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North America > Canada > British Columbia > Vancouver Island > Central Vancouver Island > Nanaimo

Nanaimo

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Nanaimo as seen from nearby Newcastle Island

Nanaimo is the central hub city of Vancouver Island in BC, Canada. It is the second largest city on the island and has the second biggest harbour. In many ways it is the smaller cousin of Victoria. Like much of Vancouver Island it has moved from being primarily an industrial town to a tourist city that attracts a large number of retirees from the rest of Canada.

Understand[edit]

The Indigenous peoples of the area that is now known as Nanaimo are the Snuneymuxw. An anglicised spelling and pronunciation of that word gave the city its current name.

The first Europeans to find Nanaimo Bay were those of the 1791 Spanish voyage of Juan Carrasco, under the command of Francisco de Eliza. They gave it the name Bocas de Winthuysen.

Nanaimo began as a trading post in the early 19th century. In 1849, the Snuneymuxw chief Ki-et-sa-kun ("Coal Tyee") informed the Hudson's Bay Company of coal in the area. Exploration proved there was plenty of it in the area and Nanaimo became chiefly known for the export of coal. In 1853 the company built the Nanaimo Bastion, which has been preserved and is a popular tourist destination in the downtown area. Coal mines were established in the Nanaimo harbour area.

The gassy qualities of the coal which made it valuable also made it dangerous. The 1887 Nanaimo Mine Explosion killed 150 miners and was described as the largest man-made explosion until the Halifax Explosion. Another 100 men died in another explosion the next year.

An internment camp for Ukrainian detainees, many of them local, was set up at a provincial jail in Nanaimo from September 1914 to September 1915.

In the 1940s, lumber supplanted coal as the main business although Minetown Days are still celebrated in the neighbouring community of Lantzville.

Chinatowns[edit]

Nanaimo has had a succession of four distinct Chinatowns. The first, founded during the gold rush years of the 1860s, was the third largest in British Columbia. In 1884, because of mounting racial tensions related to the Dunsmuir coal company's hiring of Chinese strikebreakers, the company helped move Chinatown outside the city limits. In 1908, when two Chinese entrepreneurs bought the site and tried to raise rents, in response, and with the help of 4,000 shareholders from across Canada, the community combined forces and bought the site for the third Chinatown at a new location, focused on Pine Street. That third Chinatown, by then mostly derelict, burned down on 30 September 1960. A fourth Chinatown, also called Lower Chinatown or "new town", boomed for a while in the 1920s on Machleary Street.

Climate[edit]

Like much of coastal British Columbia, Nanaimo experiences a temperate climate with mild, rainy winters and cool, dry summers. Nanaimo is usually shielded by the mountains of central Vancouver Island, so that summers are unusually dry for its latitude and location—though summer drying as a trend is found in the immediate lee of the coastal ranges as far north as Skagway, Alaska.

Heavy snowfall does occasionally occur during winter, but the mean maximum cover is only 0.2 metres (7.9 in).


Nanaimo
Climate chart (explanation)
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See the Nanaimo 7 day forecast at Environment Canada
Imperial conversion
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Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation+Snow totals in inches

Get in[edit]

By boat[edit]

Most travellers to Nanaimo will arrive from Vancouver. BC Ferries operates car ferries to Nanaimo from Tsawwassen (South of Vancouver) to Duke Point in Nanaimo, and from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay. These ferries run about every 2 hours and the Horseshoe Bay route is by far the more scenic. The ferry ride is approximately 1 hour 40 minutes long. It costs about $47 for a car and $15 per person each way for the ferry. Reservations are never required, but recommended for vehicles during peak travel times. There is a $20 charge for reservations.

Greyhound Canada

Greyhound Canada has announced that it will terminate all services in Western Canada and Northern Ontario at the end of October 2018.

The Departure Bay ferry terminal is served by Nanaimo Regional Transit to Nanaimo. Greyhound Canada (+1-800-661-8747) operates a coach service from Vancouver that meets the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay Ferry. The cost is $22 plus ferry fare and is timed to meet every ferry departure.

By plane[edit]

Seair and Harbour Air operate float plane service from downtown Vancouver and Richmond (YVR) into Downtown Nanaimo. Seair flys the De Havilland Beaver and the Cessna Caravan and operates from a terminal near the Departure Bay ferry terminal. Harbour Air operates the De Havilland Otter and operates from a larger terminal on the downtown waterfront. Harbour Air services operate hourly from about 7AM to 6PM and Seair operates less frequently. The cost is about $55. Seair flights using Beavers are small planes heavily used by business travellers so reservations are recommended. From May through September, Kenmore Air also offers daily scheduled seaplane service from Seattle to Nanaimo.

