About Nanaimo

Nanaimo is a seaside city on beautiful Vancouver Island, Canada, across the water from Vancouver. It is British Columbia's third-oldest city, and its sixth-largest (about 78,000 people).

Retirees and outdoorspeople love it here. So do students, artists, professionals, hobos, performers, craftspeople, and a lot of tourists.

Not all of the tourists remain in Nanaimo for their entire vacation — there's just way too much going on in the mountains and rivers and shorelines around us. There are gorgeous beaches 30 minutes away, a ton of interesting little historic villages, a vast island wilderness to the north, and to the west, the famously wild West Coast and Pacific Rim National Park.

Nanaimo and vancouver map

Nanaimo's Early History

The indigenous First Nations lived here first, and many of them still do. But after the discovery of Nanaimo's enormous coal reserves around 1850, there was rapid colonization by English, Chinese, Scottish, Japanese, and many other nationals. There were 80-90 years of economic BOOM, as we shipped out our premium quality coal, timber, seafood, and even sandstone - first by schooner, then by steamship, and finally by diesel and electric power.

Nanaimo Today

The mines flooded long ago, but Nanaimo still earns a comfortable living. Our modern economy thrives on a mild climate (we're a destination city for both tourists and retirees) and on a regional primacy; Nanaimo is the business and services center for Central and Northern Vancouver Island (350,000 people).

Quick economic breakdown:

  • Services - High proportion of health care & social assistance industries, accommodation, food services, retail, government & education, knowledge-based companies, scientific and technical sectors.
  • Tourism - Historic interest, outdoor/adventure, gateway to the central/north island
  • Construction - The population's growing steadily and development is fueling a big demand for builders.
  • Arts & culture - We got a national "Cultural Capital" designation because more artists can find work here.

The Land

The geography of Nanaimo is stunning, curving along a calm Pacific shoreline beside a 1km-high mountain. There are some huge trees here. Some of them — the arbutuses — have smooth, red bark and are only found here in the Gulf of Georgia. We also have lakes, and mighty rivers with canyons, and caves deep in the forest.

The Culture

Read our Nanaimo Culture pages for some snapshots of life in Nanaimo.

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