Entering Saysutshun / Newcastle Island - Image by Dirk Heydemann of HA Photography
Image by Dirk Heydemann of HA Photography

Explore several points of interest on Saysutshun to learn about Indigenous culture. Here are some highlights:

Beaches and trails on ‘Saysutshun’ / Newcastle Island

10 minute cruise from boat basin

Across the channel from Nanaimo’s Maffeo Sutton Park you can moor at the docks of Saysutshun (Newcastle Island Marine) Park, the traditional Indigenous territory of the Snuneymuxw People. There are no roads or cars on this protected island in the Nanaimo Harbour, but you can easily explore the nature, history and Coast Salish culture by foot or bike in a day or half day. 

What to do: Start at the welcome pole, carved by a local Snuneymuxw artist, and explore this traditional Indigenous territory’s trails with an Indigenous tour guide who tells stories and points out historic and culturally significant sites, plants and animals. See evidence of the former coal mines, quarries and herring salteries. Go for ice cream at the snack bar after exploring tide pools on the beaches. For a self-guided tour check out the On This Spot website or app, which includes video narration by an Indigenous elder.

Island history: Snuneymuxw people lived on Saysutshun in late winter and early spring to take advantage of the annual herring run. The island is also a source of traditional natural medicines and has long been associated with physical and spiritual healing. Saysutshun is home to rare champagne-coloured raccoons whose light hue is due to a recessive gene or a transformation by Indigenous spirit-being, depending on your cultural perspective. 

Visiting without a boat: A passenger-only ferry runs from downtown’s Maffeo Sutton Park from late spring to early fall. 

Carved welcome pole & canoe at Maffeo Sutton Park

10 minute walk from boat basin

Local Indigenous artist Noel Brown is the creative force behind the colorful 15-metre (49-foot) welcome pole in downtown’s waterfront Maffeo Sutton Park. See how many animals you can identify on the pole. The park’s playground is home to a wooden canoe carved by the same artist. Here on the waterfront is one location where the Snuneymuxw First Nation would welcome other visiting nations arriving by canoe.

Stone carving at Fishing Pier in Maffeo Sutton Park

10 minute walk from boat basin

This 2.6-metre (8.5 ft.) tall white stone carving by local Indigenous artist James Johnny Sr. commands a striking presence on the waterfront where the fishing pier meets Swy-A-Lana Lagoon. Called “Swy-A-Lana with Bear and Eagle,” this three-sided Haddington Island stone sculpture bears three etched images including Nanaimo’s first chief named Swy-A-Lana. The bear represents his food and clothing, and the eagle represents his good luck protector and guardian.

Immersive Indigenous exhibit at Nanaimo Museum

2 minute walk from boat basin

One block up the hill from the boat basin, the Nanaimo Museum features an interesting permanent exhibit on the city’s Indigenous people. Check out the textiles, basketry and tools once used by the early Snuneymuxw First Nation and learn about what daily life was like in a traditional longhouse. You can also see replicas of ancient local petroglyphs and make a rubbing to take home. 

Where to Eat

Troller’s Fish & Chips – On the boat basin docks, this floating restaurant is often voted best in the city for fish & chips. Grab an outdoor table and order fresh halibut, cod and wild sockeye salmon. Trollers is open April through September. (Indigenous owned)

Where to Stay

Courtyard Nanaimo by Marriott – This hotel recently opened just one block from the boat basin. Stay in a guest room or suite or come for the bistro and lounge. Hotel amenities include an indoor swimming pool, hot tub and fitness centre. (Indigenous owned)

Where to Shop

Nanaimo Museum gift shop – After exploring the Indigenous exhibits in downtown’s Nanaimo Museum, pop into the gift shop to peruse the beautiful Coastal Indigenous-designed jewelry, carvings and other items. 

For more shopping, dining and accommodation options click here.