COLUMN: Harbour City a natural tourist draw

My grandpa came to stay with me for the weekend recently, and because he hadn’t been in Nanaimo for any great length of time for a number of years, he brought a map.

Over coffee the first morning, he spread the map across the kitchen table and his remarks reminded me of all the fantastic natural features this city has.

For one, he expressed surprise at how big Newcastle Island is, likening it in size to Stanley Park in Vancouver, that gem that attracts tourists from all over the world.

Of course, Stanley Park is on a whole different level amenities-wise and is bigger, but his memories of visiting Newcastle when he was younger reminded me of how beautiful the island is and how much I enjoy walking on it, kayaking around it and viewing it from the channel when I’m having dinner at a waterfront restaurant or strolling the harbourfront walkway.

Newcastle, combined with Protection Island in our beautiful harbour, are fantastic amenities for any city to have, but it seems my visitors are always surprised to find such gems in Nanaimo.

Another one of my grandpa’s observations was the great number of green spaces and lakes within the city.

He’s right – this city has many beautiful parks, and lots of waterfront, both salt and fresh water, that residents enjoy

Since I happen to live close to Colliery Dam Park, we walked there after breakfast.

Grandpa’s reaction was one of pleasant surprise when we rounded a bend in the paved trail to view the lower lake. He couldn’t believe such a place existed just around the corner from my house – it’s a completely different world of trees, trails and water, one I disappear into as frequently as I can.

Grandpa’s visit brought me back to how I felt when I first moved here.

It was a particularly hot summer that year, and I loved that I could be at one of several gorgeous swimming holes in 10 or 15 minutes.

I moved from Port Coquitlam, in the Lower Mainland, where if you want to go to a lake, you drive for about half an hour. The same goes for mountain biking – which I didn’t get interested in until I moved here and discovered that single track trails surround the city.

In Nanaimo, the furthest mountain bike trails are about a 10-minute drive away. The closest are within easy riding distance from my house.

Our natural amenities are a draw for people like myself to come live and work here. They are a draw for tourists as well.

Yet, for so long, Nanaimo has been seen as a place to stop on the way to Tofino or Victoria.

Hopefully a change to this viewpoint is in the works with the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation’s efforts to build up the tourism sector.

Perhaps residents need a reminder as much as the rest of the world just what we have here.


In other tourism-related news, it looks like passenger rail service is returning to the Island.

The federal government committed $7.5 million, matching the province’s $7.5 million, to repair the E&N Rail line.

The Island Corridor Foundation, which owns the line, halted passenger service in 2011 due to safety concerns arising from the deteriorating condition of the tracks.

I wrote about my hopes that this line remains a viable transportation alternative after the service was suspended.

It not only serves residents (I’ve used it to travel to Victoria), but it also serves tourists.

Many of my friends want to visit, then head south and visit other friends in Duncan or Victoria. And to save money, they don’t want to bring their car.

Passenger rail will offer them a pleasant, scenic way of getting around.


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