Nanaimo lost a significant piece of its heritage district in late March, when a fire swept through these historic streets, engulfing 15 businesses in its path. This included the Jean Burns Building, built in 1955 on Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue. The building backed the China Steps, which honored the early Chinese settlement once located here.
The building was originally designed by prominent local architect Thomas AcArravy, inspired by a more progressive, modern style popular in the years following World War II. The structure was noted for its second floor stairway which was visible from the street thanks to a large panelled glass wall which, through various renovations, remained intact until the fire. Once erected, it was named for Jean Burns who had long run a popular women’s and children’s clothing shop on the site, beginning in 1934.
The destruction of the Jean Burns Building and the surrounding businesses marks a significant loss for Nanaimo, its residents and their shared history. But, despite this devastation, the community and the business owners impacted by this tragedy have vowed to rebuild, ensuring the city has a bustling downtown once again. (From the collection of the Nanaimo Museum)