Text and photo from the Tourism BC Website
Chemainus is a charming Cowichan Valley town located in the Vancouver Island region. Chemainus is noted for its creative community – artists and art galleries and performing arts – and the masterful depiction of its culture and history via murals painted on virtually every exterior wall in town. In fact, the aptly nicknamed "Muraltown" has been internationally renowned since the early 1980s thanks to these vivid widescreen depictions of colourful chapters from the town's past: First Nations, forestry, mining, and maritime culture.
Chemainus' bold murals gambit sparked a turnaround for a struggling economy threatened with the closure of its major employer, the Horseshoe Bay lumber mill. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of visitors annually began making this quaint Vancouver Island oceanfront village a must-see on roadtrip itineraries. Today one can tour the 40 plus murals on foot, by trolley car or horse-drawn carriage, or in the classy company of an actress portraying the town's original (European) first lady, Isabel Askew.
Boutique Shopping & Nights at the Theatre
Since the first murals appeared in 1983, Chemainus has smartly evolved into a getaway catering to shoppers and theatre buffs. On the retail front, independent merchants specialize in original art, antiques, locally designed women's clothing, giftware, and all that a discriminating sweet tooth can crave in terms of fudge, chocolates, candy, and designer ice cream. Sugar shock ahoy!
The Chemainus Theatre Festival presents a year-round schedule of contemporary and classic musicals and comedies in an intimate venue. Overnight visitors typically check into the Festival Inn or one of several dozen local B&Bs, then cruise the Willow Street and Old Town shopping districts, dine at one of many casual spots in town, and catch a show.
Green and blue spaces are plentiful on regional maps. Hiking trails lead to lookouts atop local peaks like Mount Prevost (a hang-gliding favourite) and Maple Mountain (with prime views of Salt Spring Island). Explore wilderness parks close to Chemainus at Askew Creek and Echo Heights Forest. Stroll a lovely woodland trail carved out of the forest by a hermetic recluse.
Other options: Swim in Fuller Lake or the Chemainus River. Explore a sunken 747 airplane on a diving expedition. Cycle the Cowichan Valley scenic route. Or launch a boat from the marina steps from a deep-water port where giant freighters continue a 130 year-tradition of hauling away cut lumber.
Old Town and New Town
Chemainus (population: 4,100) is compact, walkable and an easy five-minute detour off the Trans-Canada Highway north of Duncan and south of Ladysmith. This quadrant of North Cowichan also includes the seaside milltown village of Crofton, the Saltair residential community and off-shore neighbors Thetis Island (known for its art studios and B&Bs) and Kuper Island (invitation-only band lands for the Penelakut First Nations).
When visiting Chemainus, park in the free lot at Waterwheel Park across from the Visitor Centre. The "New Town" retail section stretches for two blocks to the east along Willow Street. More shops, restaurants, the public marina and oceanfront Kin Beach Park are in the Old Town district, accessible via the gateway path descending down from the park near the museum and public washrooms.
Where to Begin
First stop for newcomers should be the Chemainus Visitor Centre (9796 Willow Street) across from Waterwheel Park. Pick up local and regional maps, and travel planners here.