Chemainus murals

(continuer en français) – Published: July 25, 2022

Chemainus, British Columbia, Canada

Chemainus is a pioneer village on Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada. Officially founded in 1858, the village developed on the basis of primary activities, mining, fishing and forestry. These activities were depleted over time.

In order to revive a local economy with bleak prospects and to attract the growing number of visitors coming to Vancouver Island, the inhabitants of Chemainus had the idea of decorating the walls of their village with large murals from the 1980s.


At the entrance to Chemainus, an old locomotive has been preserved. In the past, it was used to transport the heavy logs from the primary forest to the wood mill on the harbour. This forestry activity can be seen in several murals, as well as the mining activity which also benefited from the transport power of the railways.


There are also strong references to the First Nations, starting with the name of the town, Chemainus, one of the tribes living there when the Westerners arrived. A mural also depicts a Native American princess watching the arrival of HMS Reinder, a coastal ship regularly returning to Chemainus Bay.

Arrival of HMS Reindeer
Chemainus Tribe
Early settlers

The construction of the railway and the need for labour also led to the immigration of Chinese in the 19th century. Fong Yen Lew was one of them who eventually established a grocery shop under the Hong Hing name. After serving the community generously for 50 years, Fong Yen Lew decided to return to China. While the news of his death was expected, he married and even had offspring.

Other inhabitants are represented according to found photos, posing or showing a moment in the life.

Hong Hing grocery store
School in 1885
Group of men at the harbour
Hockey on Fuller Lake

The advent of the automobile profoundly changed the lifestyles of the people of Chamainus. This change is reflected in a number of murals inspired by the photographs that capture what seemed important at the time.

Transition from horse to automobile
Bicycle and car workshop
Car parade

Chemainus is located on the road between Victoria and Nanaimo, the two main cities on Vancouver Island. It is ideally positioned to attract the flow of travellers from one city to the other looking for something to visit on the way. With dozens of murals now, there is plenty to keep them busy for a while and hundreds of thousands of visitors stop by for a while, supporting the few businesses that focus on this tourist activity.

Carriage tour
Shopping street
Visitors to Chemainus

The sawmill, which was once in difficulty, has been restructured and continues to operate. So we still see the traditional log floating in Chemainus Bay as before. Like the faltering economy of all of Vancouver Island, the ambiguity of whether to continue to clear the forests or to bring in the tourists will eventually have to be resolved. Certainly, visitors do not come to see these desolate spectacles of forests reduced to low cut stumps.

Chemainus Tug Boat
Log floating
What is becoming of the forest

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  1. What a beautiful set of murals that highlight the past of this village. We drove from Victoria to Nanaimo back in April, but I had no idea that this place existed. I’ll have to add it to the list for next time. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are quite right. We’re used to it, but at first it must have been impressive to see such a powerful machine when all we knew was the human or horse force.


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