Business and industry were at the heart of the development of the city of Nanaimo, starting in the mid 19th Century with the discovery of coal and the opening of the areas numerous mines. Building up from the iconic Bastion, the city grew outward, with shops, hotels, offices and stores springing into life to support the city’s rapidly growing population. Thanks to that centralized business focus Nanaimo’s downtown core is especially blessed with a collection of elegant commercial structures, beautiful and functional reminders of another time.
Taking a short walking trip around Church, Bastion and Commercial Streets alone will introduce foot travelers to some of the area’s proudest, functioning commercial buildings. One of Nanaimo’s most famous classic buildings is the Bank of Commerce Building on Church Street. Often called the Great National Land Building, after a later owner, this structure with is columned façade was built in 1914, and is the brainchild of the banks’ chief architect Victor Horsburgh.
Five separate but closely associated commercial buildings that line Commercial Street include the Caldwell, Hall, Rogers, Parkin and Hirst Blocks. Constructed between 1908 and 1925, this quintet of multi story structures have housed everything over the decades from law offices to shoe stores and continue to function as active parts of the downtown business community today.
Another architectural highlight of Commercial Street and the downtown is the Ashlar Lodge Masonic Temple which was constructed in 1923. A towering brown brick edifice was built on the site of Nanaimo’s first Masonic Hall, which dates to 1873. That original structure was lost, replaced with the present structure.
The Temple is located directly across the street from the distinctive Gusola Block, a three story building uniquely situated on a corner, giving the structure a peculiar wedge shape. Built in 1937 to take advantage of its intersection location, the building replaced an earlier version that dated to the late 1800’s – a structure that had burned to the ground in 1936.
This is just a sample of the historic richness that makes Nanaimo such a unique community. A little online research or a trip to the city’s excellent downtown museum will turn up even more facts and information about Nanaimo and its thriving commercial core. From camp to city, Nanaimo has grown and evolved over the decades and looks forward to a bright and continually changing future. Why not enjoy the fine weather and take a stroll through the downtown core, the historic heart of Nanaimo’s business sector?