Nanaimo may be known as ‘The Harbour City’, but it could just as easily be known as ‘The City of Firsts.’ The Vancouver Island destination is home to some remarkable historic did-you-knows, such as B.C.’s first telephone, Western North America’s first railway and the first ocean-going ship built in B.C. While exploring Nanaimo—meaning “gathering place” in Island Hul’q’umin’um’ spoken by the Snuneymuxw Nation—you’ll also discover how rich it is in First Nations history and culture.

Planning to make Nanaimo part of your Canada 150 celebrations? Here are some must-do activities while you’re in the area.

Bastion Image by Nancy Shields

Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park

Take a passenger ferry or private boat from Nanaimo’s Inner Harbour to get a glimpse of First Nations culture at Newcastle Island. Immerse yourself in the quiet because you’ll feel like you’re far from the city as you kayak, hike, bike or camp and learn about the Snuneymuxw First Nation Traditional Territory. Step back in time to where you can learn about the island’s sandstone quarries, fish salteries and coal mines. Or, just bask in some of the breathtaking panoramic views and get some beach time and a swim at Kanaka Bay.

Nanaimo Museum

Stroll through downtown Nanaimo to two places where you can put yourself (selfies and all) amid the city’s history. Your first stop is the Nanaimo Museum, which features the special Centennial Stories exhibition—a blend of local and national historic landmarks. You’ve got all summer to check it out because it’s going on until Sept. 5. You’ll learn about some of Canada’s landmark moments of the past 150 years. Get a taste of what it was like to live 1867, learn about the influence of the E&N Railway and step inside a humble miner’s home. Be sure to check out the artifacts of Nanaimo’s most iconic heritage building—The Bastion, built by the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), also found downtown. Then take a short walk to see the hand-crafted wooden eight-sided fortification on Front Street, built to protect the coal mines, then owned by the Hudson’s Bay.

Old City Quarter

Head to the Old City Quarter, home to some of Nanaimo’s oldest but now colourfully gentrified buildings, dating back to the 1800s. With a wealth of shops and restaurants in the neighbourhood, the Old City Quarter is a fine place to spend a sunny afternoon poking around for gifts for yourself, or friends and family. You can peruse the cuddly wool at Mad About Ewe, a one-of-kind shop geared to knitters of all levels. Or, pop into Monarchy for some Canadian-made goods. Don’t miss the cool metalworks at G.E.M Fabrications Gates and Gifts. Then take your pick of where to grab breakfast, lunch or dinner, or a specialty coffee, because the quarter is home to everything from sushi to souvlaki, vegan to vegetarian, craft beer—and of course more Nanaimo Bars.

Grab a Bite

After you’ve worked up an appetite while time travelling into Canada’s past, there are plenty of places to quench your thirst and satisfy your appetite. Gabriel’s Café, just around the corner from the Nanaimo Museum, is a farm-to-table restaurant that creates delicious dishes with locally sourced meats, vegetables, coffee, and honey. You’ve got to try the award-winning black bean burger. Mon Petit Choux is another Nanaimo favourite for good reason: it’s where you can tickle your sweet tooth with the famous dessert bars.


You’ll leave knowing you’ve had your foot in both worlds, one in Nanaimo’s unique past and the other in its vibrant present. Discover the full roster of events for Nanaimo 150!