About Nanaimo

Bar from home - Nanaimo bar.

Push aside your Slice, New York; it’s called a Nanaimo Bar.

The chocolatey, custard-layered, crumbly treat has made Nanaimo internationally famous, and although you may find it out there under another name (New York Slice, London Fog Bar), make no mistake, it’s ours. And it’s the best sweet treat out there! (yeah, we’re proud of it. A little ego never hurt anyone, right?)

A fake movie poster showing the Nanaimo bar in front of our harbour

Nanaimo though, is so much more than a dessert city, and while there are more than three dozen different versions of the delight that can be found on the Nanaimo Bar Trail, the true equation that makes up our City is simply this: stunning setting + enriching amenities + vibrant economy + welcoming people = an incredible island lifestyle.

a closeup of the Coast Salish portal at Departure Bay

Built on the traditional lands of the Snuneymuxw and Snaw-Naw-As First Nations, our community is over 100,000 people and growing; people who live, work, play and thrive here. Since Nanaimo incorporated in 1874, we’ve been a coal town, a timber town, a mill town and a tourist destination. Today, our leading sectors are in health care, technology and construction.

Our rich history is captured and preserved through the Nanaimo Museum and the Nanaimo Archives, and you can catch a glimpse into our past at various historical locations around town. Whether you're interested in our cultural roots, curious about the origins of the Nanaimo Bar, or interested in learning about the Nanaimo Marine Festival and the World Championship Bathtub Race (yes, bathtub - we've raced those since 1967, and its as quirky as it sounds), the displays in the Nanaimo Museum capture many snapshots of our past.

BC Ferry arriving in Departure Bay. Hello Nanaimo

For visitors, one glimpse from the deck of an approaching BC Ferries vessel and Nanaimo stands out as a community built on a hill. To some extent that’s true, and we may have more ups and downs on our winding roadways than all of the prairies combined. Dramatic exaggeration aside though, the elevation does change throughout our city. Our sunrises are blindingly brilliant. The sun appears from just behind the distant coastal mountains across the Salish Sea, while our gentle sunsets settle higher up behind Mount Benson.

A look at Mount Benson from Maffeo Sutton Park

We are indeed a harbour city nestled between the water and the hills.

‘Welcome to Nanaimo: the Harbour City.” We have so much harbour that we’ve adopted it as our slogan. There has been debate over the years as to whether we should be known as the Harbour City or the Hub City. ‘Harbour’ won out, but ultimately, we’re both. 

Nanaimo is centrally located on Vancouver Island and we are the go-to transportation and distribution hub north of the Malahat Mountain. In 2019, we saw more than 4.6 million tons of cargo come through Nanaimo’s port facilities.

For off-island travel, we have two BC Ferries terminals that connect us to the mainland, an all-weather airport that offers direct flights to Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, helicopter service and various seaplane connections linking Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver and Richmond. Want to enjoy that Nanaimo bar in the bustling, big city of Vancouver? It’s literally only 20 minutes away by air.

A Harbour Air seaplane is moving out to the open water for takeoff

Despite the waterway between us, our close proximity to the metropolis makes us a great bedroom community. For Vancouverites that can work at least part-time remotely, it’s an excellent work-life choice. The Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver flight is proving to be a much faster commute than driving through Vancouver’s rush hour to its outlying districts. And for retirees, we have great medical services and amenities that make it a first-choice retirement move. Welcome to island time.

technology is bringing tomorrow to Nanaimo today. 

Technology continues to be a silent catalyst for Nanaimo’s growth. We have a complete range of telecommunications services, a talented workforce, and a first-rate university, and it’s all helping to support and develop our business sector. This confidence in our economy is also reflected in the record-breaking number of recent development projects.

In 2019, building permits were approved for $445.3 million worth of development. These projects included an array of mixed use projects including multi-family dwellings, medical offices, residential buildings, affordable housing and three hotel developments. It was definitely a year that raised the Nanaimo bar.

A new residential development under construction on Prideaux Street

From technology to industry, to shopping trends and work patterns, it's a rapidly changing world, and there isn't much that changes these days without considering our impact on the environment and looking ahead to impending climate change. In 2019, Nanaimo's City Council declared a climate emergency, and in 2020, the City of Nanaimo developed a Climate Change Resilience Strategy to address the needs of our future. From a single-use checkout bag ban, to financial incentives to heat homes sustainably, to sustainable measures in our building codes, we're taking steps to lessen our environmental footprint while we future-proof our City today.

rich culture and artistic inspiration 

Throughout the city, traditional Coast Salish art and ever-changing modern art welcome one and all while highlighting the positive energy that makes up our community. Nanaimo features a new variety of temporary public art pieces each year at Maffeo Sutton park and along our waterfront, and there are various permanent public art pieces at various destinations around town.

Noel Brown's art at the new Maffeo Sutton Park playground

Our new destination playground at Maffeo Sutton Park features an accessible and inclusive playground with beautiful imagery by local First Nations artist Noel Brown. Through his art and the design of the space a story unfolds that depicts life along the Millstone River with Coho salmon as some of the characters. 

we like to move it, photo of ice skates

R-E-C-R-E-A-T-I-O-N is how you spell Nanaimo. Well, it may as well be. There are seemingly endless possibilities to get active in Nanaimo. We have two indoor pool facilities and an outdoor seasonal pool, four sheets of ice, a covered outdoor lacrosse box, artificial turf fields, golf courses, a curling rink, public gymnasiums and so much more within our City. Looking for team sports? From hockey, baseball and football, to a synchronized swimming club, rowing club and even dragon boat teams, we've got it. 

Outdoor activity has been more appealing than ever and Nanaimo has plenty to do outside. We have over 880 hectares of parks and 170 kilometres of trails to hike through. We also have a new inclusive and accessible playground at Maffeo-Sutton Park, our destination waterfront location. The more adventurous in Nanaimo often climb to the top of Mt. Benson, ride through our endless kms of mountain bike trails, or kayak around Saysutchun (Newcastle) Island. We even have a disc golf course.

Cyclist jumping on a downhill run at the Steve Smith Bike Park

Our facilities add to our active, island lifestyle as well. We have an internationally known BMX bike park, a pump track, a brand new mountain bike skills park and skate parks. Into court sports? We've got sand volleyball, tennis courts and pickleball courts too. It’s all been inspired and championed by the wants of our residents.

Nanaimo reimagined, colorful images of life here

In fact, how Nanaimo will continue to grow is once again in the hands of our community. The City is in the middle of a comprehensive engagement campaign that’s helping to create a variety of development and master plans, including a new official community plan. REIMAGINE NANAIMO will create an inspired roadmap for Nanaimo’s future growth.

There’s a lot more to Nanaimo than can be said in a limited word count. Just remember, we have an incredible lifestyle and a lot more to offer - and to brag about – than just a Nanaimo bar... but mmm, that Nanaimo bar is really, really good too. So good it’s worth borrowing, right New York?

* Much of the About Nanaimo content that you see here was originally written for an article about Nanaimo in the Winter 2021 edition (page 24) of Exchange Magazine [a Local Government Management Association of BC (LGMA) production]


For more information on what Nanaimo has to offer, click here.

Last updated: June 8, 2021

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