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Undercurrent Mailbox: February 23 Edition

Bowen residents gave their thoughts on the Cape Roger Curtis park proposal and Community Centre in our last issue's batch of letters
An old-style fountain pen on paper

Bowen’s Zócalo

The walls are going up and the roof trusses are reshaping the skyline above Snug Cove. Bowen Island is beginning to see a hub take shape to house the energies and events that will amplify the spirit of Bowen Islanders.

I am so proud to see this community centre finally making its presence known. Though controversies were obstacles along the way, I have no doubt that soon Bowen Islanders will not be able to imagine life on our island without this centre.

I am so eager to see the building on the horizon because a cultural hub is what our community needs. When I moved to Bowen Island in 2006 I thought it would be only years before a proper meeting place and cultural space was built on this island.

Yet I have raised a child here, and now she has fledged the nest. During these nearly two decades there was never a place for Bowen Islanders to gather properly, and I am thrilled for the next generation of parents that this will not be true for you and your children. 

A community needs a Zócalo, a Piazza, a Central Square. This is where culture thrives for all age groups, and Bowen has never had one. Now we are building it and all of you will come to it… over and over again. 

You can call me eager but I’m throwing down lots of support for this place. I already donated to name a seat in the performing arts auditorium, not in my own name but in the name of two elders who I love and respect for defining this island for over a century. And now I am choreographing a dance piece to have it ready for the opening of the new stage.

My career as a contemporary dance artist peaked and receded while living on Bowen Island with nearly no opportunities to show my touring work in my own community, though I was travelling across Canada, to the US and Europe with my dance projects. 

In tribute to the courageous leadership of the last council to “finally get this done,” I am working with my fellow-Bowen-Island-performing-artist friend, Ruby Rowat, to create a dance piece for the new centre when it opens. I will even dance in this little offering because I want my community to know that I am fully in support of our cultural hub. 

Bowen Island should have a Zócalo, a Piazza, a community centre where culture thrives, to parallel the vitality of our Island’s forests and shorelines. I hope you are getting excited too as you see the skyline changing on the horizon.

- Gail Lotenberg

Let’s Leave an Invaluable Legacy for Our Children

I am very grateful that Bowen now has the opportunity to bring 240 acres of the unique and precious lands at Cape Roger Curtis into the public domain to be protected and enjoyed for generations to come. This a far better outcome than an extensive development there that would forever exclude Islanders from enjoying that remarkable nature.

My motivation to protect that land comes from my good fortune to have had grandparents who came to Bowen in 1916, enabling me to enjoy this island since the 1950s. It is here on Bowen that my life was immensely enriched by a deep connection to the plants, animals, land and ocean that inspired my entire 30-year career with the United Nations, where I have focused on forest conservation and climate change mitigation in developing countries.

We now have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect those 240 acres to the adjacent 32 acres of the Wild Coast Nature Refuge, to Fairy Fen Nature Reserve, and to Crown Land, creating a truly substantial conservation area for us to preserve and enjoy.

I also fully understand there are serious concerns related to ferries, traffic and camping that need to be addressed to protect the special quality of life that we so cherish here.

But I think we all need to confront the fact that, without a park, we will not continue to have the kind of ‘informal’ access to those 240 acres of private land that we currently have. Except for a few trails along existing property lines, once developed, the public will no longer be allowed to trespass on these 240 acres. And we will surely not have access to the 900 meters of spectacular south-facing coastal shore that would be a priceless gem of the park.

And from my reading of the 179 pages of bylaws, current residential zoning allows owners of each of those 10-acre lots to construct up to 48,438 square feet of buildable area. Within this area, there can be a primary residence plus 20 secondary structures that can each be up to three storeys high. This would be a far cry from the ‘wild nature’ we value so highly.

So how can we protect Bowen’s precious way of life while protecting the Cape?

