s back in the sun”. Residents of the Cowichan Valley are blessed with the warmest year–round temperatures in Canada which is why the area is known as “the Warm Land.” Chemainus is one of the many picturesque little towns in this area.
Chemainus is right on the eastern shores of Vancouver Island and has a permanent population of about 4,000 people.
A Brief History
Like many towns on Vancouver Island, Chemainus has roots in the native indigenous peoples and is named after a shaman and prophet “Tsa-meeun-is” which means “broken chest”. According to legend, Tsa-meeun-is became a powerful chief after surviving an arrow to his chest in battle. His people became the Stz’uminus First Nation, taking his name in tribute.
In 1858, Chemainus was founded as a logging town. The railway came through in the 1880s bringing European settlers and the area continued to grow and thrive. However, the forest industry declined towards the middle of the 20th century and in the 1980s its large sawmill closed, replaced by a smaller mill. It was around this time that local business people, in particular, Karl Schutz, decided to revitalize the town and try to draw in tourism dollars. The mural project was born!
Those Fabulous Murals
Chemainus is probably best known today for its unusual “living murals”. The 53 large scale murals cover the sides of buildings, some as tall as two stories, and were commissioned to showcase the town’s history and culture.
Dozens of artists have lent their talents to the mural project since its inception in 1982. Each painting tells a story visually using colourful, realistic figures in detailed settings. The murals include depictions of life from the town’s historic logging and mining industries, as well as local wildlife and marine life, and important community events.
Visitors come from around the world to stroll through this “living museum” celebrating the legacy of Chemainus. Guided walking tours allow participants to learning about the stories behind each of the murals and examine them up close.
The “Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest” mural covering the side of a building near the main street shows whales, bears, and eagles and is a popular favourite. Another is the “Chemainus Valley” mural, which portrays the town’s lush green forests and rolling hillsides. The Festival of Murals Society maintains, restores, and adds murals and artwork to the outdoor art collection.
Aside from saving the town’s economy by attracting tourists, the Chemainus murals preserve its history and legacy for the future, and are an enormous source of pride to the town’s residents.
The Chemainus Theatre
The Chemainus Theatre Festival presents a variety of plays and musicals throughout the year at its beautiful white domed, award winning, building. Past productions include The Importance of Being Ernest and Mama Mia! This season will feature a fantastic selection of musicals, comedies, mysteries, and thrillers. There is something for everyone! The theatre has a full dining room and a beautiful gift shop displaying the work of more than 100 artisans including pottery, paintings, prints, jewelry, clothing, glass, wood, books, and sculptures.
Want to Explore Other Options?
Chemainus may be small but there is plenty to do and see. The town is home to a thriving arts scene, with several galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists. There are a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as several parks and beaches. Take a stroll through Waterwheel Park, which has a working waterwheel built in 1912, head over to Kin Beach Park for a picnic and a swim, take in a round of golf at the 75 year old Mount Brenton Golf Course, or check out the Chemainus Valley Museum to learn more about this fascinating town and its heritage.
For the outdoorsy, hiking and camping in the surrounding forests and mountains of Chemainus will reconnect you to nature’s majesty. Nearby Mount Brenton offers views of the Gulf Islands and is a popular with hikers and mountain bikers. The Chemainus River and Fuller Lake are also great places to go fishing or kayaking.
Whether you are interested in art and culture, outdoor adventures, or enjoying the small-town vibe, Chemainus is charming and unique destination for visitors to the Cowichan Valley.