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Nanaimo, British Columbia

Why Visit Nanaimo?

Nanaimo is the gateway to scenic central and northern Vancouver Island, including Parksville, Courtenay, Campbell River, Port Alberni, Tofino, and Ucluelet. Nanaimo has ferry access to both Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) and Tsawwassen (Delta)

Visit Nanaimo BC

Nanaimo Bay
Nanaimo is Vancouver island’s second biggest city, with a population of 76,000. It lies on the Trans-Canada Highway #1 about 110 km N of Victoria, 85 km E of Port Alberni and 210 km E of Tofino on scenic Hghway 4, and up Island Highway #19: 110 km SE of Courtenay

Killer Whale sculptures, at Duke Point Ferry Docks
Highway 1 from Victoria leaves Vancouver Island at the northern end of the downtown waterfront at Departure Bay to BC Ferries to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver (watch for Highway signs marking “Departure Bay and Trans-Canada Highway 1”) , and at southern end of the waterfront at Duke Point to Tsawwassen / Delta (watch highway exit for “Duke Point” and Island Highway 19). There is also a passenger-only HarbourLynx high speed ferry that leaves right from downtown, You can also catch a ferry to Gabriola Island, which lies just offshore.

Nanaimo History

The city was originally the site of five Native villages who called the gathering place “Snenymo” or “great and mighty people”. The harbour was discovered by Spanish Captain Narvaez in 1791, and was visited a year later by Captain George Vancouver. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s discovery of coal in the area in 1851 helped the town grow quickly, and in 1874 it incorporated to become BC’s third oldest municipality.

The tiny community safeguarded itself against attack by building the Bastion in Nanaimo’s boat basin. Completed in 1853, it served as a storage space, a defence arsenal, and a clerk’s office. It was used for running the township, with cannons at the ready.

Nanaimo waterfront & condos
Unfortunately, in the 1930s, the importance of oil led to coal’s decline. In 1911 the Japanese established a settlement on Newcastle Island that included a successful ship building factory three herring salteries and a cannery, which packed salted herring for shipment to the Orient. A spectacular and controversial fire destroyed the settlement in 1960.

Duke Point & Departure Bay Ferries Sign
By 1938 mining was replaced by logging as the major industry in the region, and a pulp and paper mill was constructed near Duke Point,and Nanaimo’s economy has since diversified evn further. Nanaimo is now known as the “Harbour City”. With two dozen parks nestled around two harbours, the city has one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country. The heavy industries that once dominated Nanaimo’s waterfront are moving to locations away from downtown.

Annual Events

Festival

Date

Details

Chinese New Yearlate JanuaryNanaimo District Museum
Nanimo Beer Festivalearly AprilBeban Park
Vancouver Island Festival for Young Audiencesmid Mayvarious locations
Empire Days Celebrationlate MaySwy-A-L:ana Lagoon, downtown
Canada DayJuly 1Maffeo Sutton park, downtown
Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festivalmid JulySwy-A-L:ana Lagoon, downtown
Bathtubs & Ballyhoo Street Fairmid JulyCommercial Street
Bathtub Racelate JulyNanaimo Harbour waterfront
Seafood Chowder Cook-offearly AugPioneer Plaza
Vncovuer Island Exhibitionlate AugustBeban Park
Annual Casns Food Festivalearly SeptemberOld City Quarter 250-754-8787
Infringing Dance Festivalmid Septembervarious locations, downtown
InGST Film Festivalend OctoberThe Bay Theatre
Wine Festivalend OctoerBeban Park
Festival of Treesend NovBeban Park
Vancouver Island-Highway 4 with bend and Cliffs
Vancouver Island-Highway 4 with bend and Cliffs

Nanaimo Attractions

Noon Gun at Nanaimo's waerfront

Harbourside Walkway

This 4 km long walkway between Harbour Park Mall and Departure Bay Terminal gives views of Newcastle, Protection and Gabriola Islands. The walkway passes the Bastion and the Nanaimo District Museum as well as several park areas.

The Nanaimo Museum

100 Museum Way
250-753-1821
website

Discover Nanaimo^s fascinating history & modern day contributions to Canada^s West Coast in our 1,486 sq m (16,000 sq ft) museum located in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. Stroll through time in our main gallery to get a sense of what life was like for Nanaimo^s earliest settlers & hear stories of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. Feel what it was like below the surface in our replica Coal Mine exhibit. The museum also manages the Bastion, an original Hudson^s Bay Company outpost built in 1853.

The HBC Trading Post in Nanaimo's harbour

The Bastion

corner of Bastion and Front Streets
250-754-1631
Website

The Bastion, built in 1853 as an original Hudson’s Bay Company outpost is now a museum that gives great insight into the way of life a century ago. Historic cannons are fired daily at noon throughout the summer.

Historic Buildings

around downtown
250-754-8787

The Nanaimo Courthouse was built in 1896, the Palace Hotel in 1889, and Bygone Books in the 1911-vintage Dakin Building.

Island Roots Farmers Market

in Beban Park (May-Oct),   2300 Bowen Rd, Nanaimo, BC V9T 3K7
inside the Centennial Building (Oct-May)
250-753-9900
April – October
website

Nanaimo’s Only Year-Round Farmers’ Market operating every Wednesday from 3:00pm-6:00pm in Beban Par

Maffeo Sutton Park and Swy-A-Lana Lagoon

100 Comox Rd, Nanaimo, BC V9R 3H7
(250) 756-5200
website

This saltwater lagoon creates an interesting marine habitat beside this park, often used for the site of harbourside festivals. The park also has a concert pavillion, playground, and several totem poles, and stunning waterfront views.

Nanaimo Casino

620 Terminal Ave
1-877-GREAT-18
website

Late-night casino featuring table games & slot machines, plus a restaurant & regular entertainment.

Saysutshun – Newcastle Island Provincial Park

668 Centre Street, Nanaimo, BC V9R 4Z4
1-866-788-6243
website

Newcastle Island became a Provincial Marine Park in 1961, after the city of Nanaimo acquired the island from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1955. Take the hourly paddlewheel passenger-ferry to the 750 acre provincial park on Newscastle Island has 18 km of trails for cycling or walking (inlcuding a 7 km trail following the shoreline). Swimming, bird watching and camping are also activities in this park.
Fares: Adults $7.00, Children & Seniors $6.00, Family (Mom, Dad, Children 12 & under) $20.00, Bikes $2.00,
Children under 4 ride free, and well-bahaved & leashed dogs ride free.

Float planes are constantly taking off at Nananimo to service the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast

Seaplane Terminal

at the north end of downtown
website

Along the walkway toward Fisherman’s Wharf. There is also Lighthouse Bistro, which looks like a lighthouse. Area “A” is in the inner harbour adjacent to the W.E. Mills Landing and Area “B” is in Departure Bay adjacent to the BC Ferry Departure Bay Terminal.

Spider Lake Park

Hwy 19, Nanaimo C, BC
(Just off the Horne Lake Road)
(250) 474-1336
Website

This is a smaller day-use park with fishing (its stocked with small mouthed bass and trout), a sandy beach ideal for kayaks and canoes. No motorized craft allowed on this lake. The warm water of Spider Lake is noted for its excellent canoeing, kayaking and swimming and the park is perfect for a quiet family outing.

Vancouver Island Military Museum

100 Cameron Rd, Nanaimo, BC V9R 0C8
(250) 753-3814
website

This museum showcases Vancouver Island military traditions, with an impressive collection of military memorabilia and artifacts from the War of 1812 right through to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. Open Monday to Saturday.

Nanaimo, British Columbia Area Map

Nanaimo Area Experiences and Tours