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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

“A big, strong tribe” OR “great people” which is it????

Nanaimo was on our agenda today. We had only driven through Nanaimo on our way up to Fanny Bay on December 1st, and we wanted to spend some time exploring Nanaimo on foot today. Nanaimo is the 2nd largest city by population on Vancouver Island, with approximately 92,000 people residing in the city.

Nanaimo now known as the “Harbour City”, was founded as Colvilletown, around a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post and it developed after 1849 when coalfields were discovered nearby by the Indigenous peoples. In 1860 the settlement was renamed Sne-ny-mo (whence Nanaimo) from an Indian word meaning “a big, strong tribe’, which was applied to a tribal confederation.

There is a contradictory story on how the name of Nanaimo came to be though. Apparently there were 5 tribes in the area who called the area “Snanaimo” or “Great People”. Eventually with time people dropped the “s” at the beginning of the name and the town became “Nanaimo”. Regardless of how the name came to be, we enjoyed our visit today, learning a lot about the history of the city.

From Fanny Bay to Nanaimo is approximately a 50 minute drive south on the main Hwy 19. Today‘s weather was +6 and grey, forecasting rain all day, but we didn’t see any rain today on our exploration adventure.

Before we left for Nanaimo I was up early to do my home workout in Newman, and was able to capture this beautiful morning sunrise. Today’s sunrise was particularly stunning! When you wake up to this serenity, you know its going to be a great day!

Sunrise on Fanny Bay.

As I was getting ready to go out I overheard Richard on the phone to the propane company telling them he wanted to give them his visa number to pay for the connector and line for the propane tank. While he was on hold with Viper Fuels I thought to myself ”didn’t he do this yesterday?” I specifically had heard him giving out his visa to someone on the phone yesterday. I said to Richard, “you called that in yesterday!”. Sure enough, the person at Viper Fuels said he had paid for the connector and line already. I’m beginning to wonder if this is what happens when you’re not working? Brain goes to mush??? I’d better get Richard on the word puzzle book from Costco to keep his mind sharp!!

I had seen photos of the Old City Quarter in Nanaimo which looked quite colourful ], and thought we should start our day looking around that area. The place was pretty deserted, and the area was a lot smaller than we thought it would be, but we still enjoyed wandering around the Old City Quarter.

Colourful wood frame buildings on Fitzwilliam Street in Nanaimo

Fitzwilliam Street in the Old City Quarter.

Fitzwilliam Street was named after the son of an Earl, but it wasn’t much of a street until the bridge was built across the ravine in 1875. Once the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was completed in 1886 new shops, restaurants and hotels were built to entice visitors arriving by train.

Occidental Hotel built in 1887 close to where thirsty passengers were arriving and departing at the new Esquimalt & Nanaimo (E&N) railway station. Built by Sam Fiddick who had made his fortune in the Fraser River gold rush of 1858, and stayed in the Province once the gold rush was over. The saloon was known as ”The First & Last”

Occidental Hotel. We missed the $9 breakfast. I’m sure this would be a perfect “spoon” for Richard and his friends though!

We saw a consignment store further up Fitzwilliam Street and we are looking for a new light for our sunroom back in Fort Erie. Richard would not let me buy any old fixture to replace the one we had up on the ceiling, that we had purchased in the Thursday night market in Palm Springs, many years ago. He wants a light fixture with a story to it. So we went in looking for the holy grail of all light fixtures, that had a story to it.

Lots of interesting vintage things were on consignment, but we didn’t find a light fixture today unfortunately. The store did remind us of the consignment stores downtown Plant City, Florida, where we have a home.

We found a very interesting food store on Fitzwilliam Street selling a lot of British goods, so we had to make a stop for some peach chutney, Eccles cakes and orange cordial. I was very much reminded of my mother’s heritage while I was visiting this store.

Before walking around the Nanaimo Harbour, we stopped for lunch at Noodlebox.

Unfortunately I ordered mine “medium” spicy and it was too spicy for me so we had to bring it home. I will cook it with some coconut milk to take the “edge” off it, for dinner.

After Richard had lunch, we headed out to walk the Nanaimo Harbour. Nanaimo has been claimed to have the deepest port on the west coast!

