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The Bowen Library’s busy past

The current Public Library has taken on many forms over 100 years

Why do some people call the Library the Old General Store?

The Library has been referred to as the Union Steamship Company Store, the Big Store, the Company Store, Bowen Store, the Old General Store, the New Store, the Old Store...

In 1924 the Union Steamship Company built the Tudor style building to supply groceries and provisions to summer visitors as well as the small year-round community of about 150 people. An article in the Province newspaper, Sunday, July 19, 1925, describes the new store as a building that combines the picturesque appearance of a quaint Old Country Inn with the service facilities of today.

The store also had a Post Office and a single gas pump. Edythe Hanen wrote “In the early winter evenings, gas lamps illuminated the Ione Standard Oil gas pump outside.”

A recent addition to the Bowen Island Museum & Archives is a painting by Joan E. Nicol titled the Bowen Island Store. A note on the back of the painting reads “General Store at Bowen Island where grandpa Percy Bird was the first manager and grandma Betty Bird was the first Post Mistress in 1925. We lived upstairs. Grandma Birdy (Betty) went to the first grade of school there, in an eight grade, one room school house and Bowen Island. She was the only one in grade one. Auntie Barbara Kettle was born there.” Betty DeRidder

In 1927 Murray Hume and his wife took over and Mrs. Hume’s worked in the Post Office work while her husband tended the store. Mail was delivered daily, fresh produce was sold in bulk and weighed out at the counter and baked goods came by steamship. One of the regular helpers was George Ward, who later did most of the Post Office work. They hired more help in the summer when they sold ice cream and expanded the meat counter.

During the winter, the Store also served as cafe and social centre. Mrs. Douglas M. Harding, who ran the store for 15 years, recalled that in winter, when the island was quiet, people would just drop by and have cup of coffee and chat.

As the tourism industry ground to a halt in 1956, the Union rented the building to a succession of tenants (Lloyd Walters, Tim MacKinnon and the Lock and Stansfield families) who continued to run it as a general store. In 1975 the grocery business moved into new premises further up Government Road.

The General Store was boarded up in 1975 and, looking distinctly shopworn quietly passed into the hands of Crippen Engineering Limited. Crippen announced in the fall of 1978 that they would demolish the building the following January.

News of the demolition did not sit well with most of the islanders and the building was saved, renovated and moved and a cultural reuse of the building began. My recollection is that during this time the building was used as a Flea Market (the Fleam), office space for the GVRD, Family Place, Teen Centre, Theatre on the Isle productions, the Haunted House and for many other island events. And now it is the home of the Bowen Island Public Library.