Here are some possible ways to address concerns we have:

  • Let’s support work on the electric passenger ferry for hikers and bikers from Vancouver to Snug Cove or Seymour Bay with shuttle buses to the park.
  • Let’s apply for the significant existing BC and federal funds to develop our Cross Island Greenway for bikes and scooters to reduce traffic on our roads.
  • Let’s explore whether local Bowen residents can have priority access to ferries. Since residents of Whitesails and Tunstall Boulevard understandably don’t want excessive traffic, let’s seriously explore by-pass route options to the Cape to reduce traffic through those neighborhoods.
  • Let’s work with MetroVan to use permits to set daily limits on numbers of visitors to the park so the peace and solitude we all want in such a park is preserved. I have seen this done successfully all over the world.
  • Let’s create with MetroVan a carefully phased plan for camping to avoid the potential downsides many of us are concerned about: a plan in which camping sites are only opened up when we are confident it will work.
  • Let’s recognize that no RVs or fires would be allowed and all camping would be carefully monitored and managed 24/7, as MetroVan does in other regional parks. That is already an improvement over the unregulated camping (and garbage dumping!) that currently happens on that land.

I am convinced we can reach an agreement with each other and MetroVan on a park that balances the needs of all the stakeholders while also protecting our own special quality of life on Bowen.

And I feel strongly that we owe it to our children and the generations to come to hold this land in the public trust so that it will forever be a source of inspiration, learning and enjoyment.

Let’s not miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for this to be our legacy.

- Charles McNeill

A Big Idea Coloured by a ‘Mainland’ Context

Metro Vancouver staff say ballooning popularity of its parks is leading to public safety incidents that stretch resources thin. Colourful reports of frustrated visitors deploying bear spray during parking lot brawls illuminate Metro’s new focus on reservation systems and public transit. Social media culture is singled out for transforming visitor conventions as rescue services raise alarm about “ill-prepared, selfie-seeking hikers who inevitably run into trouble.” Metro parks are not alone in these challenges.

Bowen Island also receives increasing numbers of visitors, that weigh on ferry capacity and a limited taxpayer base to shoulder services and infrastructure. Recently, Bowen’s Xenia sanctuary explained why they were closing public access. “… it has become a TikTok and Instagram tourist attraction bringing people every day and on weekends, by the droves….” To weigh the benefits and drawbacks of Metro‘s proposed camping development, it is critical to acknowledge that an island is unlike the mainland in its unique ecology and conditions for water, transportation, and access to services.

Bowen residents juggle multiple identities as a municipality within the unceded territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and within the Islands Trust, and collaborative partners in the UNESCO Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound Biosphere and Metro Vancouver Regional District. What unites us is the common theme of “Preserve and Protect.”

As residents on unceded territories, we have a duty to learn from Indigenous knowledges historically marginalized by Western processes. Sḵwx̱wú7mesh values described by the Xay Temíxw/Land Use Plan prescribe natural places to “heal, recover and re-connect with the land; clean air, clean water, and healthy rivers and streams; wildlife and wildlife habitat …” Beyond place naming, early and authentic Sḵwx̱wú7mesh consultation can ensure that preservation and spiritual values are embedded in the plan.

Metro Vancouver’s inspirational 2050 Vision to “plan for compact, complete communities that are foundational to enabling low carbon solutions, ” emphasizes preservation but the Bowen campground development proposal is counter-indicative. New Metro campgrounds would logically be located within Metro Vancouver’s fastest growing areas in order to promote equity and reduce climate impacts.

The Islands Trust mandate to “preserve and protect” aligns with Bowen’s UNESCO Biosphere status and the Municipality’s Official Community Plan. Supporting Bylaw 299 identifies coastal bluff, inland bluff, mature forest, old forest, wetland and freshwater ecosystems, and critical wildlife habitat as environmentally sensitive areas. In this regard, a park affords opportunity for protection of the Cape or potential to damage unique ecology by introducing invasive species, trampling fragile organisms and disrupting wildlife.

Recent history of the Cape can be told as a series of real estate development proposals for land that deserves to be preserved met by opposition to population density. Unfortunately, the proposed campground development is another densification plan that prompts us to ask: What could possibly go wrong? Loss of spiritual connection to the land? Water drawdown, devastating fire, untenable demand on stressed services?

Together, we need to evaluate the proposal using data-based impact studies and viable commitments for land and sea transportation. The omnibus “camping park” needs to be evaluated by separate components. “Camping” should be envisioned for purpose, type, and where? Then field-tested until the footprint fits the island. Otherwise, the development is a big idea coloured by a ‘mainland’ context. With care, we can create a plan that honours our commonly held values.

- Betty Morton