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History of Nanaimo

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The city of Nanaimo boasts a colourful history: from being a coal mining town in the 1850s, the town evolved to be a centralised location of Vancouver Island. With a population of over 90,000 people, Nanaimo is a dynamic second largest city on the island.

Initially Nanaimo was inhabited by a vibrant First Nation called Snuneymuxw (pronounced Snuh-NAY-mow), who lived around Nanaimo for over 5,000 years. In 1791, Nanaimo Harbor was established during the Spanish voyage of Juan Carrasco, a Spanish explorer and naval officer.

In 1849, coal was discovered around Nanaimo, and the settlement was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1852. The settlement was originally named Colviletown – after Andrew Colvile, the governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Six years later, in 1860, the town got its present name, Nanaimo. The word “Nanaimo” is derived from an Indian word that means “a strong mighty tribe”.

The history of Nanaimo was mostly related to coal mining activities in the area. The discovery of coal led to the gradual growth of the town: from 125 people in 1853 to around 1,000 people in 1874. At that time, Nanaimo was mostly a coal mining town, producing about 80,000 tons of coal a day by 1874. San Francisco was the top destination for coal shipped from Nanaimo.

Having reached peak production in 1922 with 1,400,000 tons of coal, production declined gradually in the years that followed. This was due to the fact that coal mining became increasingly dangerous and expensive. In 1968, the last mine in Nanaimo was closed, as lumber replaced coal as the major business. At that time, a pulp mill was built in Nanaimo, which since then has been a huge contributor to the local economy.

Modern History

Since the 1950s, Nanaimo’s economy has evolved from being dependent on lumber to a more diversified base including retail and distribution industry, manufacturing, and construction. Nanaimo is home to the main campus of Vancouver Island University (formerly called Malaspina University-College), an important educational institution of the area.

Today Nanaimo is an important regional center on Vancouver Island and a top destination for tourists traveling to the area, with its mild climate, beautiful nature, and camping sites. Nanaimo offers a wide selection of hiking trails, picnic sites, beaches, and fishing opportunities.