Bowen Heritage Commission treks to Lieben lands

The Bowen Heritage Commission was established in 2016 under municipal designation. 

In these first years it is working to establish criteria for heritage value, and to involve community in a heritage vision for the island.

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On a sunny day last summer, members of the Heritage Commission and the Parks, Trails and Greenways Advisory Committee met for a walk through the Lieben lands. 

This is a lovely 10-acre property on the Eaglecliff side of the island, bequeathed to the Crown in 1977 upon the death of the owners, Einar and Muriel Neilson.

There is little left to define the home and surroundings of this once famous artists’ colony, but many written memories, photographs and artifacts remain to tell a very unique Bowen story.  

Einar, born in Norway, later lived in Manitoba and worked at the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. He left and came to Bowen Island in 1941 in search of solitude, constructing his home of wooden beams and large windows looking out over Howe Sound. The interior was filled with his hand crafted furniture. 

He called it Leiben – “love.”

His dream was that Lieben be a place for artists to meet to create and discourse, to live freely in the natural surroundings. Over time it became a centre of inspiration and stimulation for many famous Canadian writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals. 

Some of the well-known ones were Margaret Lawrence, Lemoine Fitzgerald, Alice Munro, Malcolm Lowry, Eric Nicol, Earle Birney, Watson Thompson, Lister Sinclair and Dorothy Livesay.

As Muriel and Einar grew older, Lieben was abandoned and allowed to sink back slowly onto the forest floor. Today it is still possible to see some of the house stone foundations, the fallen chimney, rock walls and pathways, and to imagine the once vibrant community life.

This year, the theme for National Heritage Week is Heritage Stands the Test of Time and, though Lieben is decidedly not a site that shows an enduring physical presence, its legacy certainly stands the test of time.

It should be cherished for the historical record, for the memories it preserves of Bowen’s past and its importance for future generations.

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