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The Nanaimo Bar is a no-bake cookie bar named after the City of Nanaimo.

Nanaimo is a centrally located city on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Nanaimo was incorporated as a city in 1874, and has population of more than 83,000. The city is well known for its wealth of recreational opportunities, including biking, boating, hiking, kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling. Nanaimo is approximately 110 kilometres (68 miles) northwest of Victoria, and 55 kilometres (54 miles) west of Vancouver, separated by the Strait of Georgia, and linked to Vancouver via the BC Ferries Horseshoe Bay Terminal in West Vancouver. As the site of the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal, Nanaimo is the gateway to many destinations on the island, including Campbell River, the Comox Valley, Parksville, Port Alberni, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, and Tofino. Destinations off its coastline include Gabriola Island, Newcastle Island, and many Gulf Islands.

The city is known as the “Bathtub Racing Capital of the World” and the “Harbour City.” In 1967, the first bathtub race has held to promote Nanaimo and increase its visibility worldwide. The first race was billed as the “Nanaimo to Vancouver Great International World Championship Bathtub Race.” The race was part of the City of Vancouver’s annual Sea Festival until the 1990s, when tubbers raced from Nanaimo to Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach. The race to Vancouver ended with the demise of the Vancouver Sea Festival in the mid-1990s. The race is now held annually on the last weekend of July and involves a course beginning in Nanaimo Harbour and ending at Departure Bay.

Nanaimo Mayor Frank Ney was one of the largest supporters and promoters of the annual race from its inaugural race in 1967 until his death in 1992. Mayor Ney, an avid participant, would regularly dress as a pirate and tour the town and surrounding communities in his costume. A bronze statue of Ney as a pirate is located at Swy-a-Lana Lagoon in downtown Nanaimo.

Nanaimo is also referred to as the “Hub City” because of its central location on Vancouver Island and the layout of downtown streets that form a “hub” pattern. It is fondly known as the “Hub, Tub, and Pub City” because of its association with bathtub racing and its numerous “watering holes” in Old Nanaimo. The Regional District of Nanaimo has its headquarters in Nanaimo.


Nanaimo experiences a temperate climate with mild, rainy winters and cool dry summers. The mountains of central Vancouver Island shield the city from the Aleutian Low resulting in summers that are unusually dry for its location. Heavy snowfall occurs occasionally during winter.


Nanaimo has more than 30 elementary and secondary schools, most of which are public and are operated by School District 68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith. The main campus of Vancouver Island University is located in Nanaimo. Sprott Shaw College, a private post-secondary institution, also has a campus in the city.


In 1791, Spanish navigators Francisco de Eliza and Juan Carrasco were the first Europeans to discover Nanaimo Bay, which they named Bocas de Winthuysen. In the early 19th century Nanaimo began as a trading post, and in 1849, the Snuneymuxw Chief Ki-et-sa-kun informed the Hudson’s Bay Company of the presence of coal in the area. In 1853, the Hudson’s Bay Company built a fort known as the Nanaimo Bastion.

Robert Dunsmuir helped establish coal mines in the Nanaimo harbour area as an employee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dunsmuir later mined in Nanaimo as one of the first independent miners. In 1869, he discovered coal several miles North of Nanaimo at Wellington, and created the company Dunsmuir and Diggle Ltd to acquire crown land and finance the Wellington Colliery. With the success of Dunsmuir and Diggle Ltd and the Wellington Colliery, Dunsmuir expanded his operations to include steam railways. He sold Wellington Coal through its Departure Bay docks, while the London-based Vancouver Coal Company sold Nanaimo coal through the Nanaimo docks. The gassy qualities of the coal that made it valuable also made it dangerous, and in 1887, the Nanaimo Mine Explosion killed 150 miners. Another 100 men died in an explosion in 1888.

Nanaimo’s main industry of coal mining was replaced by the forestry industry in the early 1960s with the building of the MacMillan Bloedel pulp mill at Harmac in 1958. Employees and local investors now own the mill, which was named after Harvey MacMillan. Nanaimo’s largest employer is the provincial government, and service, retail and tourism industries also contribute to the local economy.

Nanaimo has had four Chinatowns, with the first founded during the gold rush years in the 1860s. At the time, it was the third largest Chinatown in British Columbia. In 1884, Dunsmuir and Diggle Ltd helped move its location to the outside of the city’s limits because of inter-racial tensions related to the company’s hiring of Chinese strikebreakers. In 1908, two Chinese entrepreneurs bought the site and attempted to raise rents, in response, and with the help of 4,000 shareholders from across Canada, the community combined forces and bought the site for the third Chinatown at a new location, which was focused on Pine Street. In the 1920s, a fourth Chinatown was located on Machleary Street. On September 30, 1960, the third Chinatown, which was by then derelict, burned down.


Nanaimo is served by three airports: Nanaimo Airport (YCD) with services to Vancouver (YVR); Nanaimo Harbour Water Airport with services to Vancouver Harbour (Coal Harbour) and Vancouver Airport (YVR South Terminal); and Nanaimo/Long Lake Water Airport. Nanaimo has three BC Ferry terminals located at Departure Bay, Duke Point, and Nanaimo Harbour. The downtown terminal services Gabriola Island while Departure Bay and Duke Point service Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen respectively. Highways 1, 19 and 19A traverse the city. Nanaimo Regional Transit provides bus service in the city.

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