The Signs of Seasonal Change in Nanaimo

The days are getting longer bringing with them better weather and the sights and sounds of seasonal change. New spring bulbs and floral buds are breaking free every day. As seedlings start to push through sun-touched soils and new growth paints the landscape in various hues of green, we receive a sense of vitality that comes with rebirth/new life – and what better way to revel in this uplifting and refreshing energy than through the act of celebration.

What is Festival Nanaimo?

Stradling the spring equinox (20th March 2019), Festival Nanaimo is a great way to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Returning for its 5th year this March 2019, this multi-dimensional celebration features live entertainment, visual arts, foodie delights, heritage and mystery events. Experience a plethora of culinary delights from the 17th annual Wee Tipple Whiskey tasting to the first-ever Bacon Bevy Bash and more! With Nanaimo bars galore at every turn, take yourself on a sweet journey along the self-guided Nanaimo Bar Trail. In addition to good food and spirits, festival Nanaimo will showcase a variety of musical talents encompassing an array of genres: classic rock, the blues, Cuban dance, classical symphony, acapella, folk music, and a reimagination of the eclectic styles of Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Don some green on March 17th and head over the Port Theatre for this year’s Saint Paddy’s Party, music by Derina Harvey Band from Newfoundland (Canada’s Ireland). Partake in the final celebrations at the family-fun Pirates Fest & Parade on March 29th at Country club centre. Come in costume, get crafty, and play some games. Entertainment by Vesta Fire.

Here is Our Guide to Making the Most of Festival Nanaimo:

The Key Events

Friday 8th March 2019
The 17th Annual Wee Tipple, presented by the Crimson Coast Dance Society
? The Grand Hotel (7pm-10pm)

Kick off the festivities with a celebration of fine food and good ol’ Whiskey at the 17th Annual Wee Tipple Fundraiser at The Grand Hotel, Nanaimo. Chef Ian Ter Veer has something special planned for you. Delicious hors d’oeuvres and a fine selection of whiskeys from Vancouver Island’s most comprehensive whiskey bar await you here, accompanied by live music, a silent auction, and great company. Expect “an evening of sophistication with a splash of humour,” says Wee Tipple organizers.

What to do on the day of:

Embrace your love for all things Scottish with a trip to McLean’s Specialty Foods. Ask ‘The Big Cheese’ about their imported cheeses from Scotland, Greater Britain, and further afield. Pre-order a food basket with a selection of breads, cheeses, meats, and jams and head over to Neck Point Park (weather pending) for one of the best picnics you’ve ever had. The best spot for a picnic is at the boardwalk overlooking the craggly scotland-esque shoreline. If you’re planning to sit on the grass, don’t forget to bring a blanket – and what better excuse to purchase an awesome Vancouver Island souvenir than heading over to Islandish to pick up a blanket by VI-local producer Tofino Towel.

Fill your belly before you drink. Our recommendation for a good pre-whiskey dinner is for you to head over to The Coach & Horses for some ‘British fayre’ pub food. Bangers & mash, seafood pie, and atlantic Fish & Chips are just a few of the classics offered here. Vegan dishes are available too!

Saturday 9th March 2019
A night of David Bowie
? The Port Theatre, Downtown Nanaimo (7:30pm)

About the Concert:

“Nanaimo’s own Syl Thompson stars as David Bowie. Within his amazing six-piece band are two additional Nanaimo natives – Rob and Marc Gawthrop, making Nanaimo proud once more of its own local talent… A Night Of Bowie is a celebration of Bowie’s extensive list of memorable hits, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on his peak years from the early ’70s to the early ’90s.”

Pre-show Dinner:

Hosted at the Port Theatre, only steps away from some of Nanaimo’s top restaurants, we recommend making a stop at one of downtown’s many amazing local eateries. Fuel up before rockin’ the night away at one of these 3 popular dinner locations:

  • Modern Cafe: Home to the famous retro neon “Modern Cafe” sign, keep it classic with a dinner and drink at this casual yet upscale eatery. Home to one of Nanaimo’s best cocktail and martini menus.
  • The Firehouse Grill: Get fired up with a visit to this trendy bistro. Well-known for their signature Sushi Menu and more, the Firehouse grill is a great place for a pre-show meal. Keep the mood going with their fire-themed foods like the spicey Fire Hydrant Burger, Smokin’ Chicken Breast, or Fire Tarian Pasta.
  • The Lighthouse Bistro: Located above the Harbour Air Seaplane Terminal, fly high and catch some aerial views of the bay at this incredible waterfront Bistro & Pub.
  • Minnoz Restaurant & Lounge: This restaurant/lounge is located in the upscale Coast Bastion Hotel – Nanaimo premier harbourview hotel. With good ingredients and elevated sophistication, the food and drinks here match the ambiance too.

After Party:

Looking for something to do after the performance? There is no official after party, but you can still keep the party rockin’ this Saturday night by heading over to one of Nanaimo’s original bars, pubs, or nightclubs:

Bars, Pubs, and Lounges:


Sunday 10th March 2019
Cuba Vibra by Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba
? The Port Theatre (7:30pm)

Celebrate the rhythms of Cuban Music and Dance at The Port Theatre this March 2019.

