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Memories of the Davies Orchard pink cottages: Heritage Week

Former residents of Bowen Island's Davies Orchard shared their memories of the once vibrant community in this Heritage Week feature
Collage of nine photos - looks like the '80s – in Davies Orchard
Life in the Orchard: Dawn Riley’s photos from her family’s time living in Davies Orchard.

Former residents of Bowen Island's Davies Orchard shared their memories of the once vibrant community in this Heritage Week feature. A massive thank you to Helen Wallwork for organizing this piece. 

The Bowen Queen in Snug CoveBefore there was the Queen of Capilano, the Bowen Queen (built in 1965) was Bowen's ferry. Helen Wallwork remembers boat parties on the old ferry when she was a teenager living in Davies Orchard. (Above photo from January 2020 when the Bowen Queen was the Queen of Cap's replacement during refit). By Bronwyn Beairsto

Teenage parties on the Bowen Queen

We lived in two different cabins over the years and I recall them fondly. My family and I lived in Cottage #1 in the Orchard in the mid 1960s. We had returned to the island after a three-year stint in Kipling, Saskatchewan, where my dad, Les, was a newly ordained minister. 

We moved back to Bowen and Dad took a year sabbatical to do more studying.

Cabin #1 was tiny for the five of us but we were all so happy to be back and reconnect with friends and neighbours that we didn't mind the little cramped house. We kept it warm in winter with the pot-bellied airtight gobbling up cord after cord of wood. In the summer we could sit out on the lovely covered porch and see the boats and watch summer visitors wandering by.

My mother, Kit, was very glad to be in the midst of the Cove with the general store and post office so close by as she never drove a car. My brothers, Tony and David, had an easy walk up to the school (where Bowen Court stands today), and I could run out the door to catch the ferry with my friends heading off to West Van high school.

In those days the Bowen Queen was our ferry – and I do mean ours. The Bowen Queen used to dock overnight in Snug Cove and the ferry worker/night watchman became friends with our small group of teens. Friday nights, if he was on watch, we would wait for the all-clear signal, a toot of the ship’s horn, and we would swarm down to the dock under cover of darkness. He would lower the ramp and we’d run onto the ferry deck, up the stairs, open our snacks and drinks and have a boat party.

All was fine and fun until one Friday someone got a little frisky and invaded the bridge, turned the huge spotlight onto all the homes in the Cove swinging it back and forth all the way to Snug Point, blasting the horn all the while.

Our friendly night watchman was replaced by a not-so-friendly one and that was the end of the boat parties.

Our family’s time in the pink cottages is warm and fuzzy in my memory. The fields and beaches were the playgrounds of my childhood. 

I will be very happy to see the remaining cottages and the Orchard preserved for future generations to make their own memories and stories. 

–Helen Wallwork

Orchard cottagesOrchard cottages as they were in 1940. By the 1960s, the heyday of the Union Steamships Company was long gone and living on Bowen was like living in "a kind of Twilight zone," says Andy Mathison. (Photo: Bowen Island Museum and Archives)

Three men standing in front of a rustic-looking cabin in 1970s(L-R) Andy Mathisen and brothers Carl & David in front of a cabin on Babine Lake, B.C. circa 1978. By Courtesy of Andrew Mathisen

'Living on Bowen back then was not unlike being astride two distinct eras – a kind of Twilight Zone'

My family moved to Snug Cove in the summer of 1966, when I was 13. We first set up house at what would later become Doc Morgan’s Pub. Back then, it was a much smaller cottage rented to us by the Proudlocks. By 1968 or so, we had hopscotched a little farther up the hill and spent the better part of the next decade living in two of the old, pink Union Steamships cottages nearby.

