Chemainus, British Columbia Canada

Discovering Chemainus, British Columbia: A Blend of History and Art

Chemainus, British Columbia, is a charming community nestled within the municipality of North Cowichan in the Chemainus Valley. Located on the east coast of southern Vancouver Island, this town is a testament to resilience and reinvention.

The Historical Roots of Chemainus, British Columbia

Established as an unincorporated logging town in 1858, Chemainus has a rich history. The town's name originates from the native shaman and prophet "Tsa-meeun-is," which translates to "broken chest." According to legend, this man survived a severe chest wound from an arrow in battle and later became a powerful chief. His people adopted his name for their community, the Stz'uminus First Nation, formerly known as the Chemainus Indian Band.

The arrival of the railway in the 1880s spurred the town's growth, and by the early 1920s, Chemainus had a population of 600. Today, Chemainus is recognized as a census populated area by Statistics Canada, with a population of 3,035 residents as of 2011.

The Transformation of Chemainus, British Columbia

The town underwent a significant transformation in the early 1980s. After the closure of its large sawmill, Chemainus reinvented itself as a tourist destination, thanks to its 53 outdoor murals. This outdoor gallery sparked the growth of various businesses, including a theatre, antiques dealers, and eateries. The tourism industry, born from these murals, breathed new life into the town.

Education and Transportation in Chemainus, British Columbia

Chemainus is home to Chemainus Secondary School, which serves students from Chemainus, Crofton, and Saltair. The town also hosts a BC Ferry terminal, providing service to Thetis Island and Penelakut Island (formerly Kuper Island).

The Economic Development of Chemainus, British Columbia

In the 1980s, British Columbia's forest industry faced a deep recession, leading to a significant overhaul of the local sawmill in Chemainus. The installation of automated, state-of-the-art machinery reduced the workforce from about 600 workers to 145. Despite this, the town successfully diversified its economy, with tourism becoming a significant industry.

The revitalization of Chemainus' main street, the construction of a shopping mall, and the painting of large outdoor murals were key projects in this transformation. The town's geographical location, between Vancouver Island's largest cities, Victoria and Nanaimo, and its proximity to ferry terminals and the coast island highway, also contributed to the growth of tourism.

Despite the success of the tourism industry, the forest industry remains the largest industry in Chemainus. The restructured sawmill is profitable, and the completion of Chemainus' industrial park has attracted several re-manufacturing firms.

The Future of Chemainus, British Columbia

While Chemainus is a shining example of successful economic redevelopment within small resource communities, its future development faces some uncertainties. Initial redevelopment projects, such as the painting of large murals, relied heavily on government funding. With this funding largely disappeared, some have observed a reduction of opportunities for entrepreneurialism. However, the spirit of resilience and reinvention that has defined Chemainus throughout its history suggests a promising future for this unique community.