Posts categorized “Bowen”.

The village as a venue

How's this for a conference centre?

How’s this for a conference centre?


Last week, we hosted a group of 35 emerging and legacy leaders in the human services sector on Bowen Island to kick off our sixth Leadership 2020 cohort.  Hosting the group on Bowen Island is a powerful way to begin and end this ten month program, and there is tremendous value offered by hosting it on Bowen Island.

We are a small island with a working village and we have evolved an inventive way of hosting gatherings.  We call it “Village as a Venue” a name coined by my friend Tim Merry to describe the way he hosts gatherings in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.  This is a way to reimagine the local economy of small villages who can compete in unorthodox ways with larger venues in nearby cities for conference and meeting business.

On Bowen Island, our village as a venue model starts with one of the retreat centres on island We use the Bowen Island Lodge mostly for our work (and sometimes we host at Rivendell and Xenia as well).  The Lodge is ideal because it is set up to host groups (as opposed to acting like a hotel), it is right on the water, and is only a five minute walk from the ferry dock and the village, meaning that people can actually arrive using public transit from anywhere in Vancouver.  It is located in a neighbourhood so we keep a careful eye on our noise levels at night, but if people want to socialize in a rowdy way, there are pubs nearby.  The Lodge is also perfect in that it is not a high end retreat facility, and it provides an incredibly affordable and accessible venue to accommodate and host people.  It has shared rooms and shared washrooms, but the beds are comfortable and when we are there we have the whole space to work in.  Overflow registrants are housed at the Lodge at the Old Dorm and other local B&Bs.

The Bowen Island Lodge is a dry rental, meaning that they don’t have their own catering staff.  This means that we get to hire local friends to provide us with food.  Usually we have our events catered by The Snug which is a little cafe that has always punched above it’s weight in terms of quality.  Over the years, both The Snug and the Sam Trethewy, the manager at the lodge have come to appreciate to people we bring to Bowen, who are often social workers and others on the front lines of human services.  They treat them well, with good food and sensitive hosting which makes for a superior experience for people.

Spreading the joy further, we always schedule a night out at Rustique, where our friend Thierry Morbach cooks us up a rural French feast.  We book the whole restaurant for this, and it becomes a raucous and memorable dinner.  On other nights we will head up to the pub for drinks (this past week a group of 15 or so invaded on a Tuesday night, which is no small boost to Glen’s business on a January night).  On the Thursday night we usually have a celebration at the Lodge which necessitates folks walking up to the Beer and Wine Store for supplies.

During the day, we give people a couple of hours at lunch to be hosted on the island.  Many folks end up going to the village to walk around, buy chocolate and meet folks.  They get to see our village for what it is, a friendly working commercial centre.  It is not set up to attract tourist dollars, and my friend Edward Wachtman and his partner Sheree Johnson has just completed a study that shows that tourists are looking for something other than that tourist experiences that are sold in many other small towns on the coast.  What they find on Bowen is authentic community.  They notice the way we look after each other, the way people talk and discuss issues.  They often head out for early morning walks or runs on the nearby trails and stop in at The Snug and get to see a community as it is.  I hear story after story of these encounters and we often talk about the friendliness of the village and what it says about leadership and community.  What happens on Bowen becomes a living teaching for how it is possible to live and work together, and visitors SEE that.

And finally, we use the island itself to host.  Bowen is a beautiful place and to get there you need to cross three miles of water.  this is an almost archetypal journey, and it marks a thresh hold to a different experience.  When you arrive you are received in Snug Cove, and when you leave again, it is as if you are birthed back out into the world.  While on the island, we often take people out on the land, to experience the serene calm of the place and to spend time in reflection about their lives.  There are so few places in the modern world, especially in the social services sector, where people can just slow down and reflect and pause, surrounded by forest and water and ravens and deer.  It becomes transformative, which is the point.  Edward’s survey revealed that this is a primary reason why people come to Bowen Island.

We are in a loose conversation with friends in Mahone Bay and in Ballyvaughn, Co. Clare in Ireland about this concept.  In Ballyvaughn a group called The Burren Call has set up to host gatherings at the Burren College of Art and on the land around it as well.  This pattern is repeating and it takes these places of beauty and transformative potential and leverages what we already have to provide experiences for vistors that also benefit us locals, both financially (and especially in the off-season) as well as psychologically.  There is nothing nquite like having your place seen through the eyes of visitors and reflected back.

For Bowen that reflection is that we have a special place, a beautiful natural setting, a friendly and welcoming community and an authentic working village.  Locals are always curious about what our visitors are up to and Piers at The Snug or Paul Ricketts at the Beer and Wine Store are always curious and, its fair to say, appreciative of the folks who are “in that workshop with Chris and Caitlin.”

