Black Diamond City: Nanaimo-the Victorian Era


240 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-894384-51-2
DDC 971.1'2




Reviewed by Ann Turner

Ann Turner is the financial and budget manager of the University of
British Columbia Library.


With this first book in a planned trilogy, Vancouver Island historian
Jan Peterson turns her attention from the Alberni Valley area, the
subject of four previous publications, to the central east coast of the

Nanaimo is the second-largest city on the island after Victoria and a
key community in the island’s historical and economic development. Its
story begins with the Native population, which hunted, fished, and
gathered food in the area for thousands of years before the arrival of
European explorers and Hudson’s Bay Company traders in the 18th and
19th centuries. The discovery of rich coal deposits in 1835 marked the
beginning of the modern Nanaimo as a mining camp that evolved into a
mid-island business centre by the end of the 19th century.

Peterson has researched its development extensively in original
personal and government records as well as the newspapers of the period.
She weaves Nanaimo’s history colorfully from the words, experiences,
and personalities of the individuals who lived, worked, and died there.
Many are pictured in reproductions of photographs that, along with the
author’s drawings, liberally illustrate the text. The amount of detail
about the citizens and their families is amazing, and it is all well
indexed by name. Quotations and facts are carefully footnoted to the
lengthy bibliography. There is a special appendix listing the pre-1900
hotels and saloons in the area with their locations and historical
information. Because of Nanaimo’s prominence in the early economic
development of the province, this is a noteworthy contribution to
British Columbia’s history as well as an outstanding local history.


Peterson, Jan., “Black Diamond City: Nanaimo-the Victorian Era,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024,