The Murals that Saved Chemainus… The Vancouver Island Adventure

Homeowner and muralist Dan Sawatzky painted this 3D steam engine chugging out of his house/studio in Chemainus on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Number 3 engine was used for hauling logs and is symbolic of the town’s historic lumber industry.

This is another reposting of an earlier Vancouver Island blog. Again, Peggy and I still involved in our kayak trip among the Orcas. I know many of my followers enjoy murals and Chemainus has some great ones. I’ll catch up on comments when Peggy and I get back home– before we zip off to Burning Man. –Curt

“You have to visit Chemainus and see its murals,” the woman from Qualicum Beach urged. We were on the Black Ball Ferry between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, British Columbia. While I hunkered down and read, Peggy made new friends. Fortunately, one of us is much more social than the other.

Qualicum Beach is next to Parksville, which was our destination. A thirty-minute conversation generated a long list of restaurants to visit and places to see. I was yanked out of my book to take notes.

Chemainus is an excellent recommendation. This thriving community is located in the Chemainus Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island about an hour north of Victoria. In 1983 it came close to dying. The primary place of employment, a lumber mill, shut down. 700 of the town’s 4000 residents were thrown out of work.

This is the point where most communities give up. Business and political leaders spend their energy assigning blame instead of seeking solutions. Not so with Chemainus.

“Let’s cover the walls of our town with historic murals,” Karl Schultz urged. It would capture the community’s history, develop local pride, and hopefully encourage tourism. As always, there were naysayers, but Karl’s enthusiasm won out. Today Chemainus is world-famous for its murals and tens of thousands of tourists visit the town annually.

Since it was on our way and we had the time, Peggy and I decided to stop. Good decision. First, I love the story of the small community that has adopted the motto of  “The Little Town that Did.” Second, I really like murals. Following are some our favorites out of the 39 (and increasing). For a complete tour visit

A colorful 1948 view of Chemainus looking down Mill Street toward the bay.

Hong Hing arrived in Chemainus in 1915 and opened his waterfront store. Over time his store would serve as a laundry, grocery store, second-hand store, bootlegging establishment and gambling den. Declining business led him to close his store in 1950 and return to China where he married a younger woman and produced an heir. Black Cat, by the way, is an extinct brand of British/Canadian tobacco.

This mural captures the Chemainus Hospital in 1904 along with two nurses and the hospital cook.

What’s not to love about a band concert?

I’ve included this mural because of its history. In 1939 Chemainus celebrated its 50th anniversary. The float entered by the local Japanese-Canadian Community won first prize. By 1942 all of the community’s Japanese had been removed to Internment Camps. It is one of the darker pages of Canadian (and US) history.

Tent houses provided quick, inexpensive housing for the early loggers, fishermen and miners of Chemainus. When I was growing up in Diamond Springs California, one of my mother’s friends lived in a tent house. As a seven-year old, I was jealous.

This big guy’s face captures both the simplicity and the power of the mural art in Chemainus.

Dressed in their Sunday best, these early residents of Chemainus reflect a time when horses competed with ‘horseless’ carriages as the primary mode of transportation.

This Chemainus mural of First Nation people captures both the original inhabitants of Vancouver Island and their renaissance today. Peggy and I were both impressed and moved by the quality and quantity of First Nation Art during our visit to British Columbia. 

24 thoughts on “The Murals that Saved Chemainus… The Vancouver Island Adventure

  1. You captured the essence of the mural history. I enjoyed your descriptions of the mural from your research. It added to my enjoyment of the blog!

  2. Curt, I’m so impressed with the can-do spirit at work in Chemainus (another destination you’ve added to my “Must-See List.” And like you, I’m a big fan of murals. The last one of the First Nation people is fantastic. We just saw one this week in Lexington, Kentucky by the airport, that depicted thoroughbreds grazing in a field. I could have sworn it was real – not just a concrete wall for the runway. 🙂 ~Terri

    • I am with you Terri, in being impressed with the effort made by the townspeople of Chemainus. All too often people just give up and move away when a major employer shuts down.Now Chemainus is a bustling small town with murals to reflect its history. –Curt

  3. Hi Curt: So sorry we’ve been ghosts as of late. We’ve been locked away in our writing room for the past 2 months finishing our book from the P-7 series. But we’ll be getting regular hours soon & back to blogging again. Good thing as we miss our blogging buds like you!!! Now as for the post. I was just telling my daughter, that every time we come to your blog, we feel as though we’ve learned something or been exposed to great culture and art!!! And that’s just all kinds of badass!! lol 😉 This was utterly beautiful & left us in awe, Curt! Thank you for sharing this kind of beauty with your visitors. Like us…we would never see things like this if you didn’t share it with us!!! Sharing this now on our networking sites to pass that beauty & gift along!!! BTW~ Just got word from JC that we have your address now so we’ll be sending that book in the next few days!!! 😉 xoxo

    • Thanks for the good words and thanks for sharing. Glad you could come up for air! My book on Peace Corps Liberia keeps getting put off as Peggy and I head out on adventures. Good thing we are retired and don’t have to depend on the income. 🙂 We just returned home from a great kayaking trip off of Vancouver Island out among the Orcas and other sea life. Now we are madly preparing for Burning Man. I have enough blog material for two months. September and October are for the book. (grin) Looking forward to the book. –Curt

  4. I love murals, history and great stories of endurance and creative perseverance. This post hits on them all. Not sure how I missed it, but glad the ladies above shared it on FB.

    • It is a fascinating town, Patti, and not all that far from where you live. It’s definitely worth a visit if you get over to Vancouver Island. I too, am pleased that Inion N. Mathair shared the blog on Facebook. –Curt

  5. Some fantastic artisans must live there. By golly, they are phenomenal…and gives true meaning to American ingenuity! ps Big PS I heard Burning Man was closed down due to weather????

  6. Pingback: Уличное искусство, поражающее воображение

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s