Duncan is known as "The City of Totems". The city has 80 totem poles around the entire town, which were erected in the late 1980s.

Duncan has a large First Nations community and is the traditional home of the Cowichan Tribes, who are the largest band among the Coast Salish people. The Coast Salish men and women of the Cowichan Tribes are makers of the world-famous Cowichan Sweaters.

The city is about 50 kilometres from both Victoria to the south and Nanaimo to the north. It is the smallest city by area (2.07 square kilometres, 0.8 square miles) in Canada.

Although the City of Duncan has a population of just under 5000, it serves the Cowichan Valley which has a population of approximately 80,000, many of whom live in North Cowichan contiguous with Duncan. This gives Duncan a much larger "greater" population than that contained within the city limits.