The Getaway
15 Thing to Do in Ladysmith and Chemainus

Ladysmith is on the east coast of Vancouver Island; it's located on the 49th parallel north, the circle of latitude that divides Canada and the U.S. This seaside town is one of the oldest settlements on Vancouver Island—the Stz’uminus people have hunted and gathered here for close to 5000 years. Today, Ladysmith is home to 7,200 people and is one of the prettiest towns in Canada, famous for its fresh oysters and clams and scenic beauty. A few miles south in Chemainus, you'll find the "world's largest outdoor art gallery."

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01 Historical overview of Ladysmith

Panoramic view of fishing boats in Ladysmith marina, taken in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada Roxana Gonzalez / Shutterstock.com

Stz'uminus First Nations communities have lived in the Ladysmith area for centuries. The town of Ladysmith used to be known as Oyster Harbour. Around the turn of the 19th century, the Dunsmuir coal barons chose the location as a mining and shipping town and named it Ladysmith after the British lifted the siege of Ladysmith in Natal during the Second Boer War. Many of the buildings developed during this time remain. Just before WW1, a miners' strike saw many people leave before the logging industry brought new opportunities in the 1930s.

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02 Exploring Chemainus' murals

Mural tell the story of Chemainus is a city on the east coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Chemainus is now famous for its 39 outdoor murals. meunierd / Shutterstock.com

Chemainus has been a mural town since 1981. Explore dozens of murals by purchasing a physical guide and supporting the town's arts initiative, or simply show your appreciation by viewing the colorful wall art. Descriptions for each piece are available online, but you'll find they generally depict the town's past, people, and natural heritage. Some use mixed media elements and trompe-l'œil illusions. There are also nine sculptures to admire.

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03 Theatrical arts in Chemainus

GagliardiPhotography / Shutterstock.com

The Chemainus Theatre Festival plays a significant role in the cultural life of the town. The building is gorgeous, the acoustics are on point, and the excellent talent and high production values punch far above their small-town weight. The venue opened in 1992 and hosts a variety of professional performances throughout the year. You can complete the experience with a show-themed dinner.

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04 Architectural charm of Ladysmith

Between Methuen Street in the south and Esplanade Avenue, you'll find First Avenue. The Canadian Institute of Planners named First Avenue Canada's Greatest Street in 2017. This historical street is home to many of Ladysmith's heritage buildings. If you're interested in architecture, you'll see lots of Edwardian and Victorian elements and design choices. This aesthetic contributes to the town's character and appeal. Notable buildings include the Nicholson Block with its Edwardian Classical Revival style, and the Travellers' Hotel, still featuring swastikas, which were innocuous at the time of construction in 1913.

05 Pamela Anderson's estate

Your favorite Baywatch babe lived in Ladysmith until the age of 12 and recently moved back to the town to restore a family property. The Tudor-style house is part of a beautiful six-acre estate with three distinct buildings. The actress and activist received a Ladysmith Heritage Award for the restoration work she did on the Arcady Auto Court she bought from her grandparents. She plans on living in Ladysmith for the foreseeable future.

06 Outdoor activities in Ladysmith and Chemainus

Driftwood logs and freighters on the coast at Transfer Beach Park, Ladysmith, British Columbia, Canada

Transfer Beach Park in Ladysmith is a waterfront community hub where many local events take place. Kids can enjoy the waterpark here, dogs can enjoy the dog park, and there are often food trucks on site to keep revelers fed. Rent a kayak, SUP, or stick to frolicking on the rocky and sandy beaches—Transfer Beach Bark provides all-day fun in the sun. Kin Beach Park in Chemainus is clean, and you can walk to the lighthouse when the tide is out. Kin Beach has a boat launch, and you can go beachcombing to look for sand dollars, starfish, crabs, and other cute creatures. Hikers can set off on a portion of the Trans Canada Trail, take on the challenging Heart Lake loop, or take it easy on the wheelchair-accessible Holland Creek trail.

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07 Arts scene

Check out the Ladysmith Gallery for monthly themed exhibitions of local art. Rainforest Arts in Chemainus features purchasable pottery, glass items, jewelry, photography, woodwork, and other mediums of expression, including First Nations art. Arts on the Avenue Festival can be found on First Avenue sometime in August. It's full of contests, art jamming, and live music.

08 Local cuisine and dining

Vancouver Island, aka Canada's Food Island, lives up to expectations in Ladysmith. The town is famous for its cheesecakes and cinnamon buns, and you'll find some at Wild Poppy Market. Here, the baked goods are gluten-free and celiac-friendly, so if you have dietary restrictions, this place is heaven. The Crow and Gate Pub serves some good steak pies. Plantitude Kind Food is vegan—try their Roma panini and spinach artichoke dip. In Chemainus, the cod and chips and cream pies at Bonnie Martin are a winner.

09 Shopping and boutiques

Shoppers congregate at First Avenue to find everything from vintage goodies to beeswax candles. Antique enthusiasts have much to get excited about. Post Office Antique Mall and Highway Antique Emporium will pique your curiosity with their treasures. Coronation Mall, south of downtown, is a strip mall for you to stock up on various supplies. For clothing, check out Left Coast Fashions and Four One One for streetwear.

10 Accommodation options

For a Ladysmith hotel experience, Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham Oyster Bay should check the boxes. Ladysmith has a few cute bed and breakfasts to choose from including Hummingbird Gardens B&B. Fancy sleeping in a four-poster bed? Eagle Rock Bed and Breakfast will happily comply. If you're interested in a lodge, Kiwi Cove is a solid choice. In Chemainus, a good 'ol Best Western comes recommended.

11 Day trips and excursions

Goats on roof at Old Country Market on Vancouver island.

There are loads of day-tripping options in the area. Head north, and you can go bungee jumping in Nanaimo or check out the goats on the roof of the Old Country Market in Coombs. Travel south to see the totems in Duncan or spend time in British Columbia's capital, Victoria.

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12 Seasonal activities and events

On the third Saturday in August, First Avenue in downtown Ladysmith on Vancouver Island is LADYSMITH SHOW ‘N SHINE Andriy Stefanovych / Shutterstock.com

In terms of annual cultural events, this area attracts visitors and locals to various festivals. Ladysmith Festival of Lights is Vancouver Island's largest winter family celebration. The Ladysmith Show and Shine are for car lovers, the Heritage Boat Festival in spring celebrates all things maritime, and Ladysmith Days involves a parade, fireworks, lots of food, and performances. The Chemainus Giant Street Market livens up the small town in July.

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13 Getting around

Eric Buermeyer / Shutterstock.com

If you're looking for public transport options, BC Transit's Route 34 runs between Ladysmith and Chemainus about four times a day. The eight-mile journey takes less than 20 minutes, and the stops are the Co-Op Gas Station and 49th Parallel Grocery in Ladysmith. For day trips in the region, you can hop on the Tofino bus.

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14 Conservation

Ladysmith has several environmental initiatives on the go. The town does recycling audits to see how it can support locals by diverting waste away from landfills and educates residents on the differences between curbside and depot items. An annual Native Plant Giveaway encourages community members to conserve water and shift to using more drought-resistant plants.

15 Future developments

Panoramic view of fishing boats in Ladysmith marina, taken in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada Roxana Gonzalez / Shutterstock.com

Ladysmith is planning a harbor development that should result in a more Granville Island-like feel. The waterfront project should return Stz’uminus culture to the area, too. The town is also investing in a new Artist Studio and heritage hub as part of the marina development. In Chemainus, murals continue to be restored and maintained.

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