Chemainus – Vancouver Island’s Cinderella town

Mural of steam logging train in Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

One of the 40-plus murals that have helped to make Chemainus famous

It’s known on Vancouver Island as The Little Town That Did, and boy, did it ever! Located on the east coast mid-way between Victoria and Nanaimo, the small town of Chemainus rose from the ashes of a floundering forest industry 30 years ago to become one of the Island’s premiere tourist destinations. Thanks to the initiative of residents who could clearly ‘think outside the box’ the former gritty little settlement that relied heavily on logging and milling now flourishes thanks primarily to a vibrant arts and culture movement. It has been an astounding and heartening turnaround – one that I wish we were witness to more often during our many and varied travels.

Willow Street, uptown Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Uptown Chemainus features boutique shops, cafes and lots of history

I swung through Chemainus once when I first ‘emigrated’ to the Island 40-plus years ago, but it had so little to offer visitors then that I never bothered to return until very recently. What we found on our most recent visits was such an astonishing transformation that it still boggles the mind. The drab greyscapes of yesteryear have been replaced with colour and energy at every turn.

Old town Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Old Townj Chemainus – not quite as upscale, but nonetheless charming

The beginning of Chemainus’ Cinderella story came with the installation of huge murals depicting the history of the town. They now number 40, brightening the sides of buildings everywhere you look. As word of the giant works of art spread, so too did the inspiration of the town’s residents.

Horse and carriage tour, Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Horse and carriage tours offer the best way to see the town’s murals and learn about its history

Mural in Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Another of the murals depicts everyday life in the community

These days Chemainus is home to a thriving live theatre scene that is housed in a beautiful building and annually attracts thousands of attendees from near and far. Both the old town and ‘uptown’ areas are host to unique shopping opportunities, distinctive and excellent culinary adventures, charming bed and breakfasts in historic homes, pretty parks. Smack in the middle of the uptown area there is a ‘secret garden’, where you can purchase a snack or beverage and loll about enjoying the live music emanating from the central gazebo.

Bed and breakfast in Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

There are many charming bed and breakfasts in town

You can take a horse-drawn carriage tour to explore all the nooks and crannies, or you can spend a few hours wandering on your own and discovering the history and magic of this pretty little seaside spot. Things are so relaxed and slow-paced in Chemainus that it’s not unusual to see folks straggling down the middle of what serves as uptown’s main drag as they cross the street. The merchants are hospitable and friendly and there is a happy vibrancy that lifts the spirits and encourages visitors to slow down and stay awhile.

Walkway to old Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

It is an easy and pretty walk between uptown and downtown

Waterwheel Park, Chemainus, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Waterwheel Park

In the meantime, all I can say is: Wow! Good on ya, Chemainus – you are an inspiration and a wonderful example of what a resourceful community can do. May you continue to thrive.

A good starting point for your visit would be the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Centre, located at 9796 Willow Street, across from Waterwheel Park

Further information on Chemainus can be obtained by going to: or

GPS co-ordinates for the information centre are:

Lat. 48.9232863 Long. -123.7181897

N 48 55.397 -123.7181897


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.

This entry was posted in ATTRACTIONS, DUNCAN/COWICHAN, KID FRIENDLY, SPECIAL PLACES, WHEELCHAIR ACCESS and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *