Self Guided Historic Walking Tour of Nanaimo - Departure Bay
History & heritage
Writing & literature
This walking tour will cover the fascinating history of Departure Bay, the broad sweep of coast north of Nanaimo. It starts at the BC Ferries terminal and involves a walk along the beach of rock and sand, so we recommend you wear appropriate footwear. It includes several historic photos taken from wharves of which only the piers still exist. Today they can only be reached at low tide. It also ends with a small hike up Sugar Mountain where you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the bay and a remarkable glimpse into the past by seeing through the eyes of photographers who stood there over a century ago. Departure Bay was for thousands of years the site of the local Snuneymuxw people's winter village. The village was known as Stl'i lep, or 'The Base of the Mountain.' The Snuneymuxw, whose name translates as 'The Great People', have inhabited territories that stretch from here and down the coast for over 4,000 years. The village itself was inhabited principally by four families, who lived in three rows of cedar longhouses on the beach. There was another set of longhouses near the modern-day Pacific Biological Station. As well as a place for rest and ceremony during the cold season, the Snuneymuxw used Stl'i lep as an ancestral burial ground and for gathering food. There was ample fish and game to ensure the village's inhabitants had access to a varied diet: Archaeological excavations around the village site in 1992 identified 30 bird species and 14 types of mammals. Stl'i lep was also the place where spring food gathering began with the March herring run. The herring were so abundant that schools of the fish chased ashore by whales would pile a foot high on the beaches. This abundance of natural resources gave the bay its nickname: 'The Food Cupboard'. The Nanaimo coastline was explored by the Spanish in the late 1700s, and Departure Bay was named by them, ‘Bocas de Winthuysen.' This name was replaced with by Englishman Joseph D. Pemberton, who surveyed the coastline in the early 1850s. That same year Governor James Douglas signed a treaty with the Snuneymuxw where they handed over their land to the crown, though they retained their village sites, including that at Departure Bay. They were given 668 blankets in exchange. The first British settlers arrived in 1861, and they lived alongside the Snuneymuxw in Departure Bay. By the late 1860s, with the discovery of coal, the bay was already becoming industrialized: a railway was built to the coast from the mine at Wellington, and the first wharves and coal docks were constructed. In 1882 Departure Bay was described as a fine and bustling harbour: "adjacent to Nanaimo with accommodation for a whole fleet, and it often contains many vessels some loading coal and others waiting for cargoes."
This event is free.
On This Spot
On This Spot guides people on a tour back in time, showing & telling the history that surrounds them. On each spot, users will find themselves standing in the footsteps of a photographer who took a historic photo. On site tourists/users can use the built-in camera feature to create their own then-and-photos, which can be shared on social media and saved as a digital souvenir. Selections of these photos are chained together into walking tours that take a deep dive into local history. On This Spot strives to make history engaging, educational, and accessible to all with a focus on easy to use features and a succinct writing style. The aim is to create an intuitive user experience that provides historical unparalleled depth without overwhelming or confusing users.
This event is part of a hub:
On This Spot guides people on a tour back in time, showing & telling the history that surrounds them. On each spot, users will find themselves standing in the footsteps of a photographer who took a historic photo. On site tourists/users ca...