Friday, November 15, 2013

A Tale of Two Islands Part Two: Just Being a Kid - on Bowen Island Canada

Stan, Gus, Archie, Scotty, unknown, and Harry in Bow-Mart
"What d'ya want?"  Demanded the tall, cantankerous man, stifling a grin as the little blonde girl flinched at his voice, stumbling with her penny candy choices.

"Ah, ah, ah. Twenty-five cents worth of bottle caps, and pixie sticks, please."  She stammered, wide-eyed in panic, worried he wouldn't let her buy her Saturday treats.  Sandi Stansfield quickly shoved her money across the counter, snatching her hand back, afraid that he might grab it.  Alik McLennan loved to terrorize the kids, but his bark was all there was: no bite.  He and Helen Holte owned and operated the infamous Bow-Mart grocery store-coffee bar that specialized in out-of-date packaged goods and strong, muddy coffee served with a side-order of island gossip.

The packaged goods at the Bow-Mart usually sat on the shelves for so long, a potential buyer would pick up the item, and blow the dust off the top to see that the heck was in the box.  Giggles between visitors could be heard as they prowled the few rows of groceries.  "Can you believe this place?  It's straight out of history."  The Bow-Mart's coffee-counter stools were habitually occupied by group of island characters, all men, all sitting on their specific stool. Heaven help the person who mistakenly sat on the wrong stool.

Bowen Island ferry to mainland
Geographically 6360 kilometers apart, Bowen Island BC Canada, and Isla Mujeres QR Mexico are so different and yet so similar.  The islands are small. They are both located near large cities.   Both islands rely on tourism as the main industry.  Located in the cold northern Pacific Ocean, our former home of Bowen Island is a hilly mountain-top poking of the sea.  It is twelve kilometers long and six kilometers wide, and three kilometers away from the mainland. Located in the warm Caribbean Sea, our southern paradise Isla Mujeres is a relatively flat wind-swept sand bar, seven kilometers long, and half a kilometer wide.

Both islands are a short ferry ride away from a significant metropolis.  Bowen Island is close to Vancouver the largest city in British Columbia Canada, while Isla Mujeres is located near Cancun Mexico. On Isla the main road circumnavigates the perimeter of the island.  On Bowen Island the hilly geography necessitates a different road system. The island roads spread out like fingers radiating from the palm of the hand, Snug Cove.  And of course, being islands, the inhabitants rely on boats to cross the stretch of water between the island and the mainland.

One of the country roads on island
Bowen Island is what is referred to as a bedroom-community, with most working residents commuting daily to jobs on the mainland.  Life revolves around the ferry schedule.  What time is the next boat?  Can I make that one?  Do I have to wait two to three hours for the next one?   For part of my working years I travelled on the car ferry for thirty minutes and then drove for an hour to another city New Westminster: five days a week.  At the end of my day, I would repeat the process in reverse, leaving me with strong visual and sensory memories of the journey to and from the island.

Memories of seagulls screeching and gliding overhead in a flicker of grey and white feathers, and the smells of pine and fir and the sharp medicinal odor of arbutus trees.  An undernote of the distinctive woodsy aromas of the native leathery-leafed shrub salal, tickled the olfactory nerve.  Cold water mussels, clinging to sturdy wooden pilings that had been painted with a pungent creosote preservative, added a salty-briny-tangy smell.  It is the scent of an untamed ocean bumping up against humans and civilization.

Angie, April and Allan Boothman family photos
In the sheltered cove were only a handful of homes, and two small marinas with power boats and sail boats tied to the docks.  On land the roads were narrow, with deep ditches on either side to carry away the rainwater.  On the frequent rain-drenched winter days the main harbour, Snug Cove, is dark and gloomy, pressing in on three sides with an impenetrable forest; a forest populated with wild deer, birds, squirrels, frogs and harmless snakes.  On sunny days the cove is a paradise of sunlight reflecting on the water, bouncing off the windows of nearby homes and sparkling on automobile windshields.

On Bowen Island in 1973, there were so few children the elementary school did not have sufficient enrollment to keep the school open.  There were five kids - and the school needed six to receive government funding.  Lisa Berube was registered as the sixth child, enabling the school to continue operating.  Her family moved from the mainland to the island once their new home was completed.  The 2010 Bowen Island population is listed at 3400 full-time residents, with summer residents swelling the population in July and August.