 We were members of a rather small and unique clique of year-round renters as most of the cabins were put to use for either weekend or summer vacationers back then. Aside from being a tad funky, the Orchard cabins were spartan affairs. Their previous long-term use as summer cabins had left little attention paid to insulation and such. This was vividly apparent once the chill severity of winter rolled in. Even with the often undependable and cantankerous oil stove in the kitchen, coupled with a wood stove in the living room to provide warmth, too often the pink Orchard cabins shuddered like a cold cow’s udder in the icy grip of a wicked winter’s Squamish wind. A few good cold snaps during those years often left us shivering or running to the Bow-Mart for another box of those then ever essential Pres-to-Logs for swift relief. I’m pretty sure we helped keep the store in the black during those winters, much to the relief of Helen, Ralph and Alec. 

Living on Bowen back then was not unlike being astride two distinct eras – a kind of Twilight Zone or ghost town. All around you were the remnants of gayer and more boisterous times. The echoes of the heyday of the Union Steamship Company were always a distinct yet distant din reverberating in one’s ear. The pianos and dance hall frolics of decades past were now held mute and muffled by a sad glut of mossy, derelict cabins, disused tennis courts, bowling greens, picnic tables and a pool – all intertwined with overgrown, unkempt lanes and paths winding from Snug Cove all the way to Deep Bay. There were probably between 200 and 400 people year-round on the island when we lived there but by the mid 1970s there began a decided influx of others wanting a slice of this pastoral and idyllic pie in Howe Sound. That demand has never lessened.

By the end of the 1960s there were probably barely ten families living in the Orchard year-round at any given time. Old Lyle Davies and his wife in a cabin down near the creek by the lower field; old Otto (from Buffalo) at his digs behind the baseball diamond backstop; Barry Davies and his wife and kids behind us; Don Bishop and his mom across from them and old Mrs Glenn in the cabin beside the Sea Breeze Lodge later to be replaced by Mrs Skidmore-Lamb. The Slades, the Wallworks, the Walkems and even Nelson Riley are among a host of others who once made the Orchard their chosen domain. Of course, in the late ’60s into the early ’70s, the effervescent presence of the “hippies” on the island added both colour and kookiness to an already eclectic and eccentric assembly of Snug Cove souls.

–Andy Mathisen

1232367-snug-cove-oldDavies Orchard in Snug Cove as it was in 1937. By the 1970s, many of the cottages had fallen into disrepair. - Bowen Island Museum & Archives, donated by Joan Tennant.

'All the windows, doors, plumbing and electricity had been ripped out. With friends' help, I put it all back together'

I lived in two Orchard cabins. My first cabin I moved into in 1976 and lived there until 1979. Then I returned in 1984. I needed a place to rent and like now there were very few rentals available. Cabin #11 had been thrashed and only the roof and floor remained. 

All the windows, doors, plumbing and electricity had been ripped out. With friends’ help I put it all back together and lived there for almost 20 years. Having only wood heat and very little insulation made me hardy and I rarely got a cold.

I loved living in the Orchard, the heart and soul of the Cove. It was filled with independent creative women. Living alone in the Cove watching baseball in the summer and the spectacular pink mountains in the winter. 
Truly a special place and I was very sad when Metro tore down five cabins. It’s a big part of Bowen history.

–Connie Wright

Four kids lined up in front of a bookshelf “Orchard urchins”: Jen, Phaedra, Zack and Kindy in the 1980s. By Courtesy of Elaine Loree

Where low rent translated into “fix it yourself,” a helping hand was never far away

Ironic to think so in these days, but it was affordability, as well as availability, that first brought me to these shores back in June, 1981 – a newly single mom, three-year-old Jennifer in tow. And so we moved into our first Orchard home, a shared sublet with a friend and coworker, while the tenant went off for a year of sabbatical in Greece. 

Oh my, the challenges and joys. Having never lived with firewood heating, two cords were ordered and delivered on my very first weekend, unfortunately blocking the lane beside the cabin. I strolled the neighbourhood, carefully studying other folks’ stacks, then went to work. (I was thrilled when a neighbour later complimented me on my woodpile, even though I soon after realized that the wood needed further chopping, and so had to do it all over again.) 

Later, after the original tenant returned, I was able to move into my very own cabin, across from the Bowfest field.

