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June 12, 2015

Chemainus ~ Murals and ... is that all there is?


We had spent a weekend at Lakeside Gardens on Salt Spring Island and decided to head home to Vancouver via Nanaimo. We had time to kill, so after a coffee in Crofton, we drove along the scenic coastal highway route to Chemainus.







Chemainus is famous for its murals. Famous in a big way apparently as it gets rave reviews on Trip Advisor and other social media. It actually conjured up images of Tubac, Arizona for me, but off we went.




Chemainus started in the mid 1850s as a logging town, and it prospered, more or less, with the boom and bust cycle of forestry, until the early 1980s when its large sawmill closed. That mill was replaced with a smaller one, and the number of well paid union jobs was reduced from over 600 to about 140. Part of the problem came as a result of global competition for forest products and part from the illegal placing of tariffs on BC forest products to the United States, proven again and again in multiple court cases which were always ignored by our friends to the south. But that's another story.
















A variety of people, including the mayor and council of the time, came upon an idea to use murals to tell the history of the town and district, and to attract tourists; tourists with money to spend in eco-friendly stores, restaurants and fast-food outlets. Today there are about 40 outdoor murals in Chemainus, of varying themes and quality, and lots of gift stores, eateries and antique shops. Chemainus has been successful in diversifying its economy, but the high-paying union jobs have been replaced with entry-level positions. Still, the town survived,  and prospered, and the alternative might have been dire indeed.


Of note, is the impressive Chemainus Theatre. It was constructed in the early 1990s by an enterprising and community-minded group of Christian fundamentalists, or so it appears from their published history. The theatre has become part of the tourist appeal of Chemainus and it draws an audience to a populist mix of mainly musicals and further contributes to the town and the region. It enhances the image of arts and culture in a forestry town, and that's a good thing.













The name Chemainus comes from the native shaman and prophet Tsa-meeun-is. Legend has it that the man survived a massive wound in his chest to become a powerful chief. His people took his name to identify their community, the Stz'uminus First Nation, formerly known as the Chemainus Indian Band.





The First Nations people are depicted on several murals, though their place in the Chemainus of today is not readily apparent in the shops, restaurants or on the streets. The same was true in Tubac, Arizona.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

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