Sandi Stansfield, John Lock, Larissa Grierson - Halloween
Halloween night was a big hit with the local kids.  The School Road-Miller's Landing area of Deep Bay had the highest concentration of houses.  Many parents would drive their youngsters to the area for a convenient and lucrative haul of treats.  At the end of the evening youngsters and parents gathered to watch the community display of fireworks on the beach by the lagoon, while sipping steaming mugs of hot chocolate.  In the mid-to-late 1970's the island was inundated with new arrivals, people who were looking for a small safe community to bring up their young families.  In October 1978, I remember more than 150 costumed youngsters knocking at my door and shouting: "Halloween handouts, trick-or-treat!"  Big changes in just a few short years.

Lawrie and son John operating our Sealander boat
Sandi's classmate, Angie Boothman Malpass, has fond memories of riding her horse on Bowen Island with her friend Amanda.  There were fields, and country roads, and lanes to explore and sunshine, fresh air, and good friendship to share.  When they tired of riding, the girls would spend a long lazy afternoon watching Little House on the Prairie on television, sharing cups of tea and slices of toasted bread.  As Angie says: so innocent.

Even then Bowen Island had a decent selection of television programming, broadcast in colour.  The Canadian kids probably spent more time watching television than their Mexican counterparts, but they still had a lot of time to enjoy outdoor adventures.  In the winter while our Isla Mujeres friends enjoyed swimming in warm water and sunning on white sandy beaches our Canadian friends might have been ice skating on an outdoor pond.  Chilly!  But enjoyable.

Sandi, Larissa, John, and June - ice skating on pond
Another Bowen Island friend, Cliff Long was fifteen when he moved to the island from the flat prairies in Alberta Canada.  As a student Cliff remembers his terrifying Monday-to-Friday bicycle ride from his home to the ferry.  The older students had to commute to West Vancouver on the mainland to attend high school.  As he careened down "Seven Hills" on his skinny-tired, ten-speed bike, cars rushed past him, speeding towards the ferry.  In the dark winter mornings the rain-slicked roads were treacherous.  Despite his heart-racing rides Cliff managed to navigate safely to the docks, secure his bicycle to a post, and board the ferry.  At the end of the school day, Cliff faced the long ardous bicycle ride up "Seven Hills" to his home.  (Been there.  Done that.  And it nearly killed me!)

Lawrie driving Bow-Fest parade with nephew Jim on back
Summers on Bowen were a big hit with everyone.  Finally the ocean was warm enough for swimming. Jumping from rocky cliffs, or off the wharf was the quick way to get wet and past the shock of hitting the cool ocean water. Summer was also the time for Bow-Fest; a three day festival with rides, and games, and believe it or not - slug races.  You know, those slimy, soft, creepy things that live in the woods feasting on decomposing leaves?   A special track was constructed to allow several of the land-based mollusks to race side-by-side.  The race could be long and tedious as the shy creatures slowly slimed their way to the finish line.  A hot sunny day usually guaranteed that all of the contestants would curl up and refuse to move.  Sunshine, noise, and people: totally outside the comfort zone for a slug.

Very slow when made to participate in slug-race

As the Bowen Island youngsters turned into teenagers their free time was filled with beach parties, or house parties, or hanging out at the ferry dock, and listening to music.  And there were summer-time baseball games - featuring the Bowen Island Sluggers.  Good memories especially for Cliff Long who played on the team for a few years.

When they were old enough to drive vehicles, like teens everywhere in North American, they spent their summer evenings cruising the few roads on the island with the volume cranked up on the music.  I don't know why, but driving and loud music just go together.  I confess.  I did it too.

Most islanders are kind, hard-working, and happy to have a good life.  And I might add, a little quirky!  The people we have met on both islands seem to share a slightly skewed perspective on life in general, preferring to enjoy life rather than fuss over small details.  Bowen Island, and Isla Mujeres: a northern paradise, and a southern paradise.  We are happy to have friends on both islands.

View from our home at Eaglecliff Bowen Island

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Thank you so much to Lawrie's niece Sandi Stansfield Burton, and Angie Boothman Malpass, and Cliff Long for sharing their Bowen Island memories. Special thanks to Catherine Bayly of the Bowen Island Museum and Archives for the fabulous photo of the Bow-Mart regulars.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Here's another island comparison.

Island Nana