The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway Station is significant because of its association with the British Columbia confederation controversy. The railway was completed as a “consolation prize” from the federal government after it broke its promise to make Victoria the western terminus of the transcontinental railway. This breach led to threats of British Columbia’s secession from Canada. Further controversy was fuelled when money and land for the railway were given to Nanaimo coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, already one of the province’s richest men. In 1886, the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway opened with the local station being built at this site.
During the 1880s, the completion of the railway and the simultaneous expansion of the huge No. 1 Coal Mine precipitated an economic boom that almost doubled Nanaimo’s population and created a consequent demand for more housing and commercial services. The Station represents the commercial and residential development of a hitherto undeveloped area as a direct result of the siting of the station on Selby Street.
Built by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in 1920, the Nanaimo Station, which replaced the earlier building, exemplifies the form of station built in mid-sized communities across Canada in the early 20th century and can be seen as an early example of corporate branding that visually tied Nanaimo to the rest of the CPR empire. The Nanaimo station appears to be a more elaborate version of CPR Standard Plan No. 9., a “combination station” that included living quarters and commercial space. The station house’s most distinctive feature is its central square tower. In addition to providing an attractive visual element, the tower’s projecting bay served a useful function by giving an unobstructed view of the track. Although there have been some changes to the building over time, it remains substantially intact and continues to serve its original function.
The Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway Station has been in continuous use since 1920 and continues to provide transportation service to Vancouver Island. This historic structure was designated a Municipal Heritage Site on December 19, 1977.