Chemainus – The Little Town That Could
The mill had kept the town alive for 120 years. The optimists believed in the slogan, ‘If you say you can do it, you can’ and like the Little Red Engine, “I think I can, I think I can” puffing its way to the top, Chemainus has also puffed its way to the top and now enjoys 400,000 – 500,000 visitors annually.
The vision was one of people who refused to be conquered. It was about determination, persistence and belief while the naysayers insisted that turning the town into an outdoor Art Gallery could not, and should not, be done. Thankfully there were people who upon hearing those words, heard only “should” and “could”.
We recently visited Chemainus, The Little Town That Did and were glad we had. In 1982 the people of this small town invited internationally-known artists to use the town as their canvas making it the exciting and interesting place it has now become. There are currently more than thirty-five murals and twelve sculptures depicting the town’s history and its people with more being added over the years.
Following the yellow and white footprints throughout the town, we passed murals relating stories of much of Chemainus’ history. The Japanese community is depicted from 1900 to 1942 showing mill workers and fishermen. There are murals of the Chinese bull gangs moving timber as well as murals of sailing vessels, steam trains and workers that were the foundation of Chemainus. There are also murals showing original buildings with long ago scenes. At the entrance to Waterwheel Park, there is a mural with a working waterwheel. And not to be missed are the murals and fabulous sculptures of First Nations People.
In our stroll around the quaint little seaside town, we passed antique stores, boutiques, studios and galleries. Arriving on the beach, we enjoyed the sun and had an ice-cream cone in the interesting flavour of moose tracks. To better enjoy the murals located around town, and really feel as if you have become part of the past, there are horse-drawn carriages.
Although we didn’t take advantage of the abundance of other activities that Chemainus offers, there is golfing, boating, fishing, hiking and camping. And for those interested in history, there is the Chemainus Valley Museum and live theatre if you wish to pursue your cultural side.
For a little town that almost didn’t make it; it has become the success they once dreamed about!