As the proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” and it certainly rang true in the Orchard. Children were free range. Jen and friends were welcomed into every home. They could drop in to see Susie where “pick a piece” would await them, fingers of toast covered in assorted spreads and jams. A glass of Pepsi was always available from Harry, while a visit to Izadaura’s cottage was akin to entering an wonderland of cushions, draped fabric and patchouli. A sick day home from school turned magic when loaned Tracey’s very special collection of Barbies with designer clothes. Fridays were “Bow-Mart Day,” where 25 cents of allowance both filled a bag with penny candy and tested every ounce of Helen’s patience as decisions were made.

Being a grownup in the Orchard was no less magical. Because where low rent translated into “fix it yourself,” a helping hand was never far away. Who knew there could be fun in a group of women, clothed in flannel nighties, big coats and rubber boots, wielding hair dryers, electric blankets and long extension cords, thawing out those water pipes that seemed to freeze at least once every winter? It is a treat to remember things like Izadaura’s car, with its homemade ICBC insurance sticker, and who can forget that year at Edye’s birthday, where champagne flowed like the waters of the Sound? (Because her birthday falls on Dec. 30, New Years Eve that year was unusually quiet.)

It is with a touch of melancholy that I stroll through the Orchard these days, remembering the vibrant community that once was. But if I listen closely, the voices and the laughter are still there. I can see Julian and Damian hiding in the plum tree, waiting to pelt an innocent passerby with an overripe plum; I can hear the sound of my cappuccino machine, a noisy invite to neighbours for coffee; I can see a young Zack kidnapping Tracey’s pink flamingo yet again. And I wouldn’t trade these memories for the world...thanks, neighbours!  

–Elaine Loree

Collage of four photos of Davies Orchard in what looks like the '80sLife in the Orchard: Dawn Riley’s photos from her family’s time living in Davies Orchard. . By Courtesy of Dawn Riley

Raising our kids among the herons

Our almost waterfront cabin had been full of mouldy hay left over from Bowen’s band of free-range horses. They could be seen all over Bowen, depending on where the grass was greenest.

By the time we moved to the Orchard, there was only one old white horse left. We cleaned out the hay and Nelson rebuilt, plumbed and furnished the cabin. The manager of the Orchard cabins, Cy Harding, took him to other abandoned cabins where we could take our pick to furnish our cabin with dressers, a claw-foot bathtub and an oil cook stove; bricks made on Bowen, everything we needed – including a wringer washer (which we used.)

The rocky beach and Cove were our view, made more interesting in the winter when someone’s boat had been hauled out of the water as they made repairs for the coming season.

The scents of the waters of Howe Sound and raucous screeches of the nesting blue herons were part of our days. To be fair, the herons had to listen to our babies and children’s raucous play also. There were about nine young orchard kids all running in and out of our different cabins at different times. Friends dropped in on their way to and from the ferry daily. (No feelings of isolation while living in the Orchard!) The herons seemed to like rearing their young amongst ours as they returned every year.

What is now known as the Bowfest field was a flat, rocky area with cast-offs, junk and debris strewn around. We cleaned up the field and fenced it in for our two horses. They fertilized and enhanced the view and the soil. Our horses subscribed to the free range vibe – I met one of my greatest friends when she knocked on our door saying, “Excuse me, I think it’s your horse that’s at our back door?”

If a Bowen event required the horse field, we would move our horses elsewhere on the island. One of the best was the year the caravan came to Bowen. Three whimsically painted horse-drawn wagons came over the Bowen ferry and camped in our horse field for a few weeks of celebration. It was so exciting for our young families to be able to walk across a foot bridge and be in the middle of crazy caravan life, with the gigantic gentle draft horses right in our backyard.

A bit of drama, excellent neighbours, incredible wild beauty and enduring friendships are some of my memories of living in the Orchard cabins. And fun. Lots of fun.

–Dawn Riley 

Shot from below of Davies OrchardDavies Orchard in 2020. By Bronwyn Beairsto