For most of my life, the only time I had ever spent in the Nanaimo are was either at Departure Bay or Duke Point ferry terminals. Nanaimo is a port for vessels carrying tourists, travellers and commuters however in recent years its own downtown core has become known as a great place to eat, shop, and live. During our recent girls getaway to Victoria, we stopped off in Nanaimo for the first day to explore what this burgeoning arts and culinary community has to offer.
The Harbour City is split into several districts and in one afternoon of walking around we hit the Waterfront, Old City Quarter, and Arts District.
Mon Petit Choux Bakery
Location: 101 – 120 Commercial St.
When walking into this “little corner of Paris” in Nanaimo you get a bear-hug of aromas from fresh-baked bread and buttery croissants. I enjoyed an Americano and a delicious Croque-Madam to get my morning going. The owner is very passionate about real, fresh, organic and local ingredients going into their food. There is even a mission statement posted on the cafe’s window that reiterates her message to passersby. Mon Petit Choux is the smaller sibling to The Wesley Street Cafe up in the Old City Quarter.
Vancouver Island Conference Centre
Location: 101 Gordon Street
While we weren’t there to attend any keynote sessions, the sign out front at the conference centre advertised a unique showing of E.J. Hughes’ Malaspina mural. Completed in 1938 it was recently restored after being discovered at the historic Malaspina Hotel prior to its demolition. The conference centre serves not only as a meeting place, but also an extension of the Nanaimo Art Gallery for city expositions, complimenting the Nanaimo Museum just across the street.
Barton and Leier Gallery
Location: 99 Chapel Street
This colourful boutique and gallery shimmers, shines, and dazzles with local and international pieces. Paintings and hand-made jewelry adorn the walls while trinkets, chains, ornaments and accessories hang all around.
2 Chefs Affair
Location: 123 Commercial Street
Only a month old this new bistro cafe specializes in eat-in and take-out lunches prepared by a husband and wife team. After some very sweet treats throughout the day their “Smokin’ Hot” clubhouse sandwich was exactly what I needed to re-charge.
Throughout our walk we ducked into independent shoe stores, home decor meccas, clothing shops, and a European specialty deli. Every proprietor was around to greet us, tell us about their latest collections, and chat about their passion — whether it was fresh-baked breads, imported squid-ink pasta, or the cozy knit sweaters. Old architecture and traditions mixed with modern concepts around every turn. It easily convinced me that Nanaimo can be a day-trip destination from Metro Vancouver by ferry or float plane.
During this walking tour we also paused to get a tea leaf reading and explored a few stops along the Nanaimo Bar Tour, which I’ll cover in future posts.