The Little Town That Did earned its nickname after Chemainus residents decided to expand their forest industry past into a vibrant tourism-driven future. Through the dreams, imagination and energy of the community, the little town of Chemainus found a new life by putting on a new face. The town transformed itself – capturing and expressing its history, its people and its future.
Artists from around the globe were invited to paint huge heritage murals on the sides of buildings, transforming a small coastal mill town into the world’s largest outdoor art gallery.
Location: Chemainus is located in the Cowichan Valley, south of Nanaimo and one hour north of Victoria on the Trans-Canada Highway. Cassidy Airport is 20 minutes to the north and the town is also serviced by coach lines between Victoria and Nanaimo. A more spectacular route to travel is via the Esquimault and Nanaimo railway, which stops at Chemainus. The train passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada and provides panoramic views of the Gulf Islands.
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Chemainus Murals: In 1982, the first five murals were created – today there are 41 murals and 13 sculptures, attracting over 400,000 annual visitors to Chemainus.
Chemainus Theatre, the Playbill Dining Room and The Gallery gift shop are all under one roof! The Chemainus Theatre, a professional regional theatre company, features classics, musicals, comedies, and contemporary favourites.
Commonwealth of Chemainus: In summer 2002 Chemainus claimed ‘independence’ as the Commonwealth of Chemainus, with a Festival of Independence held to celebrate the marketing occasion. The flag colours are green, blue and brown – symbolizing the forest, sea and farmland – and the official animal on the flag is the unicorn. Residents and visitors can become citizens of the new state, with passports available by donation from the Visitor Centre and many of the shops in downtown Chemainus.
BC Ferry: A small car and passenger ferry runs from downtown Chemainus to nearby Thetis Island and Penelakut Island (formerly Kuper Island), home of the Penelakut First Nation. BC Ferry: Chemainus to Thetis Island and Penelakut Island
One cannot truly experience Chemainus without sampling one of their legendary ice cream cones.
Antiques: Around each corner in Chemainus is a dealer in antiques and collectibles. Gift shops and art galleries abound, offering some of the Island’s best pottery, and native and local artworks.
Fuller Lake: Fish or swim in Fuller Lake Park…just three minutes from downtown Chemainus.
Visitors can find a quiet spot in beautiful Waterwheel Park, located across from the Visitor Centre.
The Weyerhauser Mill is another unique attraction. This new high-tech mill is smaller but more efficient than its predecessor. It makes wood to order, and is able to extract the highest grade of lumber from every piece. You can watch the entire process at work.
Beaches: If you’re looking for a relaxing day on the beach, visit Clark Beach or Kin Beach.
The Chemainus Valley Museum provides “safe harbour” for the artifacts and archives of Chemainus history. The museum is operated by volunteers through the Chemainus Valley Historical Society, and is open year-round.
Festival of Murals: On the last weekend in June, take part in the annual “Festival of Murals”, the celebration continues through the summer with outdoor theatre, puppetry, clowning, food booths, street music, folk dancing, arts and crafts demonstrations, and an annual giant swap meet.
Heritage Tour: A great way to see the murals is to board a trolley for a heritage tour through Chemainus, via horse-drawn carriage or follow the footprints for a self-guided tour to view the world’s largest outdoor gallery.
Golf: Mount Brenton Golf Club on Henry Road in Chemainus is a challenging par-71 golf course, with tree-lined fairways and spectacular greens. Open year round. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Diving: For the passionate diver there are limitless opportunities for exploration around Vancouver Island. Explore Xihwu Reef the world’s only Boeing 737 artificial reef, just off Kin Beach.
Diving around Vancouver Island.
The B.C. Forestry Museum has an extensive display covering several acres of wooded land and boasts its own working logging road. The main power for this operation is a refurbished Shay locomotive. Besides locomotives, there are many other pieces of early forestry equipment, including a Ruston steam road roller in full working order and looking “like the day it left the factory” in England. Th eforestry museum is located just to the north of Duncan, approximately 15 Km south of Chemainus on the Island Highway.
Somenos Marsh Wildlife Refuge: Adjacent to the B.C. Forestry Museum on the Island Highway, is the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Refuge. Somenos Lake is part of the Pacific Coast flyway, where thousands of birds cut in from Cowichan through Somenos Marsh, up the Cowichan Valley, and over to the west side of Vancouver Island. Over 200 species of birds have been identified on the Marsh, which has a boardwalk and nature viewing platform. The Great Blue Heron Festival is held at Somenos Marsh, and over 300 members are currently committed to keeping this wondrous resource as pristine as possible for future generations.
South of Chemainus is Duncan, the civic centre of the Cowichan Valley and the traditional home of the Coast Salish First nation. Known as the City of Totems, Duncan boasts over 41 distinctive hand-carved cedar poles on public display in parks and downtown streets.
North of Chemainus is Ladysmith, a spirited and picturesque community with many of its original heritage buildings recently restored. Visitors travelling the Island Highway can stop at Ladysmith and take a stroll along First Avenue for a look at the turn-of-the century buildings.
Circle Tours: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours that take in Vancouver Island, the Discovery Coast, and the Sunshine Coast. The coastal tours involve exciting road and ferry trips on BC Ferries, and scenic highways flank the coast, taking you through charming beachside communities, rolling farmlands and majestic mountain ranges. Check out the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, and other Circle Tours in British Columbia.