Looking for more ways to embrace greater latin-american culture? Head to Jalapeno’s before the show for some authentic Mexican cuisine. Grab some after-party pina coladas and mojitos at Modern Cafe, arguably some of the best blended drinks in the city.

Wednesday 13th March 2019
Countermeasure and Tidesmen’s Chorus
? The Port Theatre (7pm)

Join the award-winning a capella group Countermeasure and Nanaimo’s very own 65-man Tidesmen’s Chorus on March 13th at the Port Theatre. Embrace the vocal talents of these amazing musicians as they perform the songs of hit performers like pop music icon Britney Spears.

Friday 15th March 2019
Bacon Bevy Bash – presented by Pacific Island Entertainment
? Beban Park (6pm-10pm)

Bacon-inspired cuisine… craft beers, wines, ciders, and spirits from across Vancouver Island. If you’re a foodie like us, this might sound like a fairytale. Come to Nanaimo this March for the first ever Bacon Bevy Bash – March 15, 2019 at 6:00pm – 10:00pm; hosted at the Beban Social Centre.

What to do on the day of:

Make like a piggy and get muddy by spending the day on the trails. Whether you’re looking to rip down the hillside on the seat of your mountain bike or discover the hidden secrets of the forests on a hike through the outback, we’ve got something for you. Fuel up at Smokin’ Georges Southern-Style BBQ before you go. We recommend you keep the theme going with a bite of their famous pulled pork sandwich.

Saturday 16th March 2019
David Gogo’s 50th Birthday Blues Bash
? 7:30 pm at the Port Theatre

Get soulful at David Gogo’s 50th Birthday Blues Bash. Enjoy the talents of the big man himself along with his buddies David Vest and Ken Hamm. From the intensity of hardege blues to the softer sounds of the dobro and banjo, a range of original and traditional songs will fill the theatre. This event is hosted by Terry David Mulligan of CKUA’s Mulligan Stew.

Sunday 17th March 2019
East Coast St. Paddy’s Day Party
? 2pm at the Port Theatre

Celebrate St. Paddy’s Day like they do on ‘the rock’ with music by Newfoundland’s award-winning celtic rock group Derina Harvey Band. Keep it festive and don some green. Post-show, join the band for some pizza & Beer (or a beverage) & Nanaimo Bars!

Monday 20th March 2019
The Spring Equinox

Catch the sunrise or sunset on this special day. We recommend grabbing a morning brew from Drip Coffee Social and then either heading across the street to Departure Bay Beach or up the hill to nearby Sugarloaf Mountain for an epic sunrise over the Salish Sea. Spend the day out in nature with a walk, hike, or bike along one of Nanaimo’s many great trails; visit our Beach, Boating, and Water page to plan a day by the lake, river, or sea. Head back to Sugar Loaf for the best views of the sunset.

Thursday 21st March 2019
Happy Hour SoundBites Concert: BACH’S GOLDBERG VARIATIONS – presented by the Vancouver Island Symphony.
? The Port Theatre (5 pm Appetizer Bites followed by 5:30 – 6:30 Performance OR 7:15-8:15 pm Performance followed by Dessert Bites)

Elevate your happy hour with a full hour of live music by the Vancouver Island Symphony’s String Orchestra. “Sitkovetsky’s arrangement of this great work for keyboard was conceived for Bach’s 300th birthday celebration, and is dedicated to the memory of Glenn Gould. This version for strings is fascinating and lush, and integrates our new VIS harpsichord.” (The Port Theatre)

What to do after the show?

“Patrons for VIS events usually head to the Coast Bastion for a meal’” says Festival Nanaimo organizer Kim Plumley. “They are a great sponsor! And have some great drinks there too!”

22nd March 2019
Circle Game: Reimagining the music of Joni Mitchell – an Arts Club Theatre Company Production
? The Port Theatre (7:30pm)

Joni Mitchell, one of the 20th century’s most influential artists, often drew meaning for her songs from a place of social and environmental ideals. Join the Circle Game at the Port Theatre this March as they perform their theatrical reinterpretation of Joni Mitchell’s iconic pieces.

“Winner of the 2017 Ovation Awards for Outstanding Professional Production and Outstanding Music Direction, Circle Game was also nominated for three 2017–2018 Jessie Awards, including Outstanding Performance by and Ensemble.” (The Port Theatre)

29th March 2019
5th Annual PirateFest Family FunDay
? Country Club Centre (10am-1pm)

“Festival Nanaimo is not complete without the 5th Annual PirateFest Family Fun Day,” says event organizers. Dress in your best pirate garb and jump on board at Country Club Centre, PirateFest Headquarters 2019. Crafts, games, and entertainment by Vesta Fire are sure to impress!

After the party, head of to Pirate Chips to fill that hollow leg of yours.

Pick up a costume at local outfitter Patties Party Palace.