Vancouver Island University: student tips for surviving life on campus

Coolest elective, good places to nap, best live music venue and more

Spenser Smith
Vancouver Island University Students

University Insider: Spenser Smith, 26 , Creative Writing and Journalism

Official school motto: ‘Enjoy the journey. Love where you learn.’
Best cheap lunch: Steak quesadillas at Jalapenos
Best sushi: Aburi tuna nigiri at Tomo Sushi
Favourite campus food: Paninis from the upper cafeteria
Best beach: Invermere
Best owl species: Northern pygmy-owl
Perks of living in this town: Cheaper than Victoria or Vancouver
Best place to study: Arts and humanities student lounge
Worst place to study: Library commons
Best cultural event: WorldVIU Days
Coolest electives: Coast Salish Language: Hul’q’umi’num’
Best campus event: Ralph Gustafson Distinguished Poets Lecture Series
Best live music venue: The Queen’s

PROFILE: Vancouver Island University | Nanaimo, B.C. | Founded 1969

New construction is booming at Vancouver Island University (VIU), including a state-of-the-art health and science building, a major expansion to the marine, automotive and trades complex, and a geo-exchange energy system which will use water trapped in an abandoned mine to cool and heat buildings.
Despite the growth, however, campus life is far from overwhelming. Nestled in the lower slopes of Mount Benson and overlooking Nanaimo, VIU has around 7,000 undergrads and offers small, intimate classes. It’s typical for professors and students to be on a first-name basis. There are two cafeterias, both supplying fresh eats from the culinary arts program. Step foot into the bustling quad and you’ll have access to everything from Starbucks to a weekly farmers’ market. Wildlife is abundant—expect to learn alongside bunnies, deer and even owls.

There are more than 120 programs to choose from. The creative writing and journalism department boasts a faculty full of award-winning writers, and there are several publications to publish your work, including Portal, a nationally distributed literary magazine. Attracting students from 40 plus countries, the faculty of management won the national MBA Games competition in 2017. The International Centre for Sturgeon Studies is also stationed at VIU and allows biology students to take on innovative research projects with the ancient fish species. (VIU is a little sturgeon-obsessed: the campus bookstore sells canned sturgeon, and our mascot is a sturgeon named Stuey.)

Located on Snuneymuxw territory, VIU has many Indigenous programs. Elders-in-residence provide guidance and regularly appear in classes across departments to share Indigenous ways of knowing. You can minor or major in First Nations Studies while completing a B.A. Shq’apthut (A Gathering Place) is home to three breathtaking totem poles, hosts feasts, workshops and cultural activities. In addition, VIU’s Reconciliation Road series engages with reconciliation through a number of events, including a speaker series.

Local Vibe
More than just the birthplace of its famous namesake dessert bar, Nanaimo is a growing coastal city of 90,000 with plenty to do and see. For nature lovers, hike the wealth of trails that criss-cross the city, chase urban waterfalls or experience world-class scuba diving.
For those who are more indoor-minded, enjoy Nanaimo’s quaint and vibrant downtown. Shop the array of eclectic boutiques and specialty shops at Old City Quarter, see a show at the Port Theatre, or eat at one of the many drool-inducing restaurants lining Commercial Street.

The Skinny
The Navigator, VIU’s student magazine (, and the VIU student union website (


Vancouver Island University student