The oldest structure in Nanaimo, on which construction was started in 1853 and completed in 1855, is the octagonal shaped Bastion. It is one of only two historical buildings with this shape in British Columbia (the other is Pachena Point Lighthouse) and the only original wooden bastion still standing in North America.
Built to defend the Hudson Bay Company’s coal mining operations in the region, this three story building is often referred to as Nanaimo’s premier landmark due to both its distinctive shape as well as its high visibility from both land and sea.
Over the years, the site has undergone several changes – both in location as well as in structural maintenance. The most outwardly obvious of these changes is that the location of the building was changes twice for a multitude of reasons which has included preservation purposes, politics, and land deals; once in 1891 and again in 1979. The original location of the site is actually now the parking lot of the Dorchester Hotel. With the problematic conditions of the Pacific Northwest Coast rearing their heads again, the entire Bastion was renovated in the summer of 2010 with rotting beams being replaced and additional stabilizing beams being installed.
The building itself was designated as a local heritage site on December 12, 1985 and it has the distinction of being the first site in British Columbia to be preserved under the threat of demolition. Today it is under the supervision of the Nanaimo District Museum which has continued on the tradition of firing the canon at noon every day during the summer.
Interesting Additional Facts:
- the original structure was built without the use of nails
- it is the oldest surviving HBC building of its type
- during the early years of the settlement at Nanaimo, the bastion acted as an icon of civilization in the midst of the wilderness for the European population arriving in the area
- the building represents the province’s first foray into heritage preservation
- the Bastion is open to visitors 7 days a week from the May long weekend to Labour Day
**On an interesting side note, the oldest octagon shaped building in the world is the Tower of the Winds located in Athens which dates to 300 BC**