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The second largest city on Vancouver Island goes by many names: the 'Hub City', 'Harbour City', 'Pub City', 'Tub City'...
Each of these monikers is no less accurate than the next - testament to the diversity that makes this, Vancouver Islands second largest city, a destination worth experiencing.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to discover Nanaimo in 1791, giving it the name, Bocas de Winthuysen. Although it had grown into a busy trading post by the early 1800's, the town didn't really begin to boom until the Hudson Bay Company staked its claim in the region's rich coal deposits. Fittingly, the city's official name derives from an earlier time when the area served as home to five Coast Salish villages (the term Sney-ny-mo meaning meeting place in their tongue). Today, this quaint port-city with its numerous parks and fairytale waterfront has become a favourite West Coast vacation destination. Whatever names it goes by, getting to know modern Nanaimo is getting familiar with all her faces...
True, Nanaimo's layout is designed around the central hub of its downtown core, but on a grander scale, this city of 79,000 also acts as the hub for the entire Island. By virtue of its location only 55 kilometers west of mainland Vancouver and 113 kilometers north of Victoria, Nanaimo is the natural starting point for numerous destinations both on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. From surfing in Tofino to skiing in the Comox Valley, from the fishing in Campbell River to the bed-and-breakfasts of Gabriola Island, all Vancouver Island is accessible through this mid-island city, whether taking the ferry or flying into Nanaimo Airport. Nanaimo can be considered a shopping hub, as well. Often referred to as "A mall in search of a city", residents of many of the Island's smaller communities enjoy day trips to the city's many malls.
Nanaimo's nautical heritage is prevalent throughout the city, but nowhere quite as much as its picturesque harbor. Every type of vessel from freighters and fishing boats to sail boats and yachts contribute to the whirlwind of wharf-side activity. There's everything here for the ocean enthusiast: kayaking trips, wildlife cruises, fishing charters, scuba diving... But nothing as unique as the tiny tugboats that fly under the flag of the Nanaimo Harbour Ferry fleet! These 45-minute tours connecting the people and places of Nanaimo's harbourside communities are the perfect way to experience the sights, sounds and history of the area at a relaxing four knots-an-hour. Explore shipyards, historical structures, seaplanes, and other craft, all from the comfort of your converted tugboat. While you're soaking up the harbor experience, don't forget to visit Newcastle Island Provincial Park, 306 hectares of marine park magic, perfect for day-hikes, picnicking or camping.
North America's last standing Hudson Bay Company Bastion? It's here on the harbour's edge -- an eternal tribute to the city's early days. Throughout the summer, you'll know exactly when it's noon, thanks to a cannon-firing ceremony that also includes bagpipes and Highland dancing.
The breathtaking architecture of the 800-seat Port Theatre is impossible to miss. This oceanfront venue is the centre for Nanaimo art, culture and music, an impressive and memorable roster of shows year-round.
Nanaimo's impressive array of pubs and restaurants not only attracts visitors but locals as well, many who happily drive up or down the island to enjoy this city's gastronomical offerings. Downtown, experience swashbuckling seafood fare and some of the finest fish & chips anywhere. For something different, try some mid-island Ukrainian cuisine, rustic Mediterranean or even Nanaimo's best poutine (not to mention some of the best fine-dining this side of Victoria). Heading into the Old City Quarter brings more choices -- New York-Style pizza, Thai and Southwestern. North Nanaimo is home to fantastic brewpubs, bistros and family dining. Remember, the Island boasts many fine microbreweries. Be sure to enjoy your meal with a frosty mug of locally-brewed ale, lager or stout.
Tub City best describes Nanaimo every last week of July, when the city plays host to the sensational, internationally-renown Nanaimo Bathtub Race. The tradition began in 1967 with the Nanaimo to Vancouver Great International World Championship Bathtub Race. Up until the 1990's, the race was the highlight of Vancouver's Marine Festival, featuring tubers by the hundreds racing their bathtub boats from Nanaimo to Vancouver's Kitsilano Beach. Now, the ever-popular event runs between Nanaimo and Departure Bay. Today, bathtub races are held the world over, but it all started here in the Tub City.
Whether you're here for the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding area, the idyllic harbor, the amazing pubs and restaurants or just for the bathtubs, don't be fooled. This amazing little port city is even bigger and better than it seems.