Nanaimo, like all towns on Vancouver Island, is small. The city has a few nicknames, including The Harbour City (no explanation needed) and the Bathtub Racing Capital of the World (true story). It is also known for its Nanaimo Bars, a no-bake Canadian dessert bar with distinct layers of custard and chocolate promoted by Tourism Nanaimo via The Nanaimo Bar Trail – reason enough to visit.
Arriving mid-day, I took a moment to settle into my lodgings before further bundling up and trekking over to the Harbourfront Walkway, a walking path along the water. The day was cold, colorless and threatened rain, but locals were in the water up to their waists fishing.
Most of all I remember it was quiet, which later I would realize as a pervading theme during my time on Vancouver Island. I wondered if the weather had more to do with this than Nanaimo being a small town on a mostly-rural island. In retrospect the latter was probably reason enough, no doubt depressed by a blustery day.
Downtown Nanaimo is a walkable section of a dozen or so blocks, some more lively than others, most showcasing a standard pattern of businesses: a cafe (is it acceptable to describe it as American cuisine in Canada?), a gift shop, a coffee shop, a used bookstore, a cafe that moonlights as a dive bar, maybe an antique store. Rinse and repeat, but all quite charming.
There is more to Nanaimo, but those are the quiet areas beyond where visitors explore and more central to where locals live – the places they shop for groceries, fill up their gas tanks, the park down the street where their kids play – and so they are not too exciting to dive into in words, but they are there alongside Downtown, the waterfront, the ferry services to neighboring islands and of course the Nanaimo Bar Trail.
For more about Nanaimo, visit Tourism Nanaimo.