An Island gem – Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

Historic building dating back to the late 1800s are home to an eclectic mix of retail outlets

Over all the years that I have lived on the Island I never took the time or effort to explore what is genuinely one of its best features – Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter. Truth be known, I have never found an awful lot  to like about Nanaimo until now – the sprawling city has become a behemoth dominated by too many traffic lights, too many shopping malls, too many big box stores – just plain too much of the kind of stuff that robs a community of character.  But the historic little gem tucked just up the hill from the waterfront, a mere two or three blocks square, charmed my husband and me beyond our wildest imaginings.

A whimsical metal stairway adorns the upper corner of the Gates and Gifts shop

            The Old City Quarter is part of the original economic core of the city, with buildings dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some gentrification has taken place, with upscale market housing and retail space that serves as a nice complement to the area. The pace is relaxed, the traffic is minimal, and the area is convivial.

            The retail mix in the Old City Quarter is as eclectic as any I have experienced.  The shops, many of them miniscule, run the gamut.  Our two-and-a-half-hour stroll through the area included visits with the very friendly merchants, who were more than happy to tell us about the area’s interesting history and about their businesses. Our first stop was in a shop appropriately called Gates and Gifts, featuring beautiful metalcraft work for home and garden.

Metal wall art to die for...

From there we wandered on up the street to The Teak Tree, where we spent time admiring an entire shop filled with beautiful teak pieces emanating the warm glow and redolence of tropical rainforests. Back down the street, past a variety of shops offering everything from organic groceries to cheese, formal gowns to  children’s clothing, and in to A Wee Cupcakery, for a sweet pick-me-up featuring a flavourful, dense cupcake topped with cream cheese icing and coconut. Yummy, to say the least, and definitely on our list of ‘must visits’ when we return!


An exquisite porcelain tealight holder, found at Artzi Stuff

Onward, to Artzi Stuff, featuring fashion, home décor and original art, most of which is made on the Island. There is some truly stunning ‘stuff’ in this lovely shop, at very reasonable prices. We popped into West Coast Classic Floral Design next door (another teeny, tiny shop exuding Old World charm), then trundled on down Wesley Street to explore one of the newer retail developments, Heritage Mews. There we found the Blue Poppy Garden Gallery, open only a couple of months but full of a great variety of high quality garden, outdoor living and entertaining items. Mad About Ewe offered up a huge selection of wools and yarns for knitting enthusiasts, and an antique store tucked at the back corner offered a peek back at yesteryear.

The Teak Tree -who would have expected to find so much beauty in a single shop?

            While we certainly didn’t make it in to every gallery and shop during this trip, there is plenty in the area, between the charismatic old buildings and the more recent additions, to draw us back for a closer look and more conversation with the welcoming merchants. Finally, a really wonderful reason to make the trek to Nanaimo – can’t wait!

The Old City Quarter also serves as home to a wide variety of restaurants – you can find anything from West Coast to Japanese to Greek to Italian, uber-healthy to decadent, casual to more formal, in the area. We enjoyed a marvelous meal while visiting, about which I intend to write at a later date.

Great finds, large and small, at Blue Poppy Garden Gallery

 The Old City Quarter in Nanaimo is bounded by Wallace, Franklyn, Selby and Fitzwilliam streets, with a couple of other interesting historic spots just outside the main core. Further information on the Old City Quarter can be obtained at:

 GPS co-ordinates (roughly) are:

 Lat. 49.16512179418393 

Long. -123.94263088703155

N 49 09.907  W 123 56.558



About Shirley

More years ago than I like to remember, I completed the Journalism program at Vancouver Community College and launched straight into a career as a newspaper reporter (thanks to my journalism professor Nick Russell and an opening at the venerable daily Alberni Valley Times.) My work as a news reporter/feature writer/columnist and ultimately, newspaper and magazine editor, took me to many interesting places and introduced me to hundreds of interesting characters over the years. I loved every minute of it, but burnout caught up with me while I was trying to juggle the simultaneous editing of five trade magazines, and for 27 years I abandoned my keyboard (on a professional basis, at least) and followed my heart in a variety of other careers.
In 2010 I returned to the journalistic fold, thanks to the encouragement (nay – nagging!) of my husband. I feel no regret – only great joy to be back at the keyboard, and to be spending time interviewing interesting folks and discovering great places.

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One Response to An Island gem – Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter

  1. Tanya says:

    Great article Shirley. Thanks so much for the visit! You’ll have to make a second trip to see the rest and eat at ALL of the fabulous restaurants.

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