Building & Site Research Guide

Some Research Basics:

  • This guide is not an exhaustive catalogue of our holdings.  Researchers should also consult us about other possible sources.
  • Phone or email for an appointment.
  • Bring the legal description of your property with you (e.g. block, lot, plan, etc.)
  • Be prepared to spend at least one hour researching your building or site.
  • Be advised that the NCA charges for photocopies and that some items may not be copied.
  • Be aware that the city limits have changed over time.  We may not have records for areas that were historically outside the city limits.
  • Be aware that civic addresses have also changed over time.   Fire insurance maps sometimes show address changes.  Legal addresses also changed as land was sub-divided.

Tax Assessment Rolls ( 1874-1973)

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. 

Fire Insurance Maps

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.

Searchable Databases 

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

Building Plans

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.

Business Directories

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.

Telephone Directories

We have a good range of directories available from 1935 on.

Building Files

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.

Family Files

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.

Reference Collection

The Archives includes a small reference library with books and pamphlets on architects and architecture, local history, historic buildings and other related topics.