Partner City


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.

These photos and tours are possible through the generous support of our partners.

Historic Walking Tours

Tour Spots in Nanaimo

Then and Now Photos

Looking Down Albert Looking Down Albert

Nanaimo Community Archives 2008 011 A-P1 & On This Spot Enterprises

Looking Down Albert - 1870

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

Nanaimo Museum A1-47 & On This Spot Enterprises

Newcastle from Knob Hill - 1880s

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

Quiet Church Street Quiet Church Street

Nanaimo Museum B1-2 & On This Spot Enterprises

Quiet Church Street - 1890s

A couple men stand on an otherwise empty Church Street.

Powers & Doyle Powers & Doyle

Nanaimo Museum B1-38 & On This Spot Enterprises

Powers & Doyle - 1890s

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.

Nanaimo Museum C3-212 & On This Spot Enterprises

Cannons on Front St. - 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.

The Nanaimo Foundry The Nanaimo Foundry

Nanaimo Community Archives 1994 025 A-P46 & On This Spot Enterprises

The Nanaimo Foundry - 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.

Buggies on Church Buggies on Church

Nanaimo Community Archives 2004 037 A-P2 & On This Spot Enterprises

Buggies on Church - 1910

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

Nanaimo Community Archives 2013 010 A-P23 & On This Spot Enterprises

Commercial Inlet Wharf - 1910

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

Early Terminal Ave Early Terminal Ave

Nanaimo Museum A1-76 & On This Spot Enterprises

Early Terminal Ave - 1940s

Looking towards Victoria Crescent from where the Casino is today.

Vanished Businesses Vanished Businesses

Nanaimo Museum B1-20 & On This Spot Enterprises

Vanished Businesses - 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.

Fred W. Fielder Fred W. Fielder

Nanaimo Museum B1-37 & On This Spot Enterprises

Fred W. Fielder - 1920s

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

Nanaimo Museum B1-5 & On This Spot Enterprises

Candian Bank of Commerce - 1920s

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

VW Beetle VW Beetle

Nanaimo Museum B1-53 & On This Spot Enterprises

VW Beetle - 1980s

A Volkswagen Beetle drives up Bastion Street.

Sunset on Fitzwilliam Sunset on Fitzwilliam

Nanaimo Museum B1-59 & On This Spot Enterprises

Sunset on Fitzwilliam - 1910s

A car drives down Fitzwilliam Street at dusk.

Orpheum Theatre Orpheum Theatre

Nanaimo Museum B1-9 & On This Spot Enterprises

Orpheum Theatre - 1920s

The Orpheum Theatre on Commercial Street.

Andersons Andersons

Nanaimo Museum C3-129 & On This Spot Enterprises

Andersons - 1940s

Andersons clothing outlet on Victoria Crescent.

Bank of Nova Scotia Bank of Nova Scotia

Nanaimo Museum C3-138 & On This Spot Enterprises

Bank of Nova Scotia - 1950s

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

Television Shop Television Shop

Nanaimo Museum C3-144 & On This Spot Enterprises

Television Shop - 1950s

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

Hotel Malaspina Quarter-View Hotel Malaspina Quarter-View

Nanaimo Museum C3-164 & On This Spot Enterprises

Hotel Malaspina Quarter-View - 1950s

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

Nanaimo Realty Nanaimo Realty

Nanaimo Museum C3-173 & On This Spot Enterprises

Nanaimo Realty - 1950s

The offices of Nanaimo Realty on Church Street.

Old Flag Inn Old Flag Inn

Nanaimo Museum C3-70 & On This Spot Enterprises

Old Flag Inn - 1890s

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

RBC Museum B-04718 & On This Spot Enterprises

Ferries at Dock - 1900

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

Cruiser in Harbour Cruiser in Harbour

Nanaimo Museum H1-54 & On This Spot Enterprises

Cruiser in Harbour - 1920s

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

A Passing Ferry A Passing Ferry

Nanaimo Museum H1-17 & On This Spot Enterprises

A Passing Ferry - 1930s

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

Train at the Station Train at the Station

RBC Museum F-06388 & On This Spot Enterprises

Train at the Station - 1927

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

RBC Museum F-06413 & On This Spot Enterprises

The Railyard - 1945

The railyard at the forestry terminal by Cameron Island.

Johnston's Wharf Johnston's Wharf

Vancouver Archives Out P522.1 & On This Spot Enterprises

Johnston's Wharf - 1890s

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

Vancouver Archives SGN 853 & On This Spot Enterprises

The SS Joan - 1898

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

RBC Museum F-04495 & On This Spot Enterprises

Newcastle and Protection - 1860s

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