Hues and views of Chemainus 

Contributing writer for Travelink Publishing

As photographer Lee Beliveau and I drive down the Island Highway, we are buzzing with anticipation. We’re heading towards Chemainus, the town which has, with a huge dollop of imagination, transformed itself into an Imax-sized outdoor art gallery. Its 33 murals on the exteriors of commercial buildings, shops, houses and restaurants, provide glimpses into the history and traditions of people who have lived and worked here for over a hundred years.

We stroll through the streets, cameras clicking furiously. Then Lee exclaims: "Hey, look at this!"

On the sidewalk, in front of a tranquil church, is a painted garbage bin in synch with its backdrop. On each of its four sides it depicts respectively a Victorian couple dressed in their Sunday best walking towards the church, a bride and groom on a bicycle, a church choir in action, and a pretty stained glass window.

Fascinated, we set off on a garbage bin-tour and find several others which are lavishly embellished with rural landscapes, wildlife, flowers, birds, seascapes and logging scenes.

A town resident pauses to watch us. "Imagine that," I say to her. "Artistic garbage cans."

Her eyes twinkle.

"They aren’t garbage cans‚ my dear," she says, "they are beautification barrels!"

Chemainus today, despite its abundance of exquisite craft shops, its intriguing antique stores, and its vibrant arts and theatre scene, still has the feel of a robust mill town. It is peopled by down-to-earth folks who share anecdotes about their town’s heritage, while extending a cheerful welcome to visitors. As Lee and I walk up the steps, past the attractive white and blue trimmed porch railings of our bed and breakfast lodgings, we are about to experience that spirit of hospitality at The Olde Mill House.

The pastel décor of the entrance hall is heightened by a lovely dried flower arrangement in one corner, and the doors leading into the living room are richly ornamented with stained-glass panels. Burnished hardwood floors, rugs and deep sofas lend the room an aura of warmth and comfort.

Our room, the Arbutus Room – which has its own private terrace-patio – is soothing. It is obvious that every little detail has been meticulously and lovingly planned: tasteful paintings adorn the pale, sea-green walls, crystal-glass goblets and a vase of pink carnations stand on the antique dresser. Plump, down-filled duvets cover the twin beds. A swath of tulle is entwined around a gnarled bough and drapes the door leading on to the terrace. A special touch of elegance enchants us: across the white crochet-edged pillow-shams on each bed lies a single, perfect rose.

The Olde Mill House, a minute’s walk across the street from the Chemainus Theatre, is one in a row of seven turn-of-the century homes which once housed the Victoria Lumber Company’s mill managers. They have been refurbished and re-modelled. The Old House of Many Colours, which is next door to The Olde Mill House, for example, is now an art gallery, gift shop and café, where the ambience is as inviting as the aroma of their fresh brewed coffee and home-made soup.

Marion Hawkins, our hostess and the owner of The Olde Mill House, invites us to sample her home-made wine and we sit chatting in the gracious living room as dusk enfolds the town. Velvet and Buster, liquid-eyed cocker spaniels, join us, friendly tails a-wag in greeting. Marion assures that if they are too intrusive she will banish them (as she does for guests who are doggie-averse), but we are delighted to have their company.

In the space of the next couple of hours, we are no longer "passing strangers," but are drawn to a woman who is – like her home – cheerful, warm, generous and kindly. She joins us for dinner at a nearby restaurant and then takes us on a night tour of Chemainus, all the while regaling us with anecdotes of local characters‚ and incidents around town.

Next morning, breakfast is a feast of fresh fruit salad, chilled orange juice, scrambled eggs, sausages, crisp toast and a variety of jams, and rich aromatic coffee. The table is elegantly set with crystal, bone-china, silverware and a bowl of daffodils and tulips.

It’s easy to peg The Olde Mill House for what it is: a top-notch, four-star B&B. Intangibles, however, are harder to pin down. Marion’s rare gift of spontaneous hospitality has made us feel more like old friends than paying-guests.

And, in the long run, that’s what we’ll always remember.

How To Get To Olde Mill House Bed & Breakfast

• Vancouver and other Lower Mainland travellers: B.C. Ferries accommodates travellers from Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay terminals to Duke Point or Departure Bay. General Information for sailing schedule is 1-888-BCFERRY (223-3779)

• Chemainus is a 35-40 minute drive south from Nanaimo along the Island


The Olde Mill House Bed & Breakfast

9712 Chemainus Road, Box 1046, Chemainus V0R 1K0

Ph: (250) 416-0049; Fax: (250) 246-4457

Toll Free: 1-877-770-6060

Host: Marion Hawkins

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