More than 400 years after William Shakespeare penned a play, we still can’t get enough of the loveable Bard.

It’s no wonder Will’s timeless wit, wisdom, tragedies and comedies keep people coming back every year for Nanaimo’s immensely popular festival, Shakespeare by the Sea. This year it will be held Sept. 15 -17.

The seaside location at Pioneer Waterfront Plaza puts a Nanaimo spin on Shakespeare’s works, as does the Vancouver Island Shakespeare Arts Society (VISAS) interpretation on his plays.

This year, VISAS will perform the tragedy, King Lear, along with an abridged version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. That means Hamlet in an astounding 43 seconds – and 42 seconds in reverse. (If only our high school English teachers could have been as quick witted!)
While you’re in Nanaimo getting your theatre fix, be sure to check out more of its artistic side.

Gallery Hopping

Take a half day or more to drop by three popular art galleries, each with its own take on the visual arts.

  • Art 10 Gallery This gallery showcases only original works by local jewelry makers, painters, potters and sculptors. Opened in the early ’80s, the gallery has grown its artists’ showings from 10 to 25. It’s located in the Nanaimo North Town Centre.
  • Yellow Bird Arts Gallery Looking for keepsakes to remind you of the ocean? You’ll find the work of local artists like Carol Evans whose water-colours are inspired by the lush forests, idyllic beaches and sunsets of the island. You’ll also find the whimsical and colourful pieces by Fred Peters and other B.C. artisans.
  • Nanaimo Art Gallery – Located downtown, the Nanaimo Art Gallery showcases the art of major artists from all around the island. B.C. Dream Islands is a fitting exhibit happening at the gallery until Sept. 17, featuring the pottery of Salt Spring Island’s Lari Robson.

By The Seashore

With Nanaimo’s sea-faring heritage, the harbour is the perfect place to see why people love living here. Take a stroll along the Harbour Walk, watching the float planes gracefully take off and land, or spot someone pulling in their crab catch of the day, while others get in their kayaks or motorboats to watch a summer sunset. For a local treat, order fish and chips from Trollers, followed by an ice cream at Waterfront Confection. Then learn a little of Nanaimo’s past at the Bastion, a wooden structure built in 1853 by the Hudsons Bay Company in what is B.C.’s third oldest city. If you time it right, you can catch the cannon firing at noon.

Take a walk in Pipers Lagoon Park

Image by Nancy Shields

A favourite spot of locals, Pipers Lagoon Park – reached by a man-made causeway – is the place to unwind and breathe in the ocean air. Take a quiet walk or hike on the nearly two-kilometre loop trail surrounded by trees. The beaches are a good spot for beachcombing and kayakers love it as a launch site. Some head over to nearby Shack Island to see some abandoned cottages. The ocean views are gorgeous, varieties of birds expansive and the breezes are refreshing. It’s an ideal spot to watch a sunrise or sunset.

Old City Quarter

Once the economic centre of Nanaimo, the Old City Quarter has become a fun place to stroll around for a couple of hours over three or so square blocks around Fitzwilliam Street. You’ll find a unique mix of locally owned shops and restaurants in heritage buildings, some going back to the late 1800s, that have been restored. A few shops to check out:

  • McLean’s Specialty Foods – Put together your picnic basket for Shakespeare by the Sea here. Stock up on some of the 100 types of cheese offer and other gourmet goodies like specialty meats and foods from Britain and South Africa. You can also grab a sandwich from the deli.
  • Get your tea leaves or your tarot cards read (by appointment only) at Lobelia’s Lair, Metaphysical Treasure or, just scope out the assortment of the unusual – from crystals to hand-made soaps and essential oils.
  • Dog lover’s and owners will love Woofles Barking Boutique. What’s not to love about a place that makes “pupcakes” for your pooch and cool canine garb.

Nanaimo Museum

Image by Nancy Shields

Get a taste of just what it was like to live in a miner’s cabin back in the late 1800s or learn why the Bastion on Nanaimo’s harbour front is pivotal to its history, all at the Nanaimo Museum. Guided tours are offered regularly at the museum – perfect for history buffs who really want to dig deeper.

Ferry ride to Newcastle Island

newcastle island hiking
Image by Nancy Shields

Hike. Bike. Camp. Swim. Beachcomb. Repeat. Summer is prime time for an escape to Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, just a quick ferry ride from Nanaimo’s Maffeo Sutton Park. Within 10 minutes, you’ll feel like you are worlds away, checking out the tidal pools for fascinating marine life, cruising the trails on your bike or taking a vigorous hike. Discover Kanaka or Midden Bays as your new favourite swimming holes on a warm summer day. Or, hear stories about the First Nations Snuneymuxw people, who have lived with the land of Saysutshun for thousands of years.