The city's name is derived from the Coast Salish people who had several villages in the area. They called themselves the "Snuneymuxw" which translates as "a great and mighty people." While the small community was first called Colvile Town, it was soon changed to Nanaimo, an adaptation of Snuneymuxw.
In the mid 1800s, the Hudson's Bay Company began to mine the rich coal deposits near the harbour. Skilled workers from the United Kingdom were brought here to extract the coal, arriving in Nanaimo on November 27, 1854 after a long journey around Cape Horn to Vancouver Island. Coal continued as the main resource of the area until 1940 when lumber supplanted coal. Today, forestry is still a major contributor to the local eocnomy as are service, retail and tourism.
Nanaimo is on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, 114 km (68 mi) north of Victoria and 36 km (22 mi) south of Parksville. Separated from Vancouver and the mainland by the Strait of Georgia, most people arrive in Nanaimo via BC Ferries from either West Vancouver to Departure Bay (1 hr 40 mins) or Tsawwassen to Duke Point (2 hrs). There also daily flights to and from Vancouver (YVR) and Nanaimo Airport and frequent float plane service from Nanaimo Harbour to Vancouver Harbour and Vancouver (YVR).
Nanaimo's Harbourfront is a major attraction and the 5 km (3 mi) Harbourside Walkway provides stunning views across the water. Boutiques and cafes, a concert area, kid's activity zone and heritage attractions are along the route.
Just steps from the waterfront and the old city are several art galleries and a renovated 10,000 sq.ft heritage building that is home to paintings, pottery, glass sculptures and more.
Pick up a brochure and take a Heritage Walking Tour of Nanaimo, the third oldest city in BC. It has a long and colourful history and is full of heritage buildings and interesting stories and the Nanaimo museums are packed with artifacts from the city's coal mining era, and pre-settlement First Nations communities.
Nanimo is world-famous for its delicious Nanaimo Bar but there are varying stories on who created it and when. This sweet self-guided tour takes you through the streets of Nanaimo where you will be able to sample the many delicious and creative interpretations of the Bar at the local cafes.
Some of the best scuba diving in North America can be found along the Nanaimo coastline. Divers in search of an unforgettable experience should visit the HMCS Saskatchewan, a navy destroyer sunk off the shores of Nanaimo in 1997 to create an artificial diving reef. The Saskatchewan was joined on the ocean floor in 2001 by the HMCS Cape Breton, a retired Canadian Supply Ship, which is now recognized as the World's Largest Artificial Upright Reef. In 2005, a third vessel was sunk, the RivTow Lion, a retired deep sea rescue tug. Professional dive shops in Nanaimo as well as charter companies are available to assist you.
Trails are everywhere in and around Nanaimo. Head to Westwood Lake for 6 km (4 mi) of jogging paths circling the lake. Mountain biking trails traverse the ridges above it offering some challenging jumps, ramps and more. Serious mountain hiking and a variety of paths lead up to Mt. Benson's 1,000 m (3,300 feet) summit. From here you'll have a spectacular view of the city, the surrounding islands, and the mainland across the Strait of Georgia. See sea lions along Cable Bay Trail in Cedar, or take the harbour ferry over to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park with more than 15 km (9 mi) of well-marked interpretive trails that wind through shady forests, past historic sites, and around a lake.
Golfing is a popular year-round activity in and around Nanaimo with some 19 golf courses within an hour's drive from the city. Local courses include: Cottonwood Golf Course, an exceptional 18-hole course with full services; Eaglequest Nanaimo that is both fun and challenging and a favourite with beginners and pros. Nanaimo Golf Club that is located on a ridge above Departure Bay with stunning views across the Strait of Georgia. This is a 6,700 yard course from championship tees; Beban Park Golf Centre is a great Pitch N' Putt course and excellent for beginners and families.
All forms of boating are popular in Nanaimo's waterfront. The stunning views and sheltered waters bring vacationing boaters to this harbour. It is also a great base from which to explore the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands. Kayak and canoe rentals and tours are also available to explore the many cove and inlets.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia