This photograph, taken in 1878 by an unknown photographer, is a testament to just how much the Nanaimo waterfront has changed in the last 140 years. While the image depicts a Harbour City that is very different from present-day Nanaimo in some ways which are immediately obvious to the modern Nanaimo-dweller––such as the presence of horse-drawn carriages and period clothing––the photo also offers a glimpse into the past through showing a business long forgotten. Whitfield’s Boot Store, appearing on the left-hand side of the photograph, is now perhaps only remembered in the BC Archives.
This same year of 1878 was one that experienced some notable changes, changes that contributed to the city’s overall growth and expansion. May 14, 1878 saw the establishment of the Nanaimo Fire Company, also known as the Black Diamond Fire Engine Company, No. 1, the city’s first volunteer fire department. 1878 also saw the fire department’s purchase of a Burton & Blake fire engine, obtained from the Portland Fire Department. Additionally, a girl’s school was opened on the site of the later John Shaw School.
While this photo’s depiction of 1878 Nanaimo may be unfamiliar to many of the city’s current inhabitants, annual civic festivals serve as a connecting thread, and have formed a part of the lives of both the current population, and those living here over a century ago. The Empire Days, in May, for example, continue a tradition that stretches back nearly 200 years.