The Bastion

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.

The Nanaimo Bastion; image from www2.viu.ca

The Nanaimo Bastion; image from www2.viu.ca

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
The Nanaimo Bastion; photo from searcharchives.vancouver.ca

The Nanaimo Bastion; photo from searcharchives.vancouver.ca

**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**

10 Facts – Nanaimo

Located on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, and occasionally known as both ‘the Bathtub Racing Capitol of the World’ and ‘Harbour City’ (I know which title I’d prefer), the city of Nanaimo has played an important role in the development of both Vancouver Island as well as British Columbia as a whole and, to honor that, here are ten historical facts about the city:

  1. The area where Nanaimo would eventually appear was originally occupied by the Coast Salish Peoples who called it Snueymuxw (Snuh-NAY-moo)

    The Indigenous People of Nanaimo; image from wikipedia.

    The Indigenous People of Nanaimo; image from wikipedia.

  2. It is the third oldest city in British Columbia
  3. The first Europeans to arrive in Nanaimo Bay were with the 1791 voyage of the Spanish Juan Carrasco
  4. The city began as a trading post in the early 19th century
  5. It was called Colevile Town until 1860 when the name was changed to Nanaimo; at this time the name Colevile was stricken from all maps and records
  6. In its early days the town was know chiefly as an exporter if coal

    The Nanaimo Dunsmuir Coal Warf. Imagr from www.historytothepeople.ca

    The Nanaimo Dunsmuir Coal Warf. Imagr from http://www.historytothepeople.ca

  7. In 1853 the Bastion was built in order to protect the harbour and its surrounding area

    The Nanaimo Bastion; image from www2.viu.ca

    The Nanaimo Bastion; image from www2.viu.ca

  8. The first immigrants arrived in 1854 and they arrived from London by way of Honolulu
  9. Near the end of 1854 the first census was order which determined that there were 151 people in the white population, 32 dwelling houses, 3 shops, 6 outhouses, 1 school with 29 students; no one was over 60, 15 people were between 50-60, and nearly 1/2 were under the age of 20
  10. In the 1940’s lumber finally supplanted coal as the number 1 industry
Nanaimo in the 1940's. Image from www2.viu.ca

Nanaimo in the 1940’s. Image from www2.viu.ca

For more information check out the City of Nanaimo site and Tourism Nanaimo website.