Nanaimo Bastion is an enduring local icon. Built in 1853, the three floors of the Bastion were skillfully crafted using traditional wood working techniques called “piece-sur-piece” technique which uses timber’s laid atop one another horizontally, with tenons cut on each end. The tenons are inserted into vertical grooves in the eight vertical posts, while the bottom sill log was set on a masonry foundation The Bastion was made by workers of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Nanaimo Bastion remains the last wooden Hudson’s Bay Bastion in North America. Today the Bastion which sits above the Nanaimo Harbour, is its most recognizable landmark. (Photo credit to Photography by G). I couldn’t get a good shot of The Bastion, no matter how hard I tried, so this photo does the old Bastion more justice than I could have today!

As we were walking down the through the Nanaimo Harbour we saw a small sign advertising fish for sale. We decided to walk down the pier to the fishing boat with the sign and find out what was on the menu!

Caitlin from Island Wild Seafoods.

Blue Bayou fishing boat

Blue Bayou from Island Wild Seafoods

We purchased just over a pound of halibut ($23/lb) from Caitlin and of course while I was taking photos, Richard got talking to Caitlin. The halibut season ended in B.C. on December 7th, 2020, so our halibut was purchased frozen. Caitlin also had frozen sashimi grade tuna for sale. We learned that her husband Jordan is the fisherman and the Blue Bayou is his boat. Jordan is a 4th generation fisherman and practises sustainable long line fishing for halibut. He also fishes for sablefish, lingcod, red snapper and of course tuna. The halibut are typically anywhere from 20-50lbs and are caught on hooks, rather than using nets. The practise of using hooks in a line, ensures that there will be a sustainable harvest of halibut for years to come. Caitlin works for the Federal Government in Ottawa remotely, but helps her husband by selling fish on weekends at various ports. If you want to learn more about their fishing operation they also have a facebook page: Island Wild Seafoods. I had no idea about sustainable long line fishing! We are happy that we are supporting a local fisherman with our purchase and we have frozen our halibut to eat another day!

We got the sense that the Nanaimo Harbour was truly a “working harbour” and not just for pleasure boats to dock.

I liked the name of this fishing boat. It would appear they fish for crabs.

Fishing boat, Nanaimo Harbour.

Tug boats in Nanaimo Harbour.

From Nanaimo Harbour, a view of the Mountains of Howe Sound across the Salish Sea/Strait of Georgia.

Ki-Et-Sa-Kun who showed the Hudson’s Bay Company the first coal from Nanaimo.

Snuneymuxw Coal Story: The Snuneymuxw knew of Pitst, the black rock outcrops around Nanaimo Harbour, for thousands of years. The oral history warned that this black rock belonged to Qwunus, the black whale that migrated annually through the Georgia Strait. When the Hudson’s Bay Company established a post in Victoria, two Snuneymuxw men -Ki-et-sa-kun (pictured above) and his cousin gathered up a blanket of coal to trade with the blacksmiths, for iron hoops. They were taken to Governor James Douglas who was highly pleased with these two men and gave Ki-Et-Sa-Kun and new name ‘COAL TYEE‘. When the two returned home to their home though, the Snuneymuxw were very displeased that the two men had broken a traditional taboos by removing the coal. They were sent to watch the water and make peace with the whales.

Not long after, Joseph McKay was sent by Governor Douglas to visit the region and McKay was remembered as dancing on top of the coal seams with great joy. McKay later established the Nanaimo Hudson’s Bay Company post beside the Sunnuneymuxw village. The Snuneymuxw mined 2,000 tons of surface coal in the first year of the HBC mining operation. Women carried the coal in baskets to the waiting ships. When coal was dug underground, Snuneymuxw men worked side by side with the early miners and later they worked as coal trimmers on the local wharfs. Today very few whales visit the Georgia Strait/Salish Sea.

After walking around the Nanaimo Harbour for a few hours, we decided it was time to head home and we arrived in Fanny Bay just as it started to rain! Good timing for our day!

We feel we had a great history lesson today in Nanaimo, as well as learning about sustainable fishing too. While we cannot travel too far. -day trips only - we are happy to be able to get out, take some fresh air in our lungs and explore this beautiful Island each and every day!

We’re not sure what is on the agenda tomorrow, but I think its raining! Perhaps some golf from Kapalua might be in order!! If only we could be there to experience it in person!!!

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