On a deck overlooking Snug Cove, Norma Dallas leans on the bannister. She winces as some girls in flip flops climb along the shore below, picking their way over the rock faces sloped toward the water.
“Those rocks are blue clay,” says Norma. “If they fall, they’ll get barnacled.”
From her sprawling home, wedged between Cardena Drive and the ocean bank, a cement and stone path winds down to the pier. A line of wooden buildings, the kayak shop and a collection of other stores are some of the first structures one sees from the ferry. The buildings are perched above the six docks that make up the Bowen Island Marina.
For 33 years Norma has watched over the marina’s waters. She’s warned parents of babies fallen in the water and warned owners of tiny dogs stuck under the dock. She’s fixed dock planks and weathered storms, built businesses and nurtured newcomers.
But beginning next month, Norma will be watching no longer.
It will be the end of an era since the local businesswoman has a long history with Bowen Island.
“I’ve come here all my life, over 75 years,” says Norma. Raised in Kitsilano, Norma’s parents were boaters and would frequently come over to the island, back in the Union Steamship days.
As fate would have it, when Norma married Denis Dallas in 1961, he owned property up at Queen Charlotte Heights.
Though they settled in Kerrisdale, having three children together, Bowen was never far from their minds.
“We came up every weekend with the kids,” she says. “And then marina came for sale in 1985.”
The Dallas children were graduating from school and Norma, a 47-year-old career housewife, was ready for a change.
“It just seemed wonderful that I’d have the chance to be on the water and own a marina,” says Norma. “So my husband very kindly said, ‘Okay, we’ll buy the marina,’ and then he commuted to work every day.”
Dennis was a lawyer in Vancouver, and though he helped out, the marina was Norma’s endeavour.
“When we bought the marina, it was in pretty poor shape,” says Norma. “We basically built a new marina.
“I started from scratch knowing nothing about business. Not a thing. But innocently I was enthusiastic and I wanted to learn.”
They were in the midst of marina building when the Dallas’s son Darran died in an accident on the island.
“I just kind of lost interest [in the marina],” says Norma. “Darran was supposed to be with me. It didn’t work out that way.”
“Finally I had to get myself going again because the dredges were coming in,” she says. “We needed a plan. Everything had to go forward again.”
By 1992 the new marina was ready.
“I had a vision of what I wanted to do here. I wanted to make it a people place,” says Norma.
“I wanted our marina to be unique. I have all Bowen Islanders. We all worked together. Everybody knows one another and it’s like a family down here. That’s the way I wanted it.”
But the decades of marina tending has weighed on Norma. “All those boaters are my responsibility,” she says.
Dennis has been in care since 2011 and last year Norma decided it was time to sell.
The new owners of the Bowen Island Marina, who take possession this summer, are six boaters from the North Shore. “They’ve been coming to Bowen Island for years and they’ve always wanted to own a marina,” says Norma.
“They want the community to know that they’re community minded and [the marina] will be the same for at least a year,” she says.
The house is part of the marina deal, and Norma will be returning to Kitsilano, where she’ll be living near her children (and a floor below her grandson!)
While Norma says that she’s leaving the island disappointed that elder care wasn’t in place in time for her to be able to stay, she’s ready to pass on the torch.
“Bowen has changed a lot. And it’s time to let it go and let the younger people take over now,” she says. “I hope that when I leave that the new people that come are gentle with this island.
“It’s been good to us.”
There will a goodbye party for Norma on Saturday July 21 at the Pier, between 1 and 4 p.m. Organizers invite people to bring an appetizer and your singing voice.