Village as a Venue holds a lot of promise for villages like ours.  Having run more than 30 events on Bowen like this, I think we have hit a stride in bringing people over for 3, 4 and 5 days.  It is the unique and quirky local character of our community and the beauty of the land and seas that makes this possible.  These are strong assets and contribute to the visitor experience of renewal, restoration and serenity.

Why you should come to an Art of Hosting

My buddy Tenneson deep in a Rivendell World Cafe

My buddy Tenneson deep in a Rivendell World Cafe

We have an Art of Hosting event coming up in February 23-26 on Bowen Island.  This is my home based offering, which I have been doing for nearly ten years with friends Tenneson Woolf, Teresa Posakony and Caitlin Frost, and lately with our new colleague Amanda Fenton.  All of these folks are incredible facilitators and teachers and great humans.

We host this event at Rivendell which is an incredible retreat space here on our little island, perched on top of a small mountain looking out over the end of Howe Sound, an inlet framed by mile high mountains containing a deep tongue of ocean that extends north from the Strait of Georgia, in the Canadian half of the Salish Sea.  This event has traditionally been a time where the five of us bring our insights and learning from the past year and teach with stories and new material, adding to the rich set of ideas and practices that have evolved inside the global container of “The Art of Hosting.

For me, the pursuit of mastery in the practice of hosting conversations is the way I respond to the complexity that we are facing in the world.  When faced with uncertainty and emergent problems, it is imperative that we engage in collective intelligence and create the conditions for good sense making and decision making.  Working with complexity is a high art, and is in rare supply these days.  Over the past year I have been in many situations where the fear of an uncertain future has caused people to reduce their work to the simplest and easiest problems to solve. Money gets spent, resources get deployed and another year passes, and at best we shift the needle on something in a way that we can never understand and at worst, we erode the collective capacity we have to act resourcefully in complex environments.  And that, I am certain, will be what is written on the gravestone of humanity, should it come to that.  I have no doubt that the statement will be accompanied by a pie chart analysing the downfall.

That is my biggest frame of understanding why these practices are important: complexity matters and we need more complexity workers.

Now there are many different skills required to work in complex environments.  Some of these skills are covered in an Art of Hosting.  These skills include personal capacities such as being aware of your own limiting beliefs, biases and shadows.  They include leadership practices such as hosting and participating in truly creative and emergent conversational and social processes.  It includes understanding the nature of complex systems and complex environments and to design effective interventions and make good decisions in those environments.

So that is what is under the hood. We use the word “art” very deliberately.  What we are teaching is a practice that cannot be mastered in a three day event.  As a team we have a strong commitment to launch people as practitioners.  Practitioners of what?  That depends on who you are and what your learning edge is.

Over the years we have had people come to Art of Hosting events for a number of reasons: to develop their facilitation practice, to understand how to be a better participant in dialogue, to work with their limiting beliefs, to figure out how to lead their organizations differently, to design better engagement processes, to work more deeply with complexity, to understand theory, to learn new methods.  Some folks even come because what we are offering is in line with their own personal growth.  When we say that we are trying to launch people as practitioners, what we means is that we want people to see their lives and work differently and to begin a practice of shifting, learning and mastering their skills.  I like to say to to people that the real results of their time at an Art of Hosting will show up 9-12 months later.  You will become aware of a shift in your practice, or new ways of working with people and of new ways of seeing the world.  It can sometimes be very transformative, it is often challenging and always engaging.

The Art of Hosting as a learning event is highly experiential.  You will have an opportunity to get your hands on methods and to host parts of the workshop yourself, with supportive coaching from the core team.  You will also be deeply engaged in conversations with 35 other people who are as curious, interested and challenged as you are.  And you will get a chance to bring real life work and problems into our practices to further develop your initiatives.  There is no role playing.  Everything we do is real.

So if you’d like to come, we’d love to have you.  The more diverse the group, the better.  We have had folks come from every walk of life, from almost every economic sector imaginable, from many many different kinds of community and history.  All of us who train have worked in literally hundreds of unique environments and I can almost guarantee that one of the five of us will be able to translate what you are learning to your context.

Add to that a sublime location, some great meals, a free juggling lesson, music and amazing conversations, and you have the makings for a retreat-style learning event designed to accelerate your practice as a complexity worker in the world.

Join us.



Travelling on Christmas Day

Every Christmas Day, our nuclear family heads off Bowen Island to travel into Vancouver and celebrate with cousins and grandparents, feasting, gift giving, hanging out and catching up.  The weather is always different.  Some years the ferry ploughs through a fierce Squamish wind blowing down Howe Sound from the north and freezing salt spray covers the cars on the ferry deck.  Other years it is rainy and blowing from the southeast, as it was much of this month.  Once – only once in thirteen Christmases of doing this – did we have snow, and that was back in 2008 when the whole country experienced it’s first completely white Christmas in 37 years.  Alas, our little pocket of green on the west coast of BC is usually the reason why the whole country isn’t covered in snow.

