POPULATION: 3,000 (2011)
MUST DO: See one of the 39 outdoor murals; Dive the Boeing 737 that is now an artificial reef
‘The Little Town That Did’ is an apt slogan for a village that took action when its sawmill closed down in the early 1980s.
Until then, Chemainus had been a thriving town, the people living off the abundance of the surrounding forests. When the mill closed, the community realized that something had to be done, and an idea was born to literally paint the town – in murals, that is.
The first five murals were painted in 1982; another seven were added the following year; more followed. Painted on the side of buildings, each mural depicts an actual historic event of the community. A number of sculptures have also been created. The best way to see this outdoor art is to follow the yellow footprints on a self-guided tour. The murals have drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world. Other communities, seeing the great success, have followed in Chemainus’s footsteps by painting their own murals.
Along with the murals, (there’s 39 murals as of 2013), came a revitalization of the downtown core. Old shops were renovated, new stores built. Artists, antique dealers, restaurateurs, and accommodation hosts flocked to Chemainus, providing visitors with a wide range of shopping and dining experiences and lodging facilities.
The town boasts a beautiful downtown park, Waterwheel Park, with swimming, picnicking and walking trails. One thing you won’t want to miss is Hermit’s Trail, a sanctuary in the forest built by a local hermit.
From July through October, Chemainus hosts the Festival of Murals, a series of events that include entertainment, theatre, food extravaganzas and arts and crafts demonstrations. The town also boasts a thriving dinner theatre.
Chemainus now has a working sawmill and a busy port – the harbor is the oldest deep sea port on Canada’s west coast – where you can watch huge freighters load up with lumber for distant markets. While at the waterfront, hop a ferry to nearby Thetis Island.
If You Go to Chemainus…
BY ROAD: From the north, take the Trans Canada Highway out of Nanaimo. The 40-kilometer trip takes about 30 minutes. From the south, take the Trans Canada Highway north from Victoria. The 70-kilometer trip takes just over an hour.
BY AIR: Scheduled airline connections are out of Vancouver to Victoria or Nanaimo airports.