In Nanaimo, if you ask the locals to recount the history of the bar that bears the city’s name, the answer may vary.
Some will say that 35 years ago a Nanaimo homemaker whipped up the recipe, sweeping a national magazine contest with her chocolate-custard-graham wafer squares. Others claim that the bar actually made its first appearance long before that, namely in the lunch pails of local miners.
Either way, this tasty bar has been captivating crowds for years, drawing sweet-tooth aficionados to the city where it all began. For a sample all your own, hit the Nanaimo Museum for background on the bar’s history before pounding the pavement throughout the city for a mix of classic and contemporary bites.
You could, for example, nibble on all-natural, French-influenced morsels at Mon Petit Choux; tuck into a delightfully stackable ice cream sundae variation at Jakeob’s ice cream parlour; dig into a deep-fried option at Pirate Chips; or savour a sweet sip of a Nanaimo Bar Martini at Modern Café.
Should classic flavours be more to your liking, Serious Coffee and Bocca Cafe, among others, serve it up sweet and simple. Now, all you need to do is map out your self-guided, edible exploration at www.nanaimo.ca/assets/Business/PDFs/NanaimoBarTrail.pdf
Oh, and don’t forget to score the city’s “official” Nanaimo Bar recipe here: www.nanaimo.ca/EN/main/visitors/NanaimoBars.html.
After licking your lips and fingers of chocolate, you might be searching for ways to burn off some calories. Some of Nanaimo’s greatest assets are its public outdoor spaces. With over 588 hectares of city parks, over 100 kilometres of trails, 65 playgrounds and 22 sports fields, there is something for everyone to enjoy and discover.
All the urbane pleasures of a modestly big city — dining, shopping, museums, festivals and art galleries included — can be enjoyed here. Self-guided walking tours allow visitors to discover Nanaimo’s rich history while exploring a smartly restored downtown streetscape that circles from the inner harbour up the hill to the Old City Quarter.
Island hopping begins from the downtown side of the harbour promenade. Newcastle Island, a provincial marine park, dominates the view when looking out from the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Bastion fortress. After a 10-minute ferry ride, visitors can hike or bike densely forested trails, then relax on sandy gravel beaches.
Two other islands are within easy reach. The Protection Island ferry takes foot passengers to Canada’s only floating pub, the Dingy Dock. At low tide, it’s possible to walk from Protection to Newcastle islands. The Gabriola Island car ferry is a little further southeast along Front Street. Gabriola is home to 4,000 full-time residents, several dozen accommodation options, a handful of good restaurants and scores of artist studios.
Take a morning, noon or evening stroll along the Harbourfront Walkway, which stretches for four kilometres from the downtown harbour to Departure Bay. Shop, dine, grab a designer coffee, cast a line off the fishing pier, picnic at Maffeo Sutton Park or take a dip in saltwater Swy-A-Lana Lagoon along the way. The pedestrian-only Lion’s Great Bridge allows one to march on towards the ferry terminal.
Nanaimo shelters plenty of options, including Neck Point Park — a favourite for its off the-beaten-path collection of trails — while nearby Miracle Beach Provincial Park proves a popular choice for camping enthusiasts with its abundance of accessible facilities.