The early history of the Chemainus area is inextricably tied to it’s forests and the industries associated with it.
Chemainus, or more specifically the bay around which the town grew, was home to natural features which made it attractive to the forest industry. The sawmill, which opened in 1862, was operated by a powerful stream with a potent waterfall.
The late 1880’s acclaimed the arrival of the railroad, the town slowly grew over the next thirty years. In the early 1920’s the population was estimated at 600 including many from the Chinese, Japanese, and Salish native origin.
By the late 1970’s the mill was antiquated and the industry was suffering exceptionally difficult times. Some thought the town was finished. At this same time, the town was awarded a grant from a provincial redevelopment fund. Community leaders, led by a new, young mayor (Graham Bruce), were searching for ideas on the best way to utilize the funds. Karl Schutz, a social entrepreneur, was asked to contribute suggestions and ultimately to coordinate the murals revitalization project.
Beginning in 1982 and continuing still today over 45 murals have been commissioned, most of them portray the history of Chemainus.
The look of the town has changed… from a landscape of “for sale” signs in the early ‘80’s, to a sea of tourists today, Chemainus has every right to call itself “The Little Town that Did”.
For more about the murals, visit the Chemainus Festival of Murals Society website.