Fifty years is an impressive number by any stretch, be it years in business, length of a marriage, or life on this Earth.
For Bowener Pat Buchanan, his version of this longevity mark is 50 years working at one of Bowen’s core institutions, the Bowen Building Centre. Sitting in the office of the 2022 version of the store, Buchanan recalls the fall of 1972 when he took on his first task with the hardware store in its inaugural year of existence.
“I was working at Knight Inlet in logging, and I came back to Bowen and met Peter Schmidt who was the owner and had started the business,” recalls Buchanan of his 20 year old self. “He worked for fisheries and then opened the Building Centre. He got all these free planks from the fisheries in West Vancouver and they were full of big nails. And he hired me to pull all the nails out of it.”
Following a successful de-nailing of the planks, more jobs came available for Buchanan. “Then his father, ‘Grandpa Schmidt’, was building buildings here. And he (Peter) said ‘Can you help my Dad?’… He taught me a lot about building, and then it just sort of kept continuing.”
“I enjoyed it… I didn’t think it’d be 50 years!” says Buchanan.
The Grafton Road site looked much different in the early 1970s. it was home to the main building people are familiar with today, but no warehouse off to the side. That didn’t come until about halfway through the Building Centre’s history.
“It was pretty ratty, all our moldings were lying in sheds. It sort of amalgamated all the interior and exterior plumbing. It made it much neater and easier and more efficient,” says Buchanan of the new, and now bustling, addition of the warehouse to the business.
After working several of the many different jobs at the Building Centre, Buchanan later found his niche in custom orders, particularly doors, windows and roofs. Today that means a lot of time in the office, where the phones never cease ringing with requests.
“There’s some trial and error. You learn over the years what questions to ask,” says Buchanan of the process. “You don’t want to order a $3,000 door and get it wrong. Which has happened…”
Buchanan has established many relationships with customers and neighbours over the years, and says he enjoys working at the Building Centre for the friendly atmosphere. “99.9 per cent of our customers are very nice and friendly,” he quips.
“And that’s one of the things I like. We always say hello and everyone knows your name and you joke with them. It’s quite fun, and very leisurely.” Buchanan adds that when Peter Schmidt sold the businesses to Anna Donnelly in 2010, the workplace remained just as enjoyable.
“I find this a very nice job, and I don’t get stressed out with this,” he says.
During his career Buchanan has also fostered close relationships with some the of the Building Centre’s biggest boosters: contractors. “One good thing is a lot of our local contractors really try to support us, which keeps us afloat in the winter… they are very supportive... It’s very important.”
And the Building Centre has long served as a pipeline for many of the contractors who service the island today. “A lot of the people who are now contractors have worked at the Building Centre in the past. So I know most of them, and a lot of them I’ve known since they were 17-18,” says Buchanan.
Buchanan’s second home, the Building Centre, is not too far away from his first home at his family farm over on – appropriately – Buchanan Road. In addition to his family, Buchanan shares the space with about 100 chickens, and various other farm animals including donkeys, horses, sheep and goats.
“My commute is about five minutes away. It’s perfect,” he says.
After 50 years at the Building Centre – and 64 on Bowen since arriving at age six in 1958, Buchanan says he’s not planning to go anywhere. “I still love Bowen to pieces, and I actually hate taking the ferry,” he says, echoing a common sentiment on the island.
“I do find Bowen a little bit too busy for me now… I contemplated moving, but I thought I’ve got all my grandkids here and we like it where we are,” says Buchanan. He says when he went to school on Bowen the entire class was just over a dozen students. Not so anymore.
Buchanan is hoping to work about five more years before hanging up his tools – at the Building Centre anyway. There will always be work to be done at the farm and at home. When that day does come, Buchanan will enter retirement with a clear head and heart.
“I think I’ve had a good run. And I don’t have any regrets,” says Buchanan, with the same smile he’s shared with thousands of customers at the place he’s called home for half a century.
The Building Centre is holding an open house to celebrate Buchanan’s career this Friday, Sept. 30 from 11:30 am to 2 pm. All are welcome to drop by and say hi.