With a history going back to the mid 19th Century the City of Nanaimo is blessed with a rich and colorful past. The city is equally lucky in that many of the fine original structures that sprang up, as the once rustic coal mining community evolved into the primary Central Vancouver Island service center that it is today, remain intact and functioning. Let’s take a brief look at just some of the historic architectural inventory that exists in the city’s downtown core.
A fixture at 121 Bastion Street is the Commercial Hotel, a three story structure that was constructed in 1913. Designed by the architectural firm of Breseman and Dufree, the Commercial Hotel was originally constructed to serve as living quarters for many of the unmarried men who worked in the city’s coal mines. At the turn of the century the mines were bustling but there was a definite shortage of available accommodation space in proximity to the mines that operated near the downtown.
It’s an interesting note that the existing Commercial Hotel is actually the second venue of that name to have operated in the city. An earlier iteration was constructed in 1875, on the adjacent corner to the present structure. The 1913 version was originally constructed as additional accommodation space for the first Commercial Hotel. In later years the original hotel was demolished, leaving only what was intended as the annex to survive.
There are few more iconic Nanaimo buildings (with the exception of the Bastion itself) than the Great National Land Building located at 5 – 17 Church Street. With its red brick façade and column decked entrance the building was constructed in 1914 as a Bank of Commerce outlet. Designed by architect Victor Horsburgh who worked as the Bank’s official architect, the Great National is one of the city’s finest examples of a design school referred to as the Classical Period Revival style.
Interestingly enough the towering and conservative building, constructed to showcase stability, prosperity and permanence was constructed during one of the greatest periods of labor unrest in the city’s history – namely a series of coal miner’s strikes that racked the community from 1912 to 1914. The building was created in part to demonstrate stability during times of turmoil. The structure has been a fixture in the downtown for more than a century, including as a real estate office and more recently as home to a major web development firm.
Another downtown historic structure is the Caldwell Block which is located at 35 Commercial Street. Constructed in 1908 this modest Edwardian style commercial structure was constructed right from its beginning as a storefront. During the 1920’s the building became home to Caldwell’s Clothing which operated from the location until just before the Second World War. Originally featuring a brick façade the building was later clad in stucco.
Having been updated and altered over the decades the building has always managed to retain its original functional character. The building is one of a number of similar stark and simple Edwardian commercial buildings that line the west side of Commercial Street.
Interested to learn more? They why not contact the City of Nanaimo’s Culture and Heritage Department to learn more about the unique and fascinating history of the Harbour City.