Building & Site Research Guide
Assessment rolls are the most reliable source for determining property ownership. The rolls only cover properties that were historically within the city limits of Nanaimo. For most years, entries include: block, lot, measurement, street, names, land assessment, improvements assessment, total, arrears, tax, receipts, amount paid, amount due, and remarks. The amount of information recorded each year varies. Improvement (buildings) values are only listed for 1887 and from 1908 onward. For years where no improvement is listed, researchers will need to check other sources.
The Archives also holds 1 volume (1884-5) of the District of Alberni assessment rolls. This volume covers: Oyster, South Cranberry, Cedar, Cranberry, Douglas, Nanaimo, Mountain, Wellington, Nanoose, Englishman's River, Qualicum, Lasqueti Island, Gabriola Island, Valdes Island and Alberni.
These maps are extremely useful for building research. The maps show building location, layout, and construction materials. In some cases, underground storage tanks, hydrants, and other important site details are included. Collection includes:
1885 Map: Covers Downtown and Victoria Crescent areas only
1909 (rev. 1916) Map: Covers Downtown, Southend, Old City & Newcastle Townsite areas
1938 (rev. 1951) Map: Same coverage as 1909
1957 Map: Covers Nanaimo & parts of Harewood
Researchers should note that fire insurance maps were revised by pasting new information over older maps. Researchers may use the lighted map table in the public reading room to view the earlier map under the revision.
Other Maps: The Archives has a large collection of other types of maps, including underground coal workings maps.
Check with us frequently; we are always developing new databases
Main Archives Database: Contains descriptions of all processed archival and reference material
Tax Assessment Databases: 1875, 1881, 1887, 1891, 1908, 1913, 1925, 1935
City Building Permit Database: 1911 to 1970s
RDN Building Permit Database: 1960s-1970s
The Archives holds hundreds of building plans for residential and commercial buildings, primarily for the years 1910 to 1969 and mainly for buildings in the oldest parts of the city. Most plans show a date and/or architect/builder. While some plans have street names and numbers, others only have the building name with no address.
Of the 1000s of photographs in the Archives, the most useful for building research are the Englefield Studio fonds (100s of aerial photographs from the mid-1960s-mid 1970s), the Nanaimo Daily News fonds and the Frank Ney fonds. Also, we have many individual photographs of buildings that may be useful to researchers.
Depending upon the year, information may include: name, address, main occupant or boarder, occupation and employer, ethnicity, and spouse. Other years are available at the Vancouver Island Regional Library and online at the Vancouver Public Library website.
We have a good range of directories available from 1935 on.
Building Files contain clippings, articles and miscellaneous information about buildings and sites. We do not have a file for every building but this is a good starting point for researchers.
Archives staff compiles files on local families. These files may help researchers flesh out building histories. Like the Building Files, there will not be a file for every family but these files often provide information not available elsewhere.
The Archives includes a small reference library with books and pamphlets on architects and architecture, local history, historic buildings and other related topics.