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BC ferry leaving Nanaimo

This city, on the East coast of Vancouver Island, is the second biggest on Vancouver Island, with a population of some 78,000. It is only 23 km (14 miles) west from Vancouver and 113 km (70 miles) north of Victoria.

Nanaimo is linked to the mainland by two major BC Ferry routes; Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay and Tsawwassen to the new Duke Point Terminal, just south of Nanaimo. As we live near Horseshoe Bay, we are familiar with hopping across to the Island from our local ferry terminal. One of the teachers at our children’s school even commutes from Nanaimo (she works every 2nd day). The fast passenger ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo is another way across. With it’s 1 hour 20 minute crossing time, I hear that some people even commute every day to Vancouver this way.

But Nanaimo is more than a ferry terminal stop en-route to somewhere else, as I hope this quick guide will show you.

If you are interested in buying in this area (or anywhere in BC) please use our form to tell so that we can help you find the right area and the right home. Our local experts are available here and for most other areas.

Profile of Nanaimo

Nanaimo’s population has been growing by about 1,500 a year. Most of these (70%) have been from within BC, 20% from other Provinces and 10% from outside Canada. This profile is partly explained by Vancouver Island’s traditional role as a retirement destination. According to StatsCan the majority of new residents are 45 to 64 years of age; many are families with teen-aged children, and some are “empty nesters” moving to Nanaimo in anticipation of their retirement years but also to re-establish mid to late professional careers or start new businesses.

However with about 50% of Nanaimo’s population being under 40 years of age, and only 16.8% of retirement age, Nanaimo is far from being a retirement community.

Like most places, Nanaimo has it’s better areas. The statistics show that residents in the city’s north end have median incomes above the provincial and national medians. The median income in the V9T (North) postal walk is 6.7% higher than the provincial median, and the median income in the V9V (North) postal walk is 17% higher than the provincial median. When I looked at school results, I noticed the results were generally better in these postal districts.


Nanaimo is known as “the Harbour City” and it is certainly developing it’s harbour area. The four-kilometer Harbourside Walkway extends from the downtown harbour, past the modern seaplane terminal, through the Lagoon Park (Canada’s only man-made tidal lagoon), over the new pedestrian bridge, by the Nanaimo Yacht Club, and as far as the BC Ferries Terminal. The walk takes in a number of art galleries and restaurants. Plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the laid-back pace.

Nanaimo like most of Canada, abound in activities you can enjoy. Being by the ocean, there’s the usual water activities. Two unusual ones to consider, at least as spectators, are the Dragon Boat races where 40-60 teams compete in racing their ornate dragon boats in the harbour.

The other sport is the Annual Bathtub Race. The course begins and ends in Nanaimo, with “tubbers” coming from all over the world to compete with their bathtub boats. The race is the main attraction of Nanaimo’s annual July four-day Marine Festival.

Another sport that growing, is scuba diving. The coast around Nanaimo is a great place for diving. In part this is thanks to Project Reef, which involves sinking ships to create artificial reefs.

Nanaimo is a family friendly place. Bowen Park recreation park is a great place for kids. It’s attractions include a scenic waterfall, a nature centre, a children’s barnyard, duck pond, swimming and wading pools and hiking trails. There’s also golf, tennis and lawn bowling for the adults.

Beban Park is probably Nanaimo’s premier recreation centre offers activities for everyone including swimming, skating, tennis, playgrounds, basketball, golf, lawn bowling, multi-use trails, and playing fields.

Visitors will enjoy the Old City Quarter, off Bastion Street. This is the place to find coffee bars, restaurants, specialty stores, art galleries, food stores and antique shops. The area has a mixture of the older heritage buildings and newly designed buildings.

The Port Theatre on Nanaimo’s waterfront is an 800 seat arts centre with a variety of things on all year. When we were last there, the area all around the theatre was full of people enjoying the jazz musicians.

Finally one can’t talk about Nanaimo without mentioning it’s “world famous” confectionery: the Nanaimo Bar. I don’t know if I am just not tuned into these things, but I had not heard of this before coming to Canada and finding Nanaimo bars in my local coffee shop. Apparently these cake bars were sent by UK families to their relatives toiling away as miners in Nanaimo during it’s heyday as a mining town. The cake bar traveled well. If you can’t find it locally, I have included a link to an award winning recipe that you can try.


Most local businesses are small, employing fewer than 20 people; there are very few large businesses with more than 200 employees. Businesses operating in Nanaimo have to have a business licence; as of May 2005 there had been 4,930 licences issued.

Like many area in BC, construction is booming in the Nanaimo area. For instance, in 2004, there were 469 licences issued for new businesses within the city, the majority (26.2%) of which were in construction. Construction activity in Nanaimo increased in 2004 with building permits of $119 million. This was an increase of over 12% from 2003 and was mostly driven by residential projects.

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital has been designated a major regional health centre for central and northern Vancouver Island, and is expanding to fulfill that role. It has recently undergone a $29 million dollar enhancement to surgical facilities and it’s maternity program.


School District 68 has 33 elementary schools, 7 secondary schools and 5 secondary alternate schools. If you are researching an area’s schools, I recommend that you review our page on this. See links at the end of the newsletter.

Malaspina University

Another attraction of Nanaimo is the presence of Malaspina University which has it’s main campus in Nanaimo. It’s other campuses are in Cowichan, Parksville/Qualicum and Powell River. The university has over 10,000 students in full-time and part-time credit programs and courses, 13,000 in general interest continuing education courses and 1,500 international students.


The table below comes from the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board. If you want up to date information then let me know via email.

Area Average Sale Price
- Feb 2010
Campbell River $282,235
Comox Valley $341,003
Cowichan Valley $359,169
Nanaimo $370,747
Parksville/Qualicum $388,339
Port Alberni/West $194,040

The construction boom does mean that there are new houses available - something that appeals to many people coming to B.C.

I hope this profile has intrigued you enough that you don’t just pass through Nanaimo on your way to or from the ferry. It deserves more than that. And if you are seriously considering the area as a destination, we have an excellent partner in the area who can show you the charms of Nanaimo far better than any web page - even mine.


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