Nanaimo’s Shack Island

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The last thing you’d expect to see in Nanaimo, while driving down Hammond Bay Road in the city’s northern sprawl, is an island full of shacks. Yet there it is, just past the waterfront mansions, next to a bucolic park named Pipers Lagoon. The island, which is accessible at low tide, appears to contain at least a dozen brightly-coloured wooden shacks, so close to the water it is hard to imagine how they are not submerged when the tide comes rushing in.

Although many of the shacks are shuttered, none seem to be quite abandoned; indeed, this afternoon, when I went to see the island, a man stood outside, hauling a small boat to shore. A Canadian flag hung from a nearby porch. The last time I visited, almost ten years ago, I seem to remember entire families hanging around the shacks, kids running around and playing near the choppy water. It was entirely incongruous with the predictable cityscape of suburban Nanaimo.

I have no idea about the current legal situation of these shacks, but according to one Nanaimo website, the island was settled by fishermen squatters in the 1930s. Their shacks were passed down through the generations to the current inhabitants, most of whom use them only seasonally. I don’t imagine there is any electricity, plumbing or running water in these places, so living on the island full-time would probably appeal only to bearded eccentrics, artists and Unibomber types.

Shantytowns and squatter settlements were common in pre-war Canada — my grandmother used to tell me about the squatters who lived on the islands in Calgary’s Bow River — but today they crop up only occasionally before they are cleared and their inhabitants rehoused. It’s nice to think that at least one example of those Depression-era squats has survived more or less intact to this day.

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This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday August 13 2007at 12:08 am , filed under Architecture, Canada and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Nanaimo’s Shack Island”

  • Bob White says:

    You’d be surprised at how many areas/property have been passed down through generations, be it from early squatters, (shack Island, Second Lake, etc.) to Cameron lake where land was given to people who saved passengers from a train wreck there, and have been passed down through the generations.( Ever wonder why there are cabins on the other side of the lake?) From Victoria to Port Hardy, it will take 10 life times to learn the history and all the hidden gems of this island. Talk to the local people, they’ll tell you what you’ll never find in a brochure. We’ve traveled 4000 miles on a 300 mile island and we’ve only scratched the surface. It just keeps getting better.

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