Spotlight on Nanaimo

Just north of the Cowichan Valley and occupying a prime position on the shores of the Salish Sea along the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, Nanaimo stands as a testament to the beauty and charm of the Island’s coastal communities. With its breathtaking natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and vibrant community spirit, Nanaimo offers a diverse array of experiences for residents and visitors alike. From its picturesque waterfront to its historic landmarks, Nanaimo captivates the imagination and invites exploration.

Nanaimo is surrounded by lush forests, rugged mountains, and pristine waters. The city provides a wealth of recreational opportunities, from kayaking and sailing to hiking and wildlife watching. Mount Benson rises 1,006 meters (3,300 feet) over the region providing hiking opportunities through its 292 hectares of forest land. Outdoor enthusiasts are drawn to destinations like Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, Protection Island, and Neck Point Park, where they can immerse themselves in the region’s natural splendor.

Nanaimo’s History

Far beyond its scenic landscapes, the city boasts a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Indigenous peoples such as the Snuneymuxw First Nation, a tribe of the Coast Salish people, have inhabited the area for millennia. These deep roots are celebrated through cultural events, traditional practices, and the preservation of archaeological sites, ensuring that Nanaimo’s Indigenous heritage remains an integral part of its identity.

European exploration and settlement began in the late 18th century when British and Spanish explorers arrived on Vancouver Island’s shores. Originally founded as Colvilletown around a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, it was named after Andrew Colvile, a Scot who served as governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1852 to 1856. In 1860 the settlement was renamed Sne-ny-mo from an Indigenous word meaning “a big, strong tribe”.

Coal Mining in Nanaimo

The city’s development accelerated with the discovery of nearby coal deposits in 1849 by local Indigenous people. This coal formed the first known large deposits on the west coast of North America. Since the type of coal found here was ideal for steam production, mining provided steady employment and settlers flocked to the area. The first ship to be loaded with coal was the Cadboro in September 1852.

The establishment of mining operations lead to the growth of a thriving community. Coal was mined in and around Nanaimo from 1852 through to the 1950s. During this time, over 50 million tons of coal was extracted from the mines.

Today, remnants of Nanaimo’s coal mining heritage can still be seen throughout the city, from the iconic Bastion, a former Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, to the Coal Tyee Trail, which winds its way through the forested hillsides once dotted with mineshafts and miner’s cottages. These historical sites serve as poignant reminders of Nanaimo’s industrial past and the resilience of its early settlers.

Nanaimo is Hub City

Nanaimo is often referred to as “Harbour City” but it is also known as the “Hub City” as its streets fan out from the harbour resembling the spokes of a wheel.

The city boasts a vibrant cultural scene, including art galleries, theaters, and festivals that showcase local talent and creativity. The Port Theatre, with its striking architecture and diverse programming, serves as a focal point for performing arts in the region, while the Nanaimo Museum offers insight into the city’s past through engaging exhibits and interactive displays.

Culinary enthusiasts will also find much to savour in Nanaimo, with a burgeoning food scene that highlights fresh, locally sourced ingredients and a wealth of culinary influences. From cozy cafes serving up artisanal coffee and baked goods to waterfront restaurants specializing in seafood delicacies, Nanaimo’s dining options cater to every palate and preference. Visitors can indulge in Nanaimo’s eponymous treat, the Nanaimo bar, a decadent dessert consisting of layers of chocolate, custard, and coconut, which has become a beloved Canadian confection.

Gateway to Wine Country

Nanaimo serves as the perfect gateway to explore the burgeoning wine region of the Cowichan Valley, known as “The Napa of the North,” which is just a short drive south along the scenic Island Highway.

Wine Tasting Tours offer visitors departing from Nanaimo a leisurely, scenic journey through the Cowichan Valley, stopping at charming wineries and vineyards along the way. Here, they can indulge in tastings of award-winning wines, including varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Ortega, all cultivated in the valley’s unique microclimate.

Nanaimo Bathtub Races

Yup! You read that right! Ever since the first race in 1967, Nanaimo has been home and host to the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race and Nanaimo Marine Festival. The 58 km race is taken seriously, in a fun way, by bathtub enthusiasts! There is an entire weekend of fun and activities planned each year for all comers.

Bathtubs aside, Nanaimo prides itself on being a gateway to Vancouver Island. It’s an ideal base for exploring the surrounding region. Whether embarking on a day trip to the nearby Gulf Islands, venturing into the rugged landscapes of Strathcona Provincial Park, or taking a scenic drive along the Pacific Marine Circle Route, adventurers will find no shortage of excursions to embark on from Nanaimo’s doorstep.

Whether you are an adrenaline junkie into ziplining or bungy jumping, or just looking to enjoy a day of sipping on wine and enjoying tasty treats, there is truly something here for everyone.