Nanaimo

August 2017

Nanaimo Museum B1-5

1920s: Looking up Church Street. At left is the classical style Canadian Bank of Commerce which survives to this day.

Vancouver Island's Hub City

Home to the Snuneymuxw First Nations for thousands of years, the place now known as Nanaimo was one of the first places in British Columbia to see substantial European settlement. In the 1850s the Hudson's Bay Company, and later the provincial government, encouraged miners to settle in Nanaimo who could work the area's vast coal reserves. By the late 1800s Nanaimo had grown into a bustling harbour city, providing coal for ships stopping off in B.C. and exporting the so-called "black diamond"down the Pacific Coast. As coal mining (and sandstone mining on Newcastle Island) wound down in the 1940s and 1950s, Nanaimo became a hub for forestry and government services on Vancouver Island. Today Nanaimo is being reborn again as a cultural centre that has gone to great lengths to preserve its rich architectural and cultural heritage.


This is a preview of some of the 400 then and now photos of Nanaimo available now in the On This Spot App.

Use the app to experience Nanaimo's history in an exciting new way with six historical walking tours.

Download the On This Spot App Now

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Nanaimo Museum C3-94

1900s: A photo taken from almost the same angle as the previous one, but at an earlier date. Two boys walk past the photographer in this colourized photograph looking up Church Street. One of them is politely doffing his cap.

Vancouver Archives A-6-117

1860s: A view across Commercial Inlet in the 1860s, still early days of the city of Nanaimo, but we can see a town centered on the Bastion has taken shape. See how the waters of Commercial Inlet then extended further inland past where the Port Theatre stands. The inlet extended all the way up Terminal Ave. where the highway runs today, making downtown Nanaimo into a narrow finger of land. Most of the inlet was filled in during the 20th Century, largely by mine tailings from the network of shafts that extended under downtown.

Nanaimo Community Archives 2008 011 A-P1

1870s: An early photograph taken from partyway up Albert Street, showing Nanaimo's harbour. A schooner has pulled up to the wharf on Cameron Island to take on coal. Protection Island can be seen in the distance.

Vancouver Archives CVA 260-43

1928: The steamer SS Cowichan draws near to the ferry wharf in downtown Nanaimo.

1910: Smoke curls up from the Nanaimo Foundry, located in today's Maffeo Sutton Park. At left just above the buildings can be seen Stewart Ave, now part of the TransCanada Highway. At far right Newcastle Island is also visible.

Nanaimo Museum B1-77

1890s: A crowd of men are walking up the sidewalk on Commercial Street past the offices of King Photography.

Nanaimo Museum C5-17

1910s: Nanaimo's E&N Railway Station.

Nanaimo Museum B1-20

1950s: This photo gives a good impression of the businesses that once existed on the east side of Commercial Street including Woolworth's department store (the two storey building on the corner) and the white Strand Theatre behind it. The building at the far left in the distance is the matching reference point.

Nanaimo Museum H1-17

1930s: Seen through the trees, a Canadian Pacific ferry-liner steams south past Cameron Island.

Nanaimo Museum C3-188

1940s: These shops on Victoria Crescent are typical of the 30s and 40s 'high street' in which many businesses floundered failed to survive the Great Depression.

Nanaimo Community Archives 2009 016 A-P11

1922: A float for J. Steel and Son on Victoria Crescent during a parade. Steel and Son were homebuilders responsible for many homes in many architectural styles around Nanaimo. In the background the Queen Hotel, which survives today, can be seen.

Nanaimo Museum B1-41

1920s: Businesses on Victoria Crescent. You can see the Queen Hotel has survived today, though the facade has been renovated to be much less ornate.

Nanaimo Museum H1-23

1870s: Here we see cargo ships in Nanaimo harbour, some taking on coal at Cameron Island to the right while others are moored just offshore. In a sign of the changing economy, in the 1930s the Cameron Island wharf was converted to move lumber instead of coal. Surrounded by dense stands of old growth trees and having easy access to forested slopes up and down the coast, Nanaimo's harbour became BC's main forestry hub.

Nanaimo Museum C3-212

1900s: Looking down Front Street, this photo shows the Bastion at left, the Hotel Windsor at right, and several cannons from the Bastion on display at bottom right.

Vancouver Archives 2011-092.0626

This photograph shows holiday-goers Mrs. James Herdman and Mrs. Harry Houghton taking afternoon tea on Newcastle Island.

Nanaimo Museum B1-15

1920s: Two women crossing Commercial Street in front of the imposing National Land Building, a bank completed in 1914. In its early years Nanaimo's population was heavily skewed towards men, but gradually women arrived, starting families and making the place a real community.

Nanaimo Community Archives 2013 010 A-P34

1949: A car splashes through a puddle as it drives up Commercial Street towards Victoria Crescent.

Nanaimo Museum B1-38

1890s: A buggy is parked in front of Powers and Doyles' clothing store. This whole block was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s.

Nanaimo Community Archives 2013 010 A-P6

1913: This photo shows militia troops on Church Street staging a show of force for striking miners. This incident was the most dramatic in Nanaimo's long history of strained labour relations.

Nanaimo Community Archives 2005 033 A-P1

1920s: A Royal Canadian Navy cruiser is moored in Nanaimo harbour, probably the HMCS Uganda.

Nanaimo Community Archives 2005 033 A-P1

1890: The many ships docked here at Departure Bay's coal wharves are proof of the productivity of the Wellington mines located just inland.

This is a preview of some of the 400 then and now photos of Nanaimo available now in the On This Spot App.

Use the app to experience Nanaimo's history in an exciting new way with six historical walking tours.

Download the On This Spot App Now

Apple Store Google Play Store


On This Spot Nanaimo is possible through the generous support of these organizations:

Nanaimo Tourism Nanaimo Hospitality Association

Nanaimo Community Archives Nanaimo Museum

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