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Childhood recollections: the people, the boats, the revelry - USSCo. era was an exciting time to be a child

Bruce Russell and Murray Atherton frequented Bowen in the late USSCo. era
Panorama of hotel
The Union’s Bowen hotel on the Deep Bay waterfront as it was in 1940. The hotel was demolished in 1962. Fred Billington had the contract. “He says he felt as though he were bulldozing a section out of his life,” Irene Howard wrote in 1973. “First the demolition crew crushed the roof; then the bulldozer went in, levelling it in sections.” (Photo: Bowen Island Museum and Archives)

The following is part of the Undercurrent's special 100th anniversary of USSCo. & Bowen Island feature. 

As a child summer resident at our Mannion Bay (aka Deep Bay and Hotel Bay) cottage in the mid 1940s and ’50s, I fondly remember the importance of the Union Steamship Company’s fleet of coastal ships that were the lifeline of the Bowen Island community delivering a wide variety of freight including food, building supplies and picnic supplies, the latter for thousands of visitors each summer attending the incredible number of large company picnics (hundreds of attendees), for which Bowen was so famous. 

It was a fascinating form of entertainment, while standing on what is now the north BIM Snug Cove pier watching the Lady Alexandra, the Lady Cecilia, the Lady Rose and other “proud” ships in the fleet arrive to unload their wide array of cargo, including five rolls of building paper for my father in July 1947 for which he paid the grand sum of $.85 for freight.  Blackbear Transport’s Jim Clarke pays more than that for a cup of coffee. 

 For a change of scenery my brothers Ken and Doug and sister Maralyn would walk over to Miller’s Landing/Miller’s beach to watch the boats unload localized shipments at the pier in one of Bowen’s other ports. The third port of call was the pier at Seymour Bay, due east of our beautiful community golf course. Alas, no golfers disembarked in those days but considering that in 1930 George Cowan proposed a nine-hole golf course on a portion of his Cowan Point lands, where a good part of our course is located today, there could well have been golfers offloading in addition to building supplies and groceries for the extended Rogers family. 

 Mount Strachan Lodge was located at the north end of Mannion Bay, where the Podavin, Pynn and Woodall residences are today. 

This was the company’s very popular destination hotel and resort. Many were dazzled by the competitive tennis on the first-class clay tennis courts; the horseshoe matches; lawn bowling, horseback riding and yes, even putting. 

I like to think that putting green was a precursor for things to come. 

The antics at the lodge’s beer parlour were something to behold for the unique manner in which the company was able to serve patrons that far exceeded the seating capacity. It was not uncommon to see dozens of thirsty customers, who could not find seating in the pub, sitting on the lawn outside the exit door in the southwest corner of pub. An endless supply of beer served to patrons at the table closest to the door was shared with friends on the lawn outside. Obviously liquor laws were more lax in those days. 

The company’s circular dance hall on Snug Point, where the Bowen Island Lodge is now, was another source of great memories and entertainment, especially watching the company’s “booze cruise” patrons arrive on one of the company’s ships in their “well-oiled condition,” ready to party and dance the night away to many wonderful live orchestras. 

 Oh those were the days when the USSCo. played a vital role with their prominence at the front door entrance to the community, which for good reason was affectionately referred to as the Evergreen Playground.

Thanks to the Dike family the modern Union Steamship Company, by way of their marina, Doc Morgan’s, rental cottages, boardwalk and spacious waterfront lawn continues to play an important role in making our community a more enjoyable and attractive place for all of us, plus thousands of tourists each year. 

Long live the Union Steamship Company.

-Bruce Russell

Remembering the Sannies and cabin vacations

Some of my most enjoyable memories of early Bowen was being a “rope boy” with Tommy White on the Sannie runs from Horseshoe Bay to Bowen.  It was always a thrill when we’d get a special drop off at Eaglecliff or Miller’s Landing!  

We rented the cabins in the Cove virtually every summer until 1957.

The best thing about Union Steamships was in 1958 my parents bought our little $4,000 cabin at Eaglecliff because now we had the ability to bring our car to the island.

 The year before we had rented in Mt. Gardner area and my mom had her Morris Minor shipped to the island by freighter!

-Murray Atherton