  • 1 Nanaimo Airport (YCD IATA), 3350 Spitfire Rd., Cassidy, +1 250-924-2157, fax: +1 250-245-4308. Air Canada Express operates air service from the Vancouver and Calgary airports to the Nanaimo airport. The cost to add this onto an Air Canada flight into Vancouver or Calgary is often minimal. Westjet also operates flights from Calgary to Nanaimo. The Nanaimo airport is about 20km from downtown Nanaimo. Nanaimo Airport on Wikipedia Nanaimo Airport (Q64833) on Wikidata

By car[edit]

Travellers may also come to Nanaimo from Victoria. It is about a 90 minute drive from Victoria.

By bus[edit]

There are inter-city bus services serving Vancouver Island including Nanaimo. See link.

Get around[edit]

There is a transit system in Nanaimo, but it is not particularly convenient for getting around much of the city. If you plan on using it, make sure you know the schedule. Otherwise you can spend a long time waiting at a bus stop.

If arranged ahead of time, cars can be rented at the downtown harbour, Departure Bay ferry terminal or the Nanaimo airport.

See[edit]

The Bastion
  • Bathtub Racing - An annual race of bathtubs that have been converted into boats and race through the harbour of Nanaimo
  • Swy-a-lana Lagoon Park Swy-a-lana is a saltwater lagoon that makes use of the tide's natural ebb and flow, creating a home for marine life. An arched foot bridge crosses the lagoon, leading to Maffeo Sutton Park, where you'll find a sandlot playground, a fishing pier, picnic tables, benches and grass fields. Both Swy-a-lana and Maffeo Sutton Parks offer commanding views of the waterfront, Gulf Islands, and coastal mountains.
  • Nanaimo seawall -- a pedestrian walkway that winds along the waterfront from Cameron Island to the Nanaimo Yacht Club. Visitors especially enjoy the section of the seawall near the Bastion, where craft shops and restaurants dot the path.
  • The Bastion. 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. Admission is by donation.
  • Pioneer Plaza -- at the foot of Bastion Street, you'll find markers for a self-guided walking tour of the downtown core.
  • Nanaimo Museum, 100 Museum Way in the heart of downtown. Covers Nanaimo's history & modern day contributions to Canada's West Coast in the 1,486 sq m (16,000 sq ft) museum in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. Stroll through time in the 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 the replica Coal Mine exhibit. The museum’s feature exhibits change three times a year and exhibit everything from vintage undergarments to shellfish to the history of radio in Canada. Adults $2, seniors/students $1.75, children $0.75, and children under 5 are free.
  • Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival. An annual 3-day event held in Maffeo Sutton Park. Over 70 teams and 1,400 participants take part in this annual event.
  • Departure Bay Beach. There is a small park for the kids just south of the main beach. Dedicated swimming area during summer months.

Do[edit]

Newcastle Island
  • Bungy Jumping, TreeGo and Ziplines. Summer: daily 10AM-6PM. Check website or call for off-season hours.. At WildPlay Element Park (formerly known as the Bungy Zone). (About 10 km south of town) North America's first permanent legal bungy jumping site. TreeGo aerial tree course $20-40, bungy jumping $100.
  • Camping/Hiking on Newcastle Island. Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park offers spectacular trails through beautiful forests and along its wild coastline. The island used to dig coles in the back days, and many historical places are left to see as well. A 10-minute ferry ride from downtown.
  • Scuba diving. Nanaimo has world famous cold water scuba diving.
  • Nanaimo River.

Buy[edit]

Nanaimo is the largest city that can be easily accessed by most of Vancouver Island. As leaving the Island to do shopping is expensive and time consuming, Nanaimo has become the shopping centre for Vancouver Island. According to a 1990 Time Magazine article, it has more square meters of retail space per capital than any other city in North America. Much of this shopping is in the large number of malls and big box retailers on the outskirts of the city. However, most of the interesting shops are in the downtown core.

Eat[edit]

  • The Green Olive, 150 Skinner St (downtown Nanaimo), +1 250 716-0030. All dishes are made to serve 4-6 people, and as a result, makes this place the most affordable gourmet restaurant for groups, with entrees averaging $22.
  • Gina's Restaurant, 47 Skinner St, +1 250 753-5411. A Mexican restaurant in a bright pink building on the hill in downtown Nanaimo. Excellent food $10-15 for an entree.
  • A number of good inexpensive Vietnamese restaurants are in Nanaimo. And a fine Vietnamese sandwich shop is a block away from Malaspina College.
  • Acme is a more modern restaurant lots of fun and awesome food!
  • Discovery Room is a secret fine dining restaurant hold inside of Vancouver Island University (known as Malaspina University-College)
  • La Famiglia Ristorante Italiano, #1-321 Wesley St, +1 250 591-1321. 11AM-10PM. Open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. They provide a casual lunch, offering panini, soup, salads, and pastas. Dinners are served in a candle lit setting, with traditional Italian favourites such as veal parmigiana and chicken cacciatore. $10-20.

