Nanaimo is one of the most colourful stops on your tour of British Columbia’s coast. Its richness and many layers are perhaps best symbolized by the dessert bar that bears its name. It is “The Harbour City” which should send a positive signal to boaters, but it has also been called “the bathtub race capital of Canada” and “the hub, tub and pub city”, which reveal Nanaimo’s playful side (video). But don’t be fooled. The Nanaimo Bar Trail does not lead to watering holes, although these may be found in the charming downtown that features the shops competing to make the best namesake dessert.
Nanaimo has a rich history because it is a natural place for settlement. The Snunéymuxw, a Coast Salish people, found food and fresh water at the largest estuary on Vancouver Island and winter shelter among the islands and bays. An almost completely enclosed harbour, with deep water and a bench of adjacent flat land, is part of the reason Nanaimo is the second largest city on Vancouver Island. It was coal mining that brought the first waves of residents. From the beginning Nanaimo was both a shipping and industrial centre, with forestry becoming the main resource industry after World War 1. Today, Nanaimo enjoys its ideal geographic position, natural blessings and civic pride that make it a lively community you should not miss (video).
For boaters, Nanaimo is ideally situated near the mid-point of the Salish Sea on Vancouver Island’s east shore, at the top end of the Gulf Islands and due west from Vancouver. Nanaimo is part of the Salish Sea Circle Tour and Gulf Islands Circle Tour.
Don’t have a boat? No worries. There are lots and lots of ways to get on the water in Nanaimo. (You’ll find them at On the Waterfront and Further Ashore.) BC Ferries serves Nanaimo from its Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen terminals.
Whether you arrive by keel or wheel, you will be struck by how perfect a union has been made between land and water (video). The Harbourfront Walkway threads intimately beside and over the water, with docks lined by boats and more boats moored out in the bay on one side, and shops, eateries and pubs on the other. You are likely to comment, “this is the way a town should be built,” as you climb the stairs to Front Street and stroll through the fashionably historic downtown, with major hotels standing guard at the entrance.
The Nanaimo Boat Basin tucks you into the heart of the waterfront. It is more serene at the Waterfront Marina and Suites, but still a short walk to the “action.” A must visit is to the Dinghy Dock Pub, Canada’s only floating pub. The name tells boaters how to get there. There is a ferry from the Boat Basin for the boatless. For ultimate serenity in a full service marina, just 16 kilometres away, moor at Page’s Resort and Marina, a good base for the Gulf Islands and visits to town.
You will find information on Nanaimo’s many attractions under On the Waterfront and Further Ashore. This is a place where you may enjoy varied dining, entertainment and artistic endowments; farm, beverage and culinary tours, great pubs, snorkeling with the seals, catching fresh seafood and ocean ecotours.
They should hold a contest: “Why is Nanaimo like a Nanaimo Bar?” Come and explore our many layers and flavours. And give us your answer.