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Coming to terms with community

“Canada is not a real country.” Do Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard’s 1996 aside probably did more to boost Canadian unity than all the millions spent, and misspent, by Canada’s federal unity budgets.

“Canada is not a real country.”

Do Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard’s 1996 aside probably did more to boost Canadian unity than all the millions spent, and misspent, by Canada’s federal unity budgets. When all the outraged spluttering stopped, we actually had to think about our country and find verifiable proofs of our reality.

Perhaps we should take time out for a similar exercise in our little corner of Canada. We use the word community a lot here. It’s a satisfactory, comfortable word, makes us feel all warm inside.

Let’s make a list of all the things that make for a community. A gathering place for all? Mmm, the ferry? No, it’s getting too expensive for many. The general Sstore line-up? No, the service is too good these days and the line moves too fast. The video store? Netflix.  

A common set of values? All too often, those who actually take part in political discussion on Bowen tend to be in complete agreement only on one key point: that to actually listen to an opposing argument is a clear sign of weakness.

A recent submission to our council urges dismissal of “the predictable objections coming from the usual minority”.   
Common recreation facilities? Fabulous. T

ournament time at Snug Cove Field is the best.  Soccer is booming on Bowen, and the golf course is open and swinging year round. Bringing up kids on Bowen is generally a rewarding experience. If you add all the yoga studios together, they’re the third biggest industry after real estate and garbage collection. Yes, a pool would be nice, but annual maintenance costs are terrifying, quite aside from the construction invoice. 

Common cultural facilities? The Library’s well equipped and well staffed. The Arts Council does a great job of trying to pull together all the disparate bits and pieces of culture on Bowen, and having the physical focus of the Gallery really helps some art forms. The Music Association ditto, but both are almost terminally hampered by the lack of an adequate dedicated performance space. Sharing a cultural experience has been a vital bonding agent since the dawn of human time.

Healthcare services caring for all residents? A substantial collection of body and mind counsellors, but otherwise sorely lacking. A great pharmacy. One-point-something GPs with full patient lists. No diagnostic services except for the welcome weekly Lifelabs clinic. The mainland-based health service provider plans only on getting a patient to the mainland as quickly as possible and hoping it’s not too late.

Services for seniors? Eighteen residential units for younger seniors supported by a generous federal program that will never be repeated. One each of volunteer-created activity and meal programs.

Is this the infrastructure of a real community?

If you’re in the parenting business, the answer is probably yes. Bowen’s a great place for parents and a great place to grow up. Lots of facilities and shared activity opportunities. If you’re in good health, the answer is probably yes. There are plans afoot that may well, in time, produce a dedicated recreational and performance space, a bigger library, more medical services.

If you’re a senior in good health, the answer is still probably yes. If you’re a senior senior, the answer is almost certainly no. There is no community for you here.  If you can no longer handle your home, you have to leave.

There is no specialized housing here that can support you in staying productive and independent. There is such housing on the mainland, lots of it. There are a lot more people there, so it’s good business to build 90, or 200, or 3,000 units of supportive housing. They make investors and local seniors very happy.

Government service providers look at a map and see that Bowen Island is half an inch away from all these wonderful facilities, so there’s no need to worry about Bowen seniors. But maps don’t show psychological and emotional distances. They don’t show that that last 20-minute ferry ride takes Bowen’s elders from their friends and neighbours and, yes, from their community.

Twenty years ago, a group of islanders decided that something had to be done about this annual exodus of their senior friends, that a real community doesn’t discard its seniors every year as a matter of routine. They decided to build a residence, providing meals, a staff presence and mutual support, that would allow senior seniors to continue to enjoy, and contribute to, their community.

Fighting the problem of scale, of providing a service for a small community, proved often overwhelming. Volunteers dropped out, others took their place. Slowly, islands of progress arose from the ocean of disappointments.

In 2004, each Bowen household donated an average $89 to buy land near the village on Miller Road.

In 2008, council granted enough density on that land to allow half of it to be sold on the open market for small-scale affordable housing, raising enough seed money to enable construction of the residence on the other half.  Now, in 2014, literally any day now, a completed subdivision application will put that plan into practice. Nine small lots, three of them for single-family homes, six of them okayed for two townhouses each, will be offered for sale. When they’re sold, Snug Cove House will rise on the foundations of 20 years of communal effort, and Bowen will be a real community for everyone.