Canada's First World War Internment Operations


A City Built on Coal

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 As mining wound down in the 1940s, Nanaimo became a hub for forestry and government services. Today Nanaimo is being reborn as a cultural centre that has preserved its rich architectural and cultural heritage.

This project is possible with the generous support of Tourism Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Hospitality Association. We would also like to thank the Nanaimo Archives and Nanaimo Museum for use of their historic photo collections and providing research assistance.

We respectfully acknowledge that Nanaimo is on the traditional and unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

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Nanaimo's WWI Internment Camp

Near this spot, just by the intersection of Stewart Ave and Townsite Road, there was an internment camp during the First World War. It was located in the old provincial jail building that is no longer extant, and opened on September 20, 1914. Those incarcerated were called 'enemy aliens', that is people living in Canada originating from Germany and Austria-Hungary. While the government claimed they were imprisoned to protect national security, in most cases people were interned for reasons that were either completely arbitrary or jealously cynical.
A barbed wire fence some 14-feet tall was erected around the jail building. Guards were billeted at the nearby Agricultural Hall and oversaw the internees as they were put to work planting trees around downtown Nanaimo.
Ultimately over 100 internees were kept here, including some of the wives and children of the male internees. The camp stayed open until September 1915, when it was closed and its prisoners transferred to the primary internment camp in Vernon in the province's interior.

Walking Tours



Then and Now Photos

Looking Down Albert

Looking Down Albert Looking Down Albert

Nanaimo Community Archives 2008 011 A-P1


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.

Newcastle from Knob Hill

Newcastle from Knob Hill Newcastle from Knob Hill

Nanaimo Museum A1-47


A view of downtown Nanaimo and Newcastle Island from a freshly planted stand of trees on Knob Hill.

Quiet Church Street

Quiet Church Street Quiet Church Street

Nanaimo Museum B1-2


A couple men stand on an otherwise empty Church Street.

Powers & Doyle

Powers & Doyle Powers & Doyle

Nanaimo Museum B1-38


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

Cannons on Front St.

Cannons on Front St. Cannons on Front St.

Nanaimo Museum C3-212


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.

The Nanaimo Foundry

The Nanaimo Foundry The Nanaimo Foundry

Nanaimo Community Archives 1994 025 A-P46


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.

Buggies on Church

Buggies on Church Buggies on Church

Nanaimo Community Archives 2004 037 A-P2


Horse-drawn buggies on a busy Church Street. Notice the Hotel Windsor in the back and the photography business on the right.

Commercial Inlet Wharf

Commercial Inlet Wharf Commercial Inlet Wharf

Nanaimo Community Archives 2013 010 A-P23


A view up Commercial Inlet showing the Bastion at right, and the wharves at centre.

Early Terminal Ave

Early Terminal Ave Early Terminal Ave

Nanaimo Museum A1-76


Looking towards Victoria Crescent from where the Casino is today.

Vanished Businesses

Vanished Businesses Vanished Businesses

Nanaimo Museum B1-20


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.

Fred W. Fielder

Fred W. Fielder Fred W. Fielder

Nanaimo Museum B1-37


Fred W. Fielder's clothing store once occupied this building on the corner of Skinner and Commercial.

Candian Bank of Commerce

Candian Bank of Commerce Candian Bank of Commerce

Nanaimo Museum B1-5


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

VW Beetle

VW Beetle VW Beetle

Nanaimo Museum B1-53


A Volkswagen Beetle drives up Bastion Street.

Sunset on Fitzwilliam

Sunset on Fitzwilliam Sunset on Fitzwilliam

Nanaimo Museum B1-59


A car drives down Fitzwilliam Street at dusk.

Orpheum Theatre

Orpheum Theatre Orpheum Theatre

Nanaimo Museum B1-9


The Orpheum Theatre on Commercial Street.


Andersons Andersons

Nanaimo Museum C3-129


Andersons clothing outlet on Victoria Crescent.

Bank of Nova Scotia

Bank of Nova Scotia Bank of Nova Scotia

Nanaimo Museum C3-138


The Bank of Nova Scotia which, rebranded as Scotiabank, continues to occupy this building today.

Television Shop

Television Shop Television Shop

Nanaimo Museum C3-144


Businesses selling televisions and oil burning heaters were once located in this business block.

Hotel Malaspina Quarter-View

Hotel Malaspina Quarter-View Hotel Malaspina Quarter-View

Nanaimo Museum C3-164


Photo of the old Hotel Malaspina. At right you can also see part of the new Federal Building.

Nanaimo Realty

Nanaimo Realty Nanaimo Realty

Nanaimo Museum C3-173


The offices of Nanaimo Realty on Church Street.

Old Flag Inn

Old Flag Inn Old Flag Inn

Nanaimo Museum C3-70


An old man and his dog stand outside the Old Flag Inn, a well known drinking spot in Nanaimo once located across the street from the old city hall at the intersection of Bastion and Skinner Streets.

Ferries at Dock

Ferries at Dock Ferries at Dock

RBC Museum B-04718


Two steamers, the SS Joan and the City of Nanaimo, docked beneath the Bastion.

Cruiser in Harbour

Cruiser in Harbour Cruiser in Harbour

Nanaimo Museum H1-54


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

A Passing Ferry

A Passing Ferry A Passing Ferry

Nanaimo Museum H1-17


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

Train at the Station

Train at the Station Train at the Station

RBC Museum F-06388


A 4-6-0 class train, meaning four front wheels, six main drive wheels and zero trailing wheels, parked at the E&N railway station.

The Railyard

The Railyard The Railyard

RBC Museum F-06413


The railyard at the forestry terminal by Cameron Island.

Johnston's Wharf

Johnston's Wharf Johnston's Wharf

Vancouver Archives Out P522.1


Ships moored at Johnston's Wharf. This was the sight of the first coal wharf built by Robert Dunsmuir, before being replaced with this smaller ferry terminal, then turned into a fishing dock, and finally a place for pleasure boats to dock.

The SS Joan

The SS Joan The SS Joan

Vancouver Archives SGN 853


Canadian Pacific Navigation's little steamer SS Joan at the ferry terminal that once stood here. The Joan was involved in a dramatic collision with the Union Steamship Company's competing ferry City of Nanaimo which is recounted in the Waterfront tour.

Newcastle and Protection

Newcastle and Protection Newcastle and Protection

RBC Museum F-04495


Newcastle and Protection Islands seen from around today's Maffeo Sutton Park.