Nanaimo, Vancouver Island

8th April 2024

Known as the “Harbour City” for its incredible downtown harbour district, Nanaimo is the second largest city on Vancouver Island and a popular cruising destination. It was first known as Snuneymuxw – meaning “great and mighty people” in the language of the Salish natives – and the first settlers who arrived in the mid-1800s translated the name into English as Nanaimo (pronounced na-nai-mo). In 1853 the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) built a fort to protect the town. As the city grew, the fort’s Bastion (Blockhouse) functioned as the city hub and like spokes of a wheel, roads branched out.

Nanaimo Boat Basin with The Port Theatre in the background and Port Office on the right

Today, the Bastion is the last of the original free-standing HBC bastions and is operated as an exhibit and is open for tour daily during the summer. Each day at about 11:30 a.m., a bagpiper dressed in a kilt begins playing outside the Bastion, located just above the Port Authority Marina. His piping attracts an appreciative crowd, and many remain to observe the process of swabbing, priming, and loading the antique cannon. At noon sharp, the piping stops, and the cannon is fired. With the touch of the torch, a cloud of smoke burst forth, as the great gun leaps in its shackles.

Not stuck in the past, Nanaimo’s progressive characteristics – from bridge-fishing in the downtown core, to floatplanes sharing waters with orcas along the waterfront – gives it a distinct identity and unique personality. Local creativity is displayed throughout Nanaimo’s galleries and farmer’s markets, while visual arts, theatre and music are highlighted in the Art District and culminate during summer festivals.

Naniamo Bastion

Visit Nanaimo during July and participate in the annual Maritime Festival and Bathtub Race. Since 1967, Nanaimo has been hosting the annual Nanaimo Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race with a whole weekend of activities skippers piloting boats made from bathtubs attempt to navigate a 36-mile course. Other highlights of the festival include concerts, a street fair, parade, fireworks and more.

The Port of Nanaimo oversees two moorage facilities: Inner Boat Basin and W.E Mill Landing & Marina. Boaters are requested to hail the Port Authority on the VHF, Ch 67, for a slip assignment prior to entering the marinas. Reservations are suggested for both facilities.

Many visiting boaters enjoy a fun time in Nanaimo without ever wandering more than a block or two from the boat basin. Several coffee shops, restaurants, ice creamery, and gift stores can be found in and around the Nanaimo Boat Basin. Seasonally fresh seafood is sometimes sold at the Nanaimo Fisherman’s Market dock in the inner basin. Anglers sell live crab, fresh prawns, halibut, and salmon from their boats.

For provisioning there is the Port Place Shopping Centre located immediately south of the Boat Basin. A Thrifty Foods supermarket, liquor store, drugstore, and a variety of shops are all within easy carry-back distance of the boat.

Should you need some boat repair parts or fishing equipment there is The Harbour Chandler. It’s worth a visit just to wonder about the isles.

Nanaimo’s renowned cuisine goes beyond the classic dessert bar that shares the city’s name to include inspired fresh produce and seafood harvested from the surrounding area. Culinary options range from Indian to Thai, Mediterranean to Ukrainian, there’s something to suit any crew member’s palate.

Trollers restaurant in Nanaimo Boat Basin

Trollers, a floating seafood restaurant is in the basin. Another find restaurant in the basin is Penny’s Palapa with their Mexican cuisine. For many boaters, one of the highlights of Nanaimo is a visit to the Dinghy Dock Floating Pub on Protection Island. The Protection Island foot ferry departs from the Boat Basin at 10-minutes after the hour, taking patrons on a short crossing to the pub’s dock. The Pub has family as well as “adults only” seating areas and music on summer evenings.

Another popular eatery is Gina’s Mexican Cafe, fondly known as “The Pink House on the Hill”, a funky Mexican cantina that has been serving delicious food and drinks since 1986. The short uphill walk from the Boat Basin is well worth the effort.

It’s little wonder why boaters on their summer cruise north or south include a day or two in Nanaimo. There is something of interest for both the captain and crew.