Mountain biking is one of the favourite outdoor activities in and around Nanaimo, writes Tess van Straaten. Courtesy Tourism Nanaimo

TESS VAN STRAATEN: Enjoy March Madness, Nanaimo style

Festival Nanaimo and other events bring cultural elements together in the Harbour City

Walking along Nanaimo’s scenic waterfront, it’s easy to see why this former mill town is now a vibrant hub for arts, culture and outdoor adventure. The Harbour City is buzzing with life and a great place for a day trip, weekend getaway or spring break escape.

Monday columnist Tess van Straaten

“We have amazing sunsets, and when the sun rises it does so on some pretty epic outdoor landscapes,” says Festival Nanaimo producer Margot Holmes. “We have mountain vistas, ocean views and North America’s largest skills park for mountain bike riders.”

The Stevie Smith Bike Park, built to honour the legacy of the World Cup downhill champion from Nanaimo, features an array of jump lines from beginner to expert and a pump track and skills park.

It’s one of the many outdoor pursuits that draw people to British Columbia’s fourth-oldest city. But Nanaimo’s thriving arts and culture scene is also worth the trip.

“It’s truly unique – quirky in this quintessentially Nanaimo way, where history shows we had pirate mayors and Nanaimo bar bake-offs,” Holmes explains. “From street art that beautifies our downtown core and redefines perspective, to the Vancouver Island Symphony that pushes boundaries within classical (and not so classical) music, and many shows in the world-class Port Theatre and alternative venues downtown.”

The ubiquitous Nanaimo bar. Photo by Sean Fenzl

In March, the sixth annual Festival Nanaimo adds to the fun, with an enticing list of events all month rolled into one festival.

“The focus is all about what we love to do in Nanaimo and so it has appeal if you love nature, live theatre and shows, cultural exhibits, dance, whiskey, beer, tea and of course Nanaimo bars galore!” Holmes says. “People might come one week and come back again two weeks later.”

This year, the March madness has eight signature events, including the 18th annual Wee Tipple Party – Nanaimo’s Whisk(e)y Festival, as well as the Canadian premiere of Manual Cinema’s FRANKENSTEIN, which combines handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques and innovative sound and live music.

There’s also the Symphony’s celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the birth of iconic composer Beethoven, a Back to 80s Dance Party, and the Vancouver Arts Club Theatre production of Kim’s Convenience as well as Canadian tenor Ken Lavigne and numerous other smaller events.

With so much entertainment to choose from, I decided to sample one of those world-famous Nanaimo bars. After stopping at Mon Petit Choux Bakery, I meander along the water and watch the crab traps fly off the dock and into the water as I bite into Nanaimo’s sweetest treat of all.

For more information, visit festivalnanaimo.com.

Also by Tess van Straaten:

Enjoy Valentine’s Day fun with daring date nights

Chinatown Confidential: Colour, culture and tasty treats

Changing things up puts spice into winter



editor@mondaymag.com

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