Nanaimo Events and Festivals
“If music be the food of love, play on.” -William Shakespeare
Festival of Banners
The Nanaimo Art Gallery has organized the Festival of Banners each Spring since 1987. Everyone is welcome to participate in this beloved tradition and important community project. In April, professional artists and amateur painters of all ages come together to create one-of-a-kind works of art to enliven and add vibrancy to city streets. Approximately 400 banners are created each year, depending on the Gallery’s level of funding. All painting occurs in April at Nanaimo North Town Centre, and banners are installed on lamp standards in mid-May.
Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival
The Save On Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival is held annually during the first weekend in July. This popular event attracts more than 30,000 spectators and teams from across Canada and the United States. Festivities begin in the afternoon on the first Friday in July with the colourful Awakening of the Dragon Ceremony and Chinese Lion Dance, and then continues on Saturday and Sunday with non-stop entertainment on the main stage, food and shopping, and dragon boat racing of the highest calibre. Admission is free to the general public. This fun family event also raises money to fight cancer locally.
Nanaimo Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race
The Nanaimo Harbour sets the scene for a weekend of family fun at the Bathtub Race and Marine Festival. Held annually during the last weekend in July, the Marine Festival kicks off on Friday with the opening of the Bavarian gardens, food fair, kiddies harbourside playdock and karnival, and the Tim Hortons entertainment stage. Additional programs for children are held at Maffeo Sutton Park and Swy-a-lana Lagoon Park adjacent to the harbour. There are also daily events on Commercial Street, and the Sail Past on Wheels Fun Parade takes place through the Old City Quarter. A fireworks presentation is held in Nanaimo Harbour at 10:00 PM on Saturday. The 30-mile Bathtub Race begins at 11:00 AM on Sunday with participants racing from Nanaimo Harbour to Departure Bay. Mark your calendar and plan to attend the Bathtub Race!
Nanaimo Pumpkin Festival
The annual Nanaimo Pumpkin Festival is held in mid-October at Beban Park on the Vancouver Island Exhibition grounds. The giant pumpkin weigh off is held from 12:00 to 4:00 PM, and a costume contest for children begins at 2:00 PM in the Agriplex. Additional activities and events include face painting and colouring, a farmer’s market, hayrides and pumpkin carving.
Summertime Blues Festival
The Nanaimo Blues Society organizes and presents the Summertime Blues Festival in August. Free outdoor performances are given by dozens of local musicians in downtown locations.
Read about other Nanaimo festivals here.
The City of Nanaimo formed The Port Theatre Society in 1989 to build an 800-seat theatre on the waterfront in downtown Nanaimo. The theatre opened in September of 1998, and has since enhanced the artistic, cultural and economic activity of central Vancouver Island. The theatre is a focal point for residents and visitors alike, offering a broad range of cultural events and programs with local groups as well as touring attractions. A landmark on the city’s waterfront, it also serves as an important meeting place for a variety of community events, seminars and educational conferences. More than 250 events are held annually in the theatre attracting over 100,000 people.
Smaller, local theatre companies such as In Other Words Theatre, Western Edge Theatre and Schmooze Productions perform at the Nanaimo Centre Stage. In 2011, Nanaimo began the Fringetastic Theatre Festival, which is held annually over two weekends in August.