Timeless tales: New Nanaimo city hall made statement

NANAIMO – City hall was completed in 1951 for a total construction cost of $160,000.

When Nanaimo’s city hall was completed in 1951 for a cost of $160,000, it was more than just a civic building – it was statement to the rest of the province.

“It is a symbol of the city’s maturation,” said Christine Meutzner, Nanaimo Community Archives manager. “They situated it on a hill, they put a curving driveway up to it and they put this quite elaborate garden. This is a statement.”

Nanaimo City Hall was designed in the early 1940s by Thomas B. McArravy, a modernist architect who was originally from the United Kingdom and designed a variety of buildings on Vancouver Island. The building was constructed on the site of a defunct brewery and features French marble, windows from England, terrazzo floors and wood imported from around the world.

“These are high-end materials,” Meutzner said. “It is a kind of style that says ‘hey we are new, we’re fresh, we’re modern,’”

Prior to 1951, Nanaimo never really had a true city hall site according to Meutzner.

“They just housed the city hall in whatever random vacant building they could find,” she said.

Among the prominent guests to visit city hall in its first year were the mayor of London and Princess Elizabeth, who would become the Queen of England sixmonths after her visit to the Harbour City.

Despite an extension in 1970, Nanaimo’s city hall has remained generally unchanged for the past 64 years.

Although there aren’t too many quirky facts about city hall, Meutzner said that before the flagpole was raised in 1951, officials placed a time capsule into the top portion of it.

“It contains pictures and records for future interest, but my guess is that because it has been up in the elements for 64 years and unless that was absolutely water tight, it is all just soggy paper,” Meutzner said. “I don’t think most people know that because most of these people [involved with construction] are all dead now.”