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Return to Chemainus

Chemainus is a well established small town with its original economy mostly based on forest and sea. There was full time tree harvesting and a humongous saw mill. When first I had moved to this area I spent a few winter nights putting in shifts at the green chain. To me this was definitely worse than any type of work I was aware of at the time. At any rate this mill belonged to a small operator in this area (when compared to the big internationals that run the show). The family name was Doman. The first Doman here was Herb. Initially he was a trucker. The US likes to take from Free Trade but never give. As a result the “sought lumber” debate between the USA and Canada has been going on since way back in the 20th century and every time it seems to be settled the US Lobby starts all over again. This has caused some hardship north of  the Canada US border and  Domans Industries went in with Western Forest Products (WFP). WFP was a partnership of three companies including Domans. When finances became a real mess Domans was completely taken over by WFP. Meanwhile brand new state of the art mills had replaced ancient wooden contraptions like the one I worked in for two nights. The original mill here closed down after dismissing the workforce, and later rebuild after which a very small crew (in comparison to the old saw mill’s crew) was rehired.


Another industry that played somewhat of a role in Chemainus is the mining industry. It dwindled to nothing as resources were as good as depleted and economic extraction was not feasible. With the logging industry  boats  also played a role. Freighters of course and work boats such as tugboats were very much involved as the tools for organizing and distributing all this timber from our “forests forever”.  The boats still are very much part of the scene.


While I have lived here the forest industry  has gone from full blast to being a much smaller part of the local economy. Chemainus had to adapt or die. A Chemainus business man Karl Schutz became an inspiring drive behind the necessary rejuvenation plan. Tourists became the new economy. The town’s looks changed  Bistros etc became part of the scene and a main attraction was figured out. The idea was to make this town a town of murals. The murals were to depict the area’s history. This was in the seventies. It must have been the next twenty years that saw the appearance of most of today’s murals. Some years ago they were old enough to need restoration which consequently happened. Here are a few of these colossal works of art:


In the days that the old mill made Chemainus  a mill town, it was a very close knit community and much of this community structure still exists. A friendly and hospitable people live here and as soon as spring arrives with visitors, Chemainiacs are ready to make these visitors feel welcome and make sure that they leave with very fond memories.

A few links:


About Joseph de Lange

Before retirement worked in art galleries, a photo studio, offices, and the trades. Don't travel much anymore but still photograph. For the past 5 years 95% of my photography is done with the phone. My prediction for big cameras: DSLRs and their beautiful lenses and even the smaller mirrorless cameras will be mostly a historical footnote in the not too distant future.

7 responses to “Return to Chemainus

  1. How good that they made it work in order to save the town. How sad though, that resources were depleted.

    • Chemainus is a great little town about one half hour drive from where we live. We pay this town regular visits throughout the year disguised as tourists and photographing like tourists. As far as the rape of resources is concerned, the results are very noticeable now and getting more so. In parts of this world Many people have died already due to climate change and it is rapidly coming to all of us. Save resources to save people to save the world. 🙂

  2. What a profound post, Joseph, I truly enjoyed it! We love to visit Chemainus, too, and like you we pretend to be tourists for the sake of blending in for photography. I love this post, I think you’ve done a great job of bringing this community to life for everyone to enjoy!

    • Thank you Mr Toad, as a tourist one is always asked “where are you from” and I may answer Amsterdam (rather than Duncan). At least sometimes, I’m certain, this changes the dynamic of the ensuing conversation. At any rate Chemainus is a great walking town with some good coffee shops, one can’t go wrong. 🙂

  3. ehpem

    It has been a long time since I visited Chemainus, but I now realise I have been neglecting the place. I had better go again soon.

    • Hi ehpem, Chemainus small town that it is can be photographed during a few hours of Chemainus walkabout as, I am sure, you know. However being there regularly I still come away with photographs nearly every time, and still have places from there on my agenda for future shoots. Chemainus has been very nicely preserved with an atmosphere all its own. It is another one of my favorite spots that has more than enough going for a photographer.

  4. Pingback: Chemainus Theater and Artistic Murals

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