This year, the weather was sunny and calm, about 8 degrees and the Queen Charlotte Channel between Bowen Island and Horseshoe Bay was like glass.  I stood at the front of the car deck on the soon to be overhauled Queen of Capilano and shot this little time lapse of the voyage, which normally takes under 20 minutes.  This is the first leg of every trip I do to anywhere in the world: across this gorgeous fjord.

The bench that awaits the return of the light


The bench at Killarney Lake on Bowen Island that looks out across a rock and the calm surface of this afternoon’s gloaming.  I love the word “gloaming.” It refers to the dusky twilight that is practically what passes for daytime now, so close to the solstice, when the grey clouds that envelop us dim the already weak northern daylight even further.  I love the cool air and the damp and wet, I love the contrast of walking into a friend’s house full of the smells of spiced ginger tea and welcomed with warmth.  I love that we can huddle together against the chill to sing, as we did tonight with our local men’s and women’s Threshold Choirs, wrapped in blankets in a yurt, singing chants we practice for singing to the dying, accompanied by the random percussion of the rain.

I am built for gloaming of Advent, a northern soul, a winter lover, one who can wait and wait and wait for the returning of the light, for the summer’s long in breath that begins a 2:03 on Sunday afternoon.

Until then, enjoy some other amazing gloaming.

Weathering the storms

View from my garret

View from my garret

When i am working at home, as I am today, my office is a stand up desk in a window dormer that ingeniously is surround on all three sides with windows.  This means I can see the forest off to my right, trees and neighbours down below me on the stretch of Miller Road we call “Seven Hills” and to my left is a glimpse of the Queen Charlotte Channel between our island and the continent of North America, more specifically the low ridge of Whytecliffe in West Vancouver.

Last night and this morning the sky has been what is sometimes called angry.  It has been raining fierce and thick showers, broken by strong gusty winds and moments of serene calm.  i photographed this band of light breaking in the distance over English Bay.  It looks like the sky is clearing but it is just temporary.  Another shower descended upon us ten minutes later and this view was completely obscured by fog and rain. And ten minutes after that it is clear again.

I love this time of year on Bowen Island.  The waiting and darkness of Advent.  The stormy and unstable weather that swells the creeks to breaking and invites the salmon home. The journeying through the cold and wind to small warm refuges of fire and friendship as we visit friends, share a pint at the pub or a quiet lunch at The Snug or Rustique.  The island tucks in to its friendship.  We come to remember that we need each other to move fallen trees, deliver firewood and check in on each other (my neighbour is 85 years old and basically housebound).  There are very few visitors to our island and the beaches and forests are quiet, left only to the seals and the deer.

It echoes, I think, the best of what I am able to extract from this time in my life.  And it reminds me that some days I am at the bottom of the U in all kinds of ways.

Helping to improve the public conversation

another bown from strachan

For the past few weeks I have been trying an interesting experiment in civic dialogue.

Here on Bowen Island we are in the midst of local elections.  We are a small community of 3500 living on a liece of land about the same size as Vancouver, with fairly limited resources in terms of being able to fund local services.  It is a beautiful and inspiring place to live, a place that almost wills one to dream about it.  It inspires people to move here, to build, to steward, to preserve, to write.  Folks run for election because deep down they love this place and they want to do something about that.

We are close to each other on Bowen.  We are a pretty homogenous place.  We live close to the land and the sea, and close to each other’s dreams and frustrations.  The major difference between us is our opinions of the way the world should be.  And, ike most small communities, I think we suffer from what Freud once called the narcissism of small differences. We project a lot on to each other and it surprises me that some of the vitriol that is produced at keyboards and published online and in print does not translate into real life all that often.  I have seen neighbours who seem to be at war with each other online greet each other cordially in the street.  Relationship seems, in most cases, to trump things.

This anger and frustration is not surprising.  Even in a country like Canada there is an increasing dissociation between citizenship and government.  There are massive global entities that operate beyond the influence of many of us, massive blobal issues that affect our daily lives that we have no say over and our democratic governments don’t give us many effective ways to be heard, although we can still cast a vote for them.  We seem to be subjected to arbitrary decisions all the time, whether it is what is poured into our land and air and sea or what time the ferry runs.  It doesn’t seem to matter what we think.

In that sense, local politics feels like the last place we can actually make a difference.  And when it feels like the only way to make a difference is to shout, that’s what we do.  We shout at each other.  We lose ourselves in the thought that our enemies have to be defeated, that ideas have to be extinguished, that worldviews and ways of seeing and being held by other people are invalid.  And maybe by extension that others are invalid.  It’s just a little to easy, when you live on an island, to suggest that other people love it or leave it.

