Go Exploring

If the weather has you socked in and you’ve got more time for exploring, you’ll find plenty of Indigenous points of interest further ashore, beyond the downtown waterfront. Here are some highlights:

Portals at ‘St’litlup’ / Departure Bay Beach

Cruise down the channel from the boat basin to Departure Bay where you can land your dinghy or kayak on the beach. The two carved cedar portals here – one with eagles and orcas, the other with a raven, sea serpents, frog and eagle – mark the site of the burial ground and winter village where thousands of Snuneymuxw people lived in longhouses until the mid-1800s. The portals face the ocean to welcome visitors, and traditionally visitors would arrive by boat. Follow the interpretive signage along the beach walkway that includes stories of the Indigenous people. 

Ancient carvings at ‘Thax’an’ / Petroglyph Park

A short walk through the forest at Petroglyph Provincial Park just south of downtown leads to a high concentration of Indigenous rock carvings of wolf-like creatures, fish and human figures that are believed to be more than 1,000 years old. Interpretive panels explain the carvings, the locations for which were typically places of power or mystery. On tours Indigenous guides share the stories behind the images and the various types of stone found here.

Further Ashore - Colliery Dam Park - photo by Mike Anderson
Colliery Dam Park – photo by Mike Anderson

Forage walks at Beban Park & Colliery Dam Park

Did you know that long before Band-Aids the local Indigenous people used the pitch or resin from Douglas fir trees to help close up wounds? At Beban Park or Colliery Dam Park, walk with an Indigenous cultural tour guide who points out cedar pitch, rose hip berries, snow berries, and other plants along the trails. You’ll hear stories about local plants, Indigenous ways of using them, and traditional harvesting methods. 

More to explore on Gabriola Island

Guided Indigenous cultural tours also visit several places on nearby Gabriola Island: The Petroglyphs, The Brickyard, El Verano Drive, Elder Cedar (S’ul-hween X’pey) Nature Reserve, and Gabriola Sands Provincial Park’s Twin Beaches.

* For more information on Indigenous-led cultural tours and self-guided tours via the On This Spot website/app, check the Stories & Guided Tours tab.

Where to Eat

In central Nanaimo, Off the Hook restaurant is known for its seafood-focused menu with lots of options including in-house smoked meats, tacos, burgers and bowls. The entire menu is gluten free. (Indigenous owned)

Where to Stay

Snaw-naw-as Campground, a 20-minute drive north of downtown, offers oceanside RV sites and campsites with incredible views. North Nanaimo amenities and the extensive network of hiking trails on Copley Ridge are both only 5-10 minutes away. No moorage is available. (Indigenous owned)

Where to Shop

Ay Lelum – The Good House of Design – This store located on the Snuneymuxw First Nation in south Nanaimo is the retail shop of the Good family’s Ay Lelum House of Design, whose bold-print dresses, tunics, earrings, and other pieces have been featured on runways during New York Fashion Week. Ask about the Indigenous stories depicted in each print design. Here you can also see the Good family’s other artwork and large-scale art projects. This is the same design house whose artwork will soon appear on utility manhole covers throughout Nanaimo’s city streets. (Indigenous owned)

Strong Nations – This local publishing house and bookstore is online only but plans to reopen its retail location. Indigenous-made gift items – Inuit dolls, Metis blankets, jewellery, art cards, games and more – are made by artists locally and across Canada. (Indigenous owned)

Snaw-naw-as Market – Located on the neighbouring Snaw-naw-as First Nation, this market will surprise you. It’s a hidden gem tucked inside a Shell gas station convenience store along Highway 19 at Nanoose Bay, and it’s packed with Indigenous gifts including mugs, socks, books, and puzzles. (Indigenous owned)

For more shopping, dining and accommodation options, if you stay longer or return for another visit, click here.

How to Get There. Take a Taxi OR go with EVO in NANAIMO > E-bike sharing is available in Nanaimo with Evolve. Find an e-bike nearby, unlock, inspect, and hit the road. Ride as long as you like, just return the e-bike to any Evolve Parking Zone.