by Jack Christie
Georgia Straight, Nov 29, 2007
December is the month to light up. For inspiration, look no further than American statesman Adlai Stevenson. He might have been thinking about St. Nicholas when he praised Eleanor Roosevelt in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in 1962: “She would rather light candles than curse the darkness, and her glow has warmed the world.”
When it comes to warming your world at this darkest time of year, a sojourn on Bowen Island might do the trick. In the case of Bowen’s 11th annual Lighting Up the Cove celebrations on Saturday (December 1), that means firing up the lanterns for the Light-Up and Lantern Parade, because Santa is on his way. He’s coming in time-honoured island tradition: by water taxi. Exactly as you can, too, and B.C. Ferries’ Queen of Capilano does an admirable job as well. Still, the intimacy of crossing Queen Charlotte Channel in a small boat is hard to match.
For many travellers, the journey between Horseshoe Bay and Snug Cove is a thrill in itself, prompted by a wish to travel light and stick close to home. As soon as you get out on the water, the skyline opens up behind you, with the familiar sight of the Lions above the snow-covered trails on Mount Strachan in Cypress Provincial Park. Recently blasted sections on the Sea-to-Sky Highway’s smoothed-out route, including the controversial section cut through West Vancouver’s Eagleridge Bluffs, stand out in naked relief. As you approach Bowen, the island’s centrepiece, Mount Gardner, rises like a dumpling, with homes clinging to its forested slopes.
True to its name, Snug Cove presents one of the few inviting places to land on Bowen. Aside from several small farms sprinkled around the island, this is also one of the few open areas. As soon as you come ashore, Bowen Trunk Road, Snug Cove’s main drag, begins to rise toward Mount Gardner. Businesses line the left side of the street, while the restored Union Steamship Company store–which now houses a library and a Metro Vancouver parks information centre–and the leafy entrance to Crippen Regional Park stand opposite. A large island map will help you orient yourself.
Bowen is one of the hilliest of the Gulf Islands–and that’s saying something. Roads tend to be narrow, winding, and not very well marked or well-lit at night. If you’re making your way beyond Snug Cove after dark in search of a bed-and-breakfast, ask your host for specific directions. Local inns are less likely to mark their presence with signs than those on other islands, which is why travelling car-free and staying in Snug Cove makes good sense. This landscape is better explored along its well-worn hiking and walking trails. Count on a challenging bike ride to explore farther afield. Should curiosity get the better of you, hop one of the community shuttle buses–run by the Coast Mountain Bus Company, just like on the mainland–that run at peak times and are equipped with bike racks.
If you do take a vehicle, one of the most charming and controversial spots to visit is Cape Roger Curtis. In 2002, development slated for this sensitive microclimate on the southwestern corner of the island triggered the formation of the Cape Roger Curtis Trust Society. After a contentious five years, during which the 255-hectare cape was posted as off-limits to the public, the owners recently reopened its old logging roads and trails to visitors. Depending on the outcome of current negotiations, the point’s most ecologically sensitive portion may be set aside as a park.
Sue Ellen Fast, chair of the Bowen Island Conservancy, sees the island as providing psychological relief for mainlanders in the form of a quick rural getaway. During a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Fast referred to the “saltwater moat” that surrounds Bowen.
“We need to preserve our island’s uniqueness to help keep urbanites sane,” Fast said. “And, at the same time, we depend on our green space for drinking water since we don’t have snowmelt to fill our watershed the way mainlanders do.”
Because green is a colour often associated with the holidays, that’s a comforting thought to keep in mind when you follow the lantern procession from Artisan Square to the waterfront to greet Santa. Musicians and fire spinners will signal that it’s time once more to light up the cove.
Access: Drive 20 kilometres west of Vancouver on Highway 1/99 to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver; from there, it’s 20 minutes aboard a B.C. ferry (1-888-223-3779; www.bcferries.com ) or by Cormorant Marine Water Taxi (604-947-2243 or 604-250-2630). Keep in mind that if you’re travelling with B.C. Ferries as a foot passenger, you should allow plenty of time before sailings to purchase tickets at the passenger terminal and make your way to the loading ramp.
General information is available from the Bowen Island Municipal Office ( www.bimbc.ca ). Lighting Up the Cove celebrations begin at 5:30 p.m. in Artisan Square. On Sunday (December 2), the annual Christmas craft sale, featuring 80 island artisans, takes place at the Bowen Island community school in Snug Cove.
To reach Cape Roger Curtis, head across the island on Grafton Road, Adams Road, and Tunstall Boulevard. Turn left on Reef Road, then right on Whitesails Road, which you follow to a cul-de-sac where the trails begin. A boat launch at Tunstall Bay Beach is the best place to stage a paddle journey around nearby Cape Roger Curtis.
A Cape Roger Curtis Owners’ Planning Team public-information meeting takes place Saturday (December 1) at Cates Hills Chapel (661 Carter Road), with presentations at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.