A Bowen love story

While George and Sheila Hunter did not spend their working life as historians, the two island residents, who celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary in June, are certainly knowledgeable about things Bowen.

The Hunters have been part of the Tunstall Bay area since 1970 when Bowen's population was about 350; they loved the island then and still do. For two decades, they lived here each summer before moving over permanently in 1991 and their enthusiasm for Bowen is infectious; the two make all those years here, in particular their early years, sound very special.

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"It was a wonderful, wonderful era," George says of the old days in Tunstall Bay. "Every weekend in the summer, we'd all be at the beach and the water looked like it had a bunch of sea otters in it with kids and adults swimming and talking. In the evening we'd often set up chairs outside at a house and watch an outdoor movie. We had salmon derbies and tennis tournaments.

"Those days were just great."

The personable couple, who met on a bus, were married in 1956 in Calgary and Sheila says that even then they spent their time outdoors. In 1965 they loaded up their five daughters - Bonnie, Susan, Elizabeth, Sheila Maureen and Georgina - and drove over the Rockies in an old '61 Volvo Sport, not a big car. Wee Georgina spent much of the trip bundled up in the compartment at the back window.

The family settled in West Van. George worked 16 years for the internationally noted Canadian architect Arthur Erickson - and bought the first of three properties from developer and islander Don Cromie. They were one of the first six or so families to buy in that area and George built that first home himself.

It was a time of great community spirit, they say, an example being the private dock at Tunstall. George designed it and built it with volunteers, and it still stands. The family also put in Hunter Park, a one-acre park and trail system, with a pond, halfway down Adams Rd. near their present property.

Socializing with the Monks and other families, swimming and fishing - George nabbed a 42-pound salmon once - were chief occupations.

Sometimes, among them were noted folk such as newsman Tony Parsons and the writer Barry Broadfoot, but mostly they were all just hard working people, young, raising families and enjoying island life.

An activity they especially loved was the Bowfest Parade and from the beginning, they built floats, including one featuring The Tunstall Bay Monster (guess who). Sheila taught fabric classes such as weaving and dyeing at West Van Community Centre starting in 1974 - she still teaches there - and used to teach classes on Bowen, in the old elementary school near Abbeyfield.

Growing up, their girls worked for Bowen businesses such as the General Store; Elizabeth worked for Gordie the butcher and learned to cut meat while Sheila Maureen got a degree in art design and then decided to open up the Bowen Barber Shop, which she eventually sold to present owner, Barb the Barber.

Most of their girls now live in various locations including the interior, but Bonnie stayed; she and her husband Mark raised sons Clayton and Eric here.

Their time on Bowen has given all of them a deep sense of belonging.

"Bowen has always been our home," Sheila says. "Our kids consider this to be their home even though they mostly grew up in West Vancouver. Bowen has always been our home."

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