Photos: A Walking Tour Of Downtown Nanaimo

For far too long, Nanaimo has been a “drive through/drive thru” city for me: I would only ever “drive through” Nanaimo to get to the Comox Valley while hitting up a “drive thru” for some nosh on my way. As part of our escape, Rebecca and I took some well overdue time to explore the aptly-named Harbour City.


Our tour guide was the ever-lovely Chelsea Barr with Destination Nanaimo who was pleased to show us some of the revitalization that downtown Nanaimo has been undergoing in recent years. What was once at the epicentre of economic activity on Vancouver Island is now one of the most historical and informative places to visit.

With progressive campaigns to promote both tourism activity and business within Nanaimo, the city – and particularly its downtown core – has quickly become one of the Island’s fastest growing communities. Though modern amenities and facilities can be found on every corner, the charm of the city’s past is hard to miss. City streets are lined with everything from quaint diners to decades-old travel agencies and barber shops. Much of the original architecture is nearly a century old and something worth marveling at.

More than a decade ago, the Malaspina Hotel was demolished only to unearth some of Vancouver Island-based artist E. J. Hughes’ most elaborate murals hidden behind years and years of drywall. In 1938 Hughes depicted Captain Malaspina sketching Gabriola Island. This mural was lovingly and painstakingly restored and is now on display – free of charge to the public – at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Gordon Street.

Along the way, Rebecca, Chelsea and I escaped the cold rain by ducking into Tea Leaf Specialty Tea & Cafe. After carefully selecting a tasty blend, Rebecca and I each met with psychologist, life coach and psychic Deborah Jones for a tea leaf reading.

Deborah has been reading angel cards and tea leaves for more than 30 years and though I was unsure of what to expect, my meeting with her was nothing short of amazing. The skeptic in me melted away when I quickly realized that she was spot-on with so many things about me without even opening my mouth. Tea leaf readings with Deborah are a truly unique experience and are available by appointment. You can also find Tea Leave Specialty Tea & Cafe on Twitter.

The final leg of our tour through downtown Nanaimo was spent weaving in and out of specialty shops, boutiques and artisan galleries. Gone are the days when Nanaimo’s shopping destination is only the mall; the city’s quarters are filled with rare finds and covet-worthy items any girl would gush over.

Some noteworthy shops worth popping into included Quintessential Accessories and the Barton & Leier Gallery. While Barton & Leier is stocked with gorgeous treasures for the home, Quintessential will only make you wish there was more room in both your jewelry box and closet. Their clothing, shoes and accessories have definitely cornered the local market. As an added bonus, Quintessential also sells accessories for your pup – a major plus for dog lovers such as myself.

Perhaps my most loved stop was at McLean’s Fine Foods. The unassuming awning boasts a wide selection of cheese and speciality foods, but it’s oh-so-much more than just that. Opened 19 years ago by an exuberant Scotsman by the name of Eric McLean and his wife Sandy, McLean’s stocks everything from sauces and jellies to Scottish soda by the can and squid ink pasta imported from Italy. The foodie in me was in utter heaven.

Squid Ink Pasta
The Very Best of Black Bob

Little Rolo

And yes… McLean’s is now taking Christmas orders!

Downtown Nanaimo should undoubtedly be a key stop on your next drive up or down Vancouver Island. Christmas festivities will be kicked off this Friday, November 26th with the lighting of the Harbourfront Library Christmas tree. For more information on this and other downtown events, visit the Downtown Nanaimo Business Association online.

To stay up-to-date on what’s hot and happening in Nanaimo, make sure you follow Chelsea Barr on Twitter. Word has it that she’s got the scoop on when Santa will make his first appearance in downtown Nanaimo!

Disclosure: [Tea Leaf Specialty Tea & Cafe]

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4 Comments on “Photos: A Walking Tour Of Downtown Nanaimo

  1. I love doing the Harbor Walk on a sunny day! Absolutely beautiful…and a stop for an ice cream cone is always a must!

  2. When getting a lift to the ferry after a meeting in Nanaimo, a wrong turn (or two) turned into my very own mini-tour of Nanaimo. I had never actually been through Nanaimo’s downtown (it’s a “drive through” city for me, too) and was completely surprised! Your photos and story are an additional motivating factor to return (though with this cold snap I’m sticking close to home!).

    This is the type of write up that they SHOULD have on, as part of their Nanaimo profile or on their blog!

  3. amazing collection of beautiful pictures. bookmarking on my digg account! :)

  4. Nanaimo is a great place to visit – there is a wonderful used record / cd store in the old downtown core – lots of great finds there! And McLean’s provides a tasty soup and sandwich lunch.

    I agree with Laura – you should be creating the write ups for tourism sites and profiles! Beautiful writing and lovely pictures!

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