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Nanaimo Waterfront Walking Tour
A delightful day can be spent exploring Nanaimo on foot. We suggest you begin at the public parking lot next to Maffeo-Sutton Park, corner of Terminal Avenue and Comox Road. Three hours of free parking is available here anytime and on weekends you can park for free for as long as you like. (Weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm, a $2 parking fee is charged for three to six hours or $3 for six to 24 hours.) Public washrooms are provided at the entrance to the park.
As you enter Maffeo-Sutton Park, you'll have the Spirit Square in front of you and the blue metal roof of the Nanaimo Lions Pavilion on your left. In July and August free concerts are presented here on weekends. Walk through the park toward the harbour with the Swy-a-Lana Lagoon on your right. In summer you can swim in this artificial tidal lagoon.
Straight ahead is a bronze statue of former mayor Frank Ney, who presided over the city's northward sprawl in the 1970s. Black Frank really was a pirate amenable to any kind of real estate development so long as there was something in it for him. Ney wanted a private marina built on the site where his statue now stands and only backed down after two-thirds of Nanaimo voters signed a petition in favor of a park.
Have a seat and enjoy the view of the snowy peaks of the Coastal Range of British Columbia between Newcastle and Protection islands. Gabriola is the more distant island with the cliffs, and further right you'll see the Harmac pulp mill near Duke Point.
To the left of the Ney Statue is a dock used by the pedestrian ferry to Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park. From mid-May to early September the ferry operates every hour but only on weekends in the off season. Visit NewcastleIsland.ca to verify the departure times ($9 roundtrip with discounts for children and seniors). There's excellent hiking on Newcastle Island and an entire day could be built around a trip there. Take food and drink as the snack bar on the island only opens sporadically. Newcastle's walk-in campground is ideal for backpackers interested in unrolling the tent close to town (open year-round).
Continue south across the bridge over the Swy-a-Lana Lagoon to Georgia Park. Take a left immediately after the bridge and walk out onto the Pedestrian Fishing Pier. It's fun to sit here and watch people trying to catch crabs as seaplanes take off and land. Keep an eye out for harbour seals.
South again along the Waterfront Promenade, you'll come to a row of townhouses below the 18-story Pacifica Building. The imposing Malaspina Hotel stood here from 1927 to 1984, but after a failed redevelopment in the 1990s this site remained the city's worst eyesore. The Cape Group recommenced construction in 2006, and the building was finally completed in 2009.
Seaplanes linking Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport in Richmond tie up to a wharf opposite Pacifica. Harbour Air (also known as Westcoast Air) has their departures terminal in the mock lighthouse building on stilts just past Pacifica. In a small plaza a few steps up from the Harbourside Patio Bistro are bronze busts of Mark Bate, the first mayor of Nanaimo (in 1875), and Ki-et-sa-kun nicknamed Coal Tyee, who informed the Hudson's Bay Company of Nanaimo's coal deposits in 1849.
Further south along the waterfront is a row of trendy shops and cafes with the commercial fishing fleet tied up in front. Just beyond the shops climb the steel mast, a replica of the mast of the Princess Royal which brought the first English immigrants to Nanaimo in 1854, for an excellent harbour view.
Where the promenade curves to the right is the Wharfinger's Office with public washrooms and a laundromat for the boat people. Go down the ramp opposite this building and pass Penny's Palapa floating restaurant. The narrow walkway offers a closeup look at the yachts. The Protection Island ferry on this ramp provides access to Canada's only floating pub, the Dinghy Dock, departing hourly at 10 minutes past the hour ($9 roundtrip with small reductions for those under 13 or over 64). Arrive a bit early and sit down near the gate as only 34 passengers are allowed aboard per trip.
At the end of the ramp turn left onto Cameron Island, an upscale condo development built between 1990 and 1997. The 26-story Beacon Tower here is the tallest building on Vancouver Island. Continue right around Cameron Island passing the Visiting Pier Wharf where superyachts often tie up. The Gabriola Island Ferry Terminal is at the end of the Cameron Island walkway. You can do a one- to two-hour scenic roundtrip cruise to Gabriola Island on this open car ferry for $11 per person (bicycles $2).
Turn right at the ferry terminal and head back into town along the sidewalk on Front Street. The Port Place Mall (1967) with a supermarket, food court, and banks will be on your left, then the glass and concrete facade of the 800-seat Port Theatre (1998), the city's most important venue for live theatre and music.
Continue up the sidewalk toward the 15-story Coast Bastion Inn (1985), Nanaimo's largest hotel. Directly opposite the hotel is The Bastion, a white octagonal blockhouse constructed by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1853 to protect the young community after the discovery of workable coal seams in 1852. This oldest original HBC fort in North America opens daily from 10 am to 3 pm from late May to the beginning of September. In summer the noon canon is fired by costumed volunteers in Pioneer Waterfront Plaza next to The Bastion. From mid May until early October the Downtown Farmers Market sets up on this spacious plaza every Friday from 2 pm to 6 pm.
Cross Front St. at the next traffic lights to reach the Dallas Square Cenotaph honouring those who gave their lives in the world wars. At this point, you have a choice of beginning our Downtown Walking Tour or returning directly to your car by heading north along Front Street. If you chose the latter option you'll soon pass the neo-Romanesque Court House (1895) and the Italianate-style Globe Hotel (1887). On the other side of Front St. above Georgia Park is a Squamish canoe cut from a single cedar log in 1922.
Another enjoyable walk begins at the northwest corner of the Mafeo-Sutton Park parking lot. The pedestrians-only Lions Great Bridge over the Millstone River gives access to the Harbourfront Walkway along Newcastle Island Passage as far north as the Waterfront Suites and Marina. You'll pass the Nanaimo Yacht Club and find many pleasant places to sit and enjoy the views.
Updated: 28 July 2015
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