POPULATION: 17,000 (Metro, 2011)
MUST DO: Play and swim on sandy beaches at low tide; Annual Sandcastle contest
Low tide uncovers Parksville’s best asset – a mile of sandy beach just perfect for sand castle builders, beachcombers or for those who just want to lay on the sand, soak up the sun and relax.
Just a short drive north of Nanaimo, the Village of Parksville has become the place of choice for both retirees and families looking for a great place to live and play.
It was in 1870 that settler John Hirst first visited the area, but it would be another four years before he settled next to the Englishman River. Over the next decade more settlers trickled into the area, clearing the heavy forests for homesteads.
Parksville, then known as The River, remained a remote outpost until nearly the turn of the century when a crude road was pushed through from Nanaimo. A post office soon followed, with the mail distributed from the cabin of Nelson Parks, whose name was eventually given to the settlement.
Just after the turn of the century large-scale logging began. But it was the extension of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) Railway in 1901 that really spurred Parksville’s growth. The railway fueled the beginning of a tourism boom, mainly Vancouver Islanders who traveled to Parksville to relax on the incredible beaches. Motels, stores, resorts and campgrounds sprang up to service the tourists, whose numbers quickly rose into the thousands.
Today, Parksville is a booming tourism and retirement town, home to 12,000 people and 28,000 in the metro area. The beach – an incredible family experience – remains the Number 1 attraction, but the fishing – both salt and freshwater also attracts thousands, with nearby French Creek famous among anglers. Golfers, having a choice of six nearby golf courses, flock to the area.
Nature lovers prowl the flats and beaches of Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park with its 1.5-kilometer beach, campsites and playground. At low tide there’s 200 hectares of exposed flats – just perfect for birdwatching, beachcombing and leisurely walks. In April, Parksville, along with nearby Qualicum Beach, stages the Brant Festival, to celebrate the arrival of thousands of Brant Geese who over-winter in the region.
For the hiker and camper, nearby Englishman River Falls Provincial Park has ancient petroglyphs, Indian rock carvings that testify to the Native heritage of the area.
IF YOU GO
BY ROAD: If you’re coming from the south, take either the Island Highway – which goes directly through Parksville, or the Inland Island Highway out of Nanaimo. It’s a short 30-minute drive. From Port Hardy, take the Island Highway to Mud Bay where you’ll connect with the Inland Island Highway. The drive is about 4 1/2 hours.
BY AIR: Scheduled airline connections are out of Vancouver to the Nanaimo airport.