A Community at Work

Nanaimo, British Columbia

A sense of enthusiasm for the City’s future is clearly depicted in the Mayor’s vision for the City. “Nanaimo offers a unique and wonderful lifestyle that everyone should have the opportunity to experience,” he says. “Nanaimo grows on you.”

With a population of 88 000, Nanaimo is the second largest urban centre on Vancouver Island, next to Victoria, and is referred to as the Harbour City, for good reason. It is Vancouver Island’s major commercial port with three ferry terminals for vehicular service. As part of his vision to see Nanaimo as one of the most livable cities in North America, the Mayor concedes that, “We’re working very hard to re-establish the passenger only ferry service that I feel is essential. We are having ongoing discussions with investors now, and hopefully, that will result in success.” The service will provide a high speed passenger only ferry service from Nanaimo’s downtown harbour to downtown Vancouver. “People will be able to get back and forth on a regular basis.”

Additionally, the Nanaimo Airport and Seaplane terminals run regular flights to the Vancouver International Airport. Nanaimo is located on Vancouver Island’s main highway and has a short haul rail system north to Courtenay and south to Victoria, as well as a public transit system servicing 5500 users per day. With over 5400 diversified businesses, these efficient transportation networks enable access to markets, suppliers and customers.

Aside from these crucial amenities, Nanaimo boasts affordable housing. Comparatively speaking, similar homes in Victoria cost 50 percent more than in Nanaimo. The city encourages families, businesses and their employees to look at Nanaimo “as the place to do business,” adds Mayor Ruttan. “People are going to be able to afford a very unique lifestyle.”

Encouraging Tourism

A wavering U.S. economy was partially responsible for the decline in cross border tourism to Nanaimo in the recent past, but statistics indicate that tourism to the area is on the rebound. “We’ve always been active in tourism and continue to grow that sector,” said Mayor Ruttan.

The Mayor relates that Nanaimo is the temperate water diving capital of the world, with many diving opportunities to see not only artificial reefs, but a variety of fish species and sunken war ships. It’s a City where water sports abound, with sea kayaking a definite growing market. Hiking, (the 3000 foot Mount Benson is a favourite), golfing and waterfront parks are some other favourites for outdoor enthusiasts. Numerous marinas provide moorage for 1200 boats for those who enjoy fishing or island exploring.

Built three years ago, Nanaimo’s cruise ship terminal is seeing increasing passenger numbers with nine cruise ships expected in 2013. “Cruise ships to Alaska are a big market here,” said Mayor Ruttan. “We’re growing about twenty percent a year… Nanaimo’s a working City and working Port. It’s a community at work, a portal to a community that’s active and vibrant.”

Indeed, the City’s $75 million Vancouver Island Conference Centre, built in 2008, is a first class facility in the downtown core. It seats 1300 and has been recognized for its technological innovation, building design and sustainability. “Everyone that goes into it is impressed,” shares the Mayor, adding that, “We have the facilities and fairly good infrastructure, although we need to do more work in that regard.”

Nanaimo hosts a number of festivals year round. The renowned annual World Championship Bathtub Race in July began as a Centennial Event in 1967. The race attracts large numbers of competitors anxious for a win in the 57 km race, starting in the Nanaimo harbour and ending on the sandy shores of Departure Bay beach in Nanaimo. Racers come from as far away as Australia to take part in this whimsical event that’s part of Nanaimo’s four day Marine Festival. “There’s something for everyone to enjoy,” said Mayor Ruttan.

Preserving The Past

The Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo’s downtown is a first class museum depicting Canada, the Métis and First Nations’ participation in the two World Wars. It can be readily seen as visitors depart from cruise ships. “Seniors, in particular, have a fascination with the Military Museum.”

The City’s AA rated Nanaimo and District Museum, relocated in 2008, is a walk into the past of Nanaimo’s colourful and prosperous history, especially as a coal mining boomtown in the 1840-1850s. Galleries display Nanaimo’s unique past with numerous archaeological artifacts and a coal mine replica. Also displayed is Nanaimo’s unique relationship with the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the name from which Nanaimo was derived. “We work closely with the Snuneymuxw First Nation,” said the Mayor. “We’re trying to develop, with them, aboriginal tourism, which is a huge market.”

The newly restored Hudson’s Bay Bastion on the City’s waterfront is the last original wooden bastion still standing in North America, built in 1854. The Hudson’s Bay Company, largely responsible for British Columbia’s settlement, built the Bastion after establishing a colony on Nanaimo’s shores, to defend the rich coal deposits in the area. The Bastion was declared a local heritage site in 1985.

“We have some active people that monitor and build on the history of Nanaimo, which goes back about 170 years,” said the Mayor. “You have to protect your history. It’s so important. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. It must be preserved.”

Cultural Planning

Nanaimo’s new Cultural Plan, expected to be adopted in the spring of 2013, establishes that cultural vitality plays an essential role in the City’s sustainability and economic progress. To be sure, cultural vitality is an important cornerstone in Nanaimo’s Corporate Strategic Plan. It is cultural diversity that will attract a creative workforce to the City.

Nanaimo recognizes that it is transitioning from a former resource-based economy, (once considered a blue collar town), to a knowledge based one. Creativity, innovation and culture will be the drivers of sustainable municipal planning. The community is actively engaged in heralding Nanaimo as a diversified creative city. “Arts and culture are important to us,” explains the Mayor. “Residents are extremely proud of their community.”

Managing the Challenge of Growth

It’s estimated that by 2020, Nanaimo’s population will exceed 100,000. Understandably, this anticipated growth will present a challenge for the City, and the Mayor notes that, “Infrastructure is a huge concern for all of us.”

Currently, Nanaimo is building another water treatment plant, expected to be completed in 2015, at a cost of $70 million to meet supply demands; not only from Nanaimo’s expansion but from other neighbouring communities. “Although our water is first class, this will give us a better capacity for water treatment, which is what we want.” Consideration for another dam will cost an additional $70 million. “These are massive undertakings for a community of 88,000 people,” said the Mayor. “We’re working aggressively to find new sources of water for our future needs.”

Nanaimo’s 2013 budget suggests setting aside one percent of funding for infrastructure replacement and remediation. “That’s how seriously we take it,” said the Mayor. The City is also seeking Provincial and Federal assistance to help with that infrastructure. “We feel that’s their responsibility… Out of every tax dollar only eight cents stays in the municipality. We need more for infrastructure,”said the Mayor.

Mayor Ruttan remains confident in Nanaimo’s future as he concludes, “I think we’ve embarked on a level of sophistication that is unmatched in a lot of areas… I may sound biased, because frankly, I am. I am proud and pleased to be able to live here and represent this wonderful City.”

June 21, 2018, 11:36 PM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.