Wharf Street is in the heart of Old Nanaimo’s downtown core. This quiet side street is just minutes away from Nanaimo’s iconic Bastion, the Coast Bastion Hotel, and the Gabriola Island ferry terminal. For such an inconspicuous road, Wharf Street has quite an interesting history.
Back in the late 1800s, the Royal Hotel was the first building you would see as you turned onto Wharf Street. Although the Royal Hotel wasn’t the first hotel in Nanaimo, it did host several prominent figures of the time. Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, attended a reception at the Royal Hotel after driving in the ceremonial last spike of the newly built Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway. Vancouver Island’s industrial tycoon, Robert Dunsmuir, was also in attendance at the event.
A few major fires have also plagued Wharf Street. In the early morning hours on September 28, 1894, flames engulfed Nanaimo’s fire station, completely destroying the building. Luckily, the fire equipment was saved. In the picture above, another fire decimated a local Wharf Street shop in 1938. It is unknown what caused the fire. At the time, Wharf Street was home to a variety of businesses, including trade suppliers and entertainment.
From prime ministers to unfortunate fires, Wharf Street has certainly had an intriguing past. (From the collection of the Nanaimo Archives)