Drink[edit]

  • The Old City Station, 150 Skinner St. Has excellent drink specials every day, 20 beers on tap, as well as live music on weekends. It's huge, has a dozen flat panel TVs, aesthetically pleasing, and the menu is excellent because it shares a kitchen with a gourmet dining restaurant, The Green Olive.
  • 1 Power House Living Foods (Power House Living Foods), 200 Commercial St (Downtown Nanaimo). 10AM-6PM. Organic raw vegan foods in downtown Nanaimo. In a city with very limited selection and high food prices this might be an option you want to explore. $10-15.

Sleep[edit]

Painted Turtle Guesthouse
  • Bev and Sandy's Place, 2734 Camcrest Dr, +1 250 758-4983, +1 250 616-2636 (cell), e-mail: . Check-in: 4PM or by arrangement, check-out: 10AM. A two-room B&B offering personal service. On the northwest side of town. Accept cash or cheqe but not credit cards. Most pets welcome. $55/night one person, $65/night two people; discounts for weeklong stays.
  • Buccaneer Inn (Buccaneer), 1577 Stewart Ave (3 blocks south of Departure Bay Ferry Terminal), toll-free: +1-877-282-6337. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. The Buccaneer Inn features comfortable, plush beds with down duvets in a separate bedroom, full kitchen facilities, ensuite bathrooms, full coffee and tea making facilities, games and books basket and local art all in a spotlessly clean room. Free wireless internet and free use of the front desk laptop, secure gear storage for scuba diving gear, dive gear rinse station, storage facilities for bikes and kayaks, BBQ deck. AAA 2 Diamond and Canada Select 3.5 Star accommodation. Across from 5 restaurants and pubs including waterfront dining. Beautiful walk along Harbourside Walkway to downtown. Central Nanaimo location; great for seeing all of southern and central Vancouver Island including Victoria, Tofino, Oceanside, Chemainus and Comox Valley. $60-199.
  • Coast Bastion Inn, 11 Bastion St, +1 250 753-6601, toll-free: +1-800-716-6199, fax: +1 250 753-4155. An upscale hotel in the heart of downtown Nanaimo. $145-275/night.
  • Graycliff Cottage Bed and Breakfast, 7550 Lantzville Road, Lantzville (Just follow the Department of Highways' B&B signs), +1 250 390-3203, toll-free: +1-888-801-1822, e-mail: . Check-in: Between 3:30PM-6PM or by arrangement, check-out: 11AM. From your bedroom window, your deck, or the hot tub, watch eagles, seals, sea lions, cruise ships, or beautiful sunsets. Or take a quiet walk along the secluded beach. All suites self contained and include: Private exterior keyed entrance; Queen size bed with down duvet; Ensuite bath; Cable TV & VCR; Small refrigerator & coffee bar with complimentary coffee, teas & hot chocolate. Fresh full breakfast served every morning in the dining room overlooking Georgia Strait. Wireless high-speed internet available. From $103 Double occupancy. $20 extra per person.
  • Painted Turtle Guesthouse, 121 Bastion St (corner of Commercial and Bastion Streets downtown), +1 250 753-4432, toll-free: +1-866-309-4432, e-mail: . A simple but friendly hostel aimed square at the backpacker set, in the heart of downtown Nanaimo, around the corner from The Old City Station Pub, and The Green Olive: Nanaimo's Premier Shared Dining Experience. Rooms are free of phones or televisions, but free wireless internet covers the hostel. Double room $75/night for two people, Dorm bed $25.25/night; less in off season.

Go next[edit]

Nanaimo is a hub city for the island, as such it provides good access to a number of locations on the island.

Ladysmith, along the Trans-Canada Highway to the southeast, is a picturesque tourist town.

It is about a 3-hour drive to Tofino and Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park.

North of Nanaimo is Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.

The beaches of the Parksville-Qualicum Beach region are a short 20-minute drive from Nanaimo. This region also includes Coombs, offering some wonderful rustic and exotic shopping and this is where you find the goats on the roof. It's a favourite spot for locals and an excellent stop for tourists. It's about a 30-minute drive from Nanaimo.

Routes through Nanaimo
VictoriaLadysmith  S BC-1 (TCH).svg E  → ferry → West VancouverVancouver
Campbell River / Tofino (via BC-4.svg)Parksville-Qualicum Beach  N BC-19.svg S  END


This city travel guide to Nanaimo is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.