The city of Nanaimo has a rich and vibrant history. Home to the Snuneymuxw First Nations for thousands of years, the place now known as Nanaimo was one of the first places in British Columbia to see substantial European settlement. Today, On This Spot is sharing this history as part of the nation-wide initiative of Culture Days. We are featuring three of our self-guided walking tours that explore different neighbourhoods and locations within Nanaimo.
In our first tour, we will journey along Nanaimo’s harbour walkway, discovering how this stretch of waterfront has shaped Nanaimo’s history and provided livelihoods for the people who have called this place home. We will begin with the Snuneymuxw, the First Nations people who have lived and fished here for thousands of years, and then explore how coal first drew Europeans here. We will also take a look at Nanaimo’s two other main industries, fishing and lumber, and the city’s close connection with America. Finally, we’ll see that the harbour isn’t just a place of economic activity but a place of recreation and fun. As the harbour has gradually shaken off its industrial roots, it has evolved into the beautiful and appealing place we know today. This thirteen-stop tour starts outside of the Port Theatre at Front Street and Museum Way and then journeys along the waterfront to the W.E. Mills Landing & Marina and McGregor Park. From there, it loops back onto the waterfront and travels northwest to Mafeo Sutton Park.
For an exciting journey out of town, take our Newcastle Island walking tour. Travel to this island by passenger ferry from the Mafeo Sutton Ferry Dock and learn about the history of this unique island. Newcastle Island is today a 756-acre Marine Provincial Park given over to leisure: camping, walking, biking, and bird-watching. The land is part of the Snuneymuwx First Nation’s Traditional Territory, and traces of their ancient culture can be seen all along the water’s edge—in shell middens and in the old traces of bark-stripped cedar trees, particularly around Giovando Lookout. Most of this tour, based as it is around historical photographs, will focus on European settlement and the mining of coal and sandstone that it brought with it. We will also look at the 1930s, when the mines were closed down and the island was purchased by the Canadian Pacific Railway and transformed into a place leisure and relaxation, which it has been—in one form or another—ever since.
The last tour we are featuring today tells the story of Departure Bay, the broad sweep of coast north of Nanaimo. This eleven-stop tour explores the area’s First Nations’ history and the arrival of Europeans, discussing some of the region’s early businesses and industries. The tour starts at the BC Ferries terminal and involves a walk along the beach of rock and sand, so we recommend you wear appropriate footwear. It includes several historic photos taken from wharves of which only the piers still exist. Today they can only be reached at low tide. It also ends with a small hike up Sugar Mountain, where you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the bay and a remarkable glimpse into the past by seeing through the eyes of photographers who stood there over a century ago.