- Best of Vancouver and Victoria
- Vancouver Island: High Tea to Low Tide
- Vancouver’s Totem Poles
- Vancouver’s Best Hiking
- Family Fun in Vancouver & Victoria
- Focus on Vancouver and Victoria
- Vancouver Weekend Getaway
- Victoria Weekend Getaway
- A Tour Through Time
- Inside Passage Cruises
- Outdoor Adventures
- Winter Fun in Vancouver & Victoria
Nanaimo (na-NYE-mo) sprawls lazily up and down the hilly coastal terrain between sparkling Nanaimo Harbour and Mount Benson, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. With a population of 82,000, it’s the island’s second-largest city. It’s also a vibrant city enjoying a rich history, mild climate, wide range of visitor services, and a direct ferry link to both of Vancouver’s ferry terminals.
The Nanaimo Parkway bypasses the city to the west along a 21-kilometer (13-mile) route that branches off the original highway five kilometers (3.1 miles) south of downtown, rejoining it 18 kilometers (11.2 miles) north of downtown.
Five native bands lived here (the name Nanaimo is derived from the Salish word Sney-Ny-Mous, or “meeting place”), and it was they who innocently showed dull, black rocks to Hudson’s Bay Company employees in 1851. For most of the next century, mines in the area exported huge quantities of coal. Eventually, oil-fueled ships replaced the coal burners, and by 1949 most of the mines had closed.
Surprisingly, no visible traces of the mining boom remain in Nanaimo, aside from a museum (built on top of the most productive mine) accurately depicting those times, and a sturdy fort (now a museum) built in 1853 in case of a native attack.
Nanaimo is promoted to the world by Tourism Nanaimo (250/756-0106 or 800/663-7337, www.tourismnanaimo.com). The main Nanaimo Visitor Centre (2290 Bowen Rd., daily 9 a.m.–6 p.m. in summer, Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m. the rest of the year) is north of downtown and off the main highway on the grounds of Beban Park.
Getting to Nanaimo
BC Ferries (250/386-3431) operates regular services between Vancouver and Nanaimo along two different routes. Ferries leave Vancouver’s Tsawwassen terminal up to eight times a day for the two-hour trip to Nanaimo’s Duke Point terminal, 20 minutes south of downtown. Through downtown, at the north end of Stewart Avenue, is the Departure Bay terminal.
Ferries from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay terminal leave up to 11 times a day for Departure Bay. Fares on both routes are the same (adult $13.50, child $6.75, vehicle $45). Limited online reservations are taken ($15 plus ferry fare).
West Coast Air (604/606-6888 or 800/347-2222) and Harbour Air (250/714-0900 or 800/665-0212) fly daily between Vancouver and the seaplane base in downtown Nanaimo for $105 one-way.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition