Nanaimo is the third oldest city in British Columbia, and for that reason, Nanaimo`s history is an integral part of its identity. Nanaimo was first inhabited by a band of Coast Salish Native peoples, who called themselves Snunéhymuxw, meaning “great and mighty people”. Today, Nanaimo proudly boasts its name which is the anglicized version of Snunéhymuxw.
The discovery of coal in the 1800’s marked a dramatic shift in Nanaimo’s history. This discovery brought the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company miners to Nanaimo in 1852. A number of European immigrants arrived shortly thereafter with the task of mining. Coal Mining became Nanaimo’s distinguishing feature and was essential to the city’s economic vitality for nearly a century. In 1853, the HBC Bastion fortress was built in order to protect and defend Nanaimo. Today the Bastion still proudly sits downtown Nanaimo and the canon is fired everyday at noon in the summer months.
With the growth of Nanaimo as a mining town, other immigrants came to Nanaimo to capitalize on its economic strength. Most notably, Japanese and Chinese groups arrived in Nanaimo. They created their own communities throughout the city. Unfortunately most of the settlement was destroyed by a fire in 1960.
Rich in resources and with its central ‘hub’ location, Nanaimo thankfully sustained itself when coal mining settled down. Logging became the city’s economic driver and the opening of the Harmac Pulp and Paper mill in 1950 provided jobs for many. Today, Nanaimo’s economic profile has again shifted dramatically and is much more diverse in its make-up. Nanaimo’s history is an integral part of the city today and one cannot ignore the colourful past that Nanaimo has transitioned through.