Words and Photos by Chris Istace
Spring is the time to get out and explore and feed our awakening senses from the slumber of winter. There’s no better way to welcome the beauty and arrival of spring than to head to Nanaimo in March for Festival Nanaimo.
The fourth annual Festival Nanaimo happens from March 1 to 31 throughout the city. Speaking with Kim Plumley from Festival Nanaimo, her enthusiasm for the event was contagious. Plumley works with Margot Holmes who is the visionary creator behind the event. The festival may be a community project of the Vancouver Island Symphony, but the heart of the event is really all about promoting the community and the local talent.
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Plumley is excited about the events, noting for 2018 there are 10 signature events, two more than in 2017.
The events are diverse, and many appeal to all ages, such as the always-fun Piratefest, from March 23 to 24 at the Country Club Centre. Ann Mortifee has a double bill with Rick Scott and Nico Rhodes at the Port Theatre on March 11th – Ann’s only Vancouver Island show.Scotch lovers will enjoy sampling spirits from around the world at the Scotch Whiskey Festival on March 10 at the Grand Hotel. On March 16, the talented Mediterranean guitarist, Pavlo, will take to the stage at the Port Theatre.
The festival organizers perfectly describe the event when they say, “It showcases all that we love about the city where we live, work and play.”
As a dog owner, one event caught my eye - Hops and Hounds on March 18. This event brings together two favourite pastimes for many people: tasting craft beer, not to mention in beautiful Maffeo Sutton Park, but also bringing along their four-legged canine companions.
Teri Smith of Pacific Island Entertainment, who created the first event in 2017, says she was inspired to hold this fundraising event for the local SPCA after learning about the story of Harley, a Chihuahua saved from a puppy mill. Smith wanted to send the message to people to “adopt not shop” for pets.
Craft Brewers, well known to locals like Longwood and White Sails (across the street from the event), will be on site offering their brews. Even though this event has a craft beer theme, it’s for all ages. The fact that 250 dogs and their owners stopped by last year gives you an idea of its success. This year, the Rave Sport Dogs agility show will be added.
No Nanaimo event would be complete without at least one stop on the Nanaimo Bar Trail. Bring your sweet tooth March 23, for a self-guided tour that you can actually do any time. Mon Petit Choux’s bars are renowned in the area, not just for their taste but also because it offers a gluten-free, organic version.
Check out this YouTube video to whet your appetite about Nanaimo Bars.
Linda Allen, of Mon Petit Choux, can’t wait for the festival. For her, it’s all about celebrating the community and learning some of its history. Walking around downtown and checking out the many shops, restaurants and cafes is a great way to meet people and experience Nanaimo’s vibe, she says. The streets culminate at the Bastion, which was built in 1853 and is the oldest structure in the city. Be sure to explore the Nanaimo Bar Trail from the Bastion to the Old City Quarter.
Not only will there be the 10 signature events during the festival, but also a long list of other happenings. For example, TheatreOne’s Just Kidding for Kids presents a Robinson Crusoe play for kids from March 16 to 17 at the VIU Theatre. Get tickets here.
Outdoorsy options range from a coastal hike at Neck Point or Pipers Lagoon to burning off your dog’s energy at the beautiful Colliery Dam Park before attending Hops and Hounds. Other adventures include Ammonite Falls at the foot of Mt. Benson within Benson Creek Falls Regional Park. It’s a stunning waterfall named for the fossils found within the rock surrounding the falls.
For those on the hunt for a good meal or a great coffee the list is long. A great meal can be found at Gabriel’s Gourmet Café, a restaurant that focuses on sourcing local ingredients and creating a friendly atmosphere.
If a sweet treat and a good coffee or tea is more up your alley, visit The Vault. Located in a historic heritage building designed by the same architect that built the Empress in Victoria, you will find a funky and eclectic café. The vintage coffee cups and plates, local art on the walls, a melting pot of locals and the music-filled atmosphere, will have you wanting to stick around for a while.