Lifestyles celebrates Nanaimo's more entertaining side by showcasing concert bands, dances, theatres and its sportier side by taking a look at hockey, lacrosse, and soccer.
Arts and Culture: Since its founding in the 1850s as a coal mining town, Nanaimo has developed into a vibrant arts and culture community. Mine managers encouraged the miners, mostly from Britain, to participate in recreational activities by subsidizing colliery bands and providing band members with free coal to heat their homes.
Opera House: The three-storey brick building on Church Street, now the site of the Dorchester Hotel, was built in 1888. It operated as a hotel on the upper two floors and as a theatre on the ground floor. It was complete with a mirrored rotunda, royal box and loges, upper and lower galleries, and an orchestra pit. The prime attraction in 1900 was a performance by the Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson. Chinatown also had a 400-seat opera house featuring touring companies from Hong Kong and China.
Pygmy Pavilion: Demolished in 2008, this renowned dance hall was located on Chapel Street, and held its opening event on May 25, 1931. Locals and service men from the military camp regularly attended weekly Saturday night dances in the 1940s. During WWII, military bands from visiting regiments often played until 2:00 a.m.
Frank Ney (1918 -1992) & Bathtubs: Frank Ney was Mayor of Nanaimo from 1968 to 1984, and again from 1987 to 1990. He participated in many local and provincial associations, and, as Chairman of the Nanaimo Centennial Committee (1967), was responsible for organizing the Great Bathtub Race between Nanaimo and Vancouver.
What was been intended to be a one-time event to celebrate Canada’s centennial in 1967, the Bathtub Race has become an annual event of international stature. It attracts thousands of spectators and the unique racing tubs have put Nanaimo on the world stage.
The early races featured a variety of creative and even wacky tubs attempting to race from Nanaimo across Georgia Strait to Vancouver. The fact that many failed to make it out of the harbour just added to the thrill of the race. The 37 km race now travels from Nanaimo Harbour to Departure Bay. It is the highlight of the weekend Marine Festival in July and attracts thousands of residents and visitors to Nanaimo’s waterfront. You can visit the statue of Frank Ney at Swy-a-lana Lagoon along the waterfront.
Sports: Introduced by English miners as early as the 1860s, sports were an integral part of the community life for miners and their families. Employers were generally supportive of team sports and an early map of Nanaimo shows a cricket oval laid out by the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company southwest of town. Gradually, baseball increased in popularity and the cricket oval was used less frequently. Football (soccer) enjoyed its initial burst of popularity along with the rising British working class interest in the game at home. Throughout the pre-war era, touring British soccer teams often made a stop in Nanaimo where they played before large crowds.
Nanaimo citizens established a curling club in 1874, lawn tennis club in 1889, gun club in 1892, lacrosse club in 1891, and yacht club in 1897. Baseball and football clubs were organized in 1876 by Mr. J. Planta. The Nanaimo Athletic Football Club on Church Street was formed c. 1889. The club was housed in the old wooden courthouse and was home to billiards, boxing, wrestling, cycling, basketball, rugby, football, and lacrosse. It was a thriving club until World War I.