Growing up in Five Acres in Nanaimo was quiet and rural. Cattle roamed freely; eggs, milk, and cheese were all available from neighbours, and the Malkin’s truck brought fresh veggies to the street once a week.
When I left in 1956, there were 7,500 residents within the city boundaries, which did not include Departure Bay, Wellington and other outlying areas that later amalgamated in 1975. On Friday nights, I remember going down to Commercial Street to shop with my parents, where we would see just about everyone we knew. We would stop in at Eaton’s, Simpson Sears, Smith’s butcher shop, Lindsay’s, Nash Hardware, Fletcher’s, and wind up at Steve Krall’s for a coffee or a bowl of soup.
I returned to Nanaimo at Christmas in 1968. My wife and I married in 1970 and bought a new house by Brannen Lake for $19,700 and thought, “how will we ever afford $330/month! There was not much around and it was fairly rural. The nearest business was the Somerset Hotel which sat where Mostar Road is now.
In the late seventies we bought a house at the top of Country Club. There were no malls except Harbour Park, Northbrook, and Terminal Park. We were North Nanaimo! Then in the early 80’s came the Malls! Country Club, Rutherford, and Woodgrove all went in within a very short timeframe. We were nicknamed the retail capital of Canada!
This growth seemed ridiculous at the time as Nanaimo was not that large but we were the regional shopping centre for every community north on the island including Powell River.
I worked in the downtown core and sadly watched the empty storefronts become more and more prevalent in the ‘80’s. Working downtown near the waterfront and to be able to see the harbour activity on a lunchtime stroll was meditative and I so enjoyed my time there.
Today, the downtown is thriving once again with boutique shops, lots of choice for a bite to eat, and a beautiful walkway to enjoy the busy waterfront. We are on the threshold of even more change with planned developments that will bring more people to the downtown core to work, play and live!
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