And I have been as guilty as others in the past, so I’m nothing special.  And I facilitate dialogue for a living.  Being human is hard.

So I wondered if this election cycle would be different, because in the past 10 years or so we have had some unbelievably bad civic conversation about major real estate developments, amenities, by-laws and community plans, ferry marshalling, village planning, a proposal to establish a National Park, and suspicions of conspiracies, conflicts of interest and nefarious motives of our neighbours.  I wondered if this cycle was to be different.  And I wondered if we could do anything to make it different.

For me, when voting for people, I’m not interested in their position.  Anyone can write down a list of things that are good and true and ask if others agree with them.  What I want to see is how you think about stuff that is not so easy to reduce into a yes/no polarity.  I want to see how you confront complexity and how you work with others to figure stuff out.  I saw glimpses early on between a few rookie candidates running for office who started engaging in an online discussion about transportation options for our island.  I saw people doing two things well: admitting that they didn’t know something and sharing information with each other.  It was fascinating.  It gave me a glimpse into how these people might act if they were elected to serve with one another.

I wanted to see more, and regretted that I hadn’t set up a forum for this very function, until one of the candidates on his own set up a facebook page and invited me to moderate it.  And so I stepped in.  Here are the guidelines I posted (if you are on facebook you can see the forum):

1. If you want the candidates to consider a question, either have one of them post it here, or send it by facebook message to me.

2. If your question is a yes/no question, and you send it to me I’m going to ask you to rephrase it because the world is more complicated than that, and dialogue is encouraged by asking questions we don’t know answers to. If you want to see the candidates’ POSITIONS on things, go to their pages. If you want to see them DISCUSSING things together, hang around here. Candidates: please feel free to engage with each other. It’s more interesting to see you discussing things than it is just to read a statement.

3. I’m not sure if we have the setting right, but the intention here is to only have candidates post and respond in the comments. I’m not going to go around deleting comments, but if you are not a candidate and you want your say head over to the Bowen Online Forum. Feel free to “like” things. This space is primarily intended for us to watch candidates working together to figure stuff out.

4. Candidates are allowed to and enouraged to say things like “I don’t know” and “what do you think?” and other admissions of vulnerability, humility and discernment.

5. As things become busier, I’ll prioritize questions from those that haven’t asked any yet. It’s always better to send one great question to get the candidates talking than it is to send a bunch in all at once.

6. Nobody’s perfect. Let these guidelines be good enough to get things going. Message me if this doesn’t work for you.

7. And yes, not everyone is on facebook and there is no way to share this page if you’re not signed on. Perhaps next time we’ll choose a better forum for this conversation. in the meantime, you can certainly cut and paste what you are reading here and email it to others.

Smile. Democracy is more than just voting.

I have to say that it has been a great experience and it has stood in contrast to the Bowen island Forum which is where the rest of the citizenry works out its opinions of one another with a lot of vigour, spontaneity and sometimes quite hurtful attacks.  It gives me a clue to what is possible when we change the way we frame conversation in the public sphere.  Here’s what I learned:

1. The hardest policy questions do not have yes and no answers and we are not served by reducing them to a binary resolution.

2. We need a public conversation that allows us to be wrong or unsure and allows us to share information with each other to make skillful decisions.

3. Everyone needs help to ask good questions and to get away from “gotcha” politics.  (It is interesting how a few people have told me that the facebook page is for “softball” questions because the conversation there has been civil, nuanced and searching.  I have responded that this is because we were trying to deal with real issues rather than gather future ammunition for “i told you so” campaigns.  There is no shortage of material for those searching for conspiracies and nefarious motives, if that is how you choose to view people.)

4. Radically different opinions can actually add nuance and value to a decision if we are able to see the differences and not dismiss people out of hand.  In fact we need this difference.  But learning to live WITH this difference is what qualifies you to a position of stewardship in a community.  Demanding the elimination of difference either by saying that “we should all get along” or “you are fundamentally wrong” erodes community.

5. Facilitating this middle ground requires a commitment to a process, to principle and to boundaries and it requires working with people kindly and respectfully to help them ask the questions they want answers to in a way that opens them for the possibility that they might not get the simple answer they are looking for.  People have responded positively to my private chats with them as we have added more nuance to questions.  We all need help to participate well in the public sphere.

6. Local governance is hard. We do well as citizens to remember this.  Those who will get elected on Saturday are about to take on a job that is many pay grades above what they are going to earn doing it and they will all be confronting novel situations, problems and ideas and will be required to navigate in a good way through difficult waters.  No one knows how to do this perfectly, and I think we owe a little grace and latitude to those who will be entrusted with our future.  And I say that even as I have had significant differences in the past with some of the people likely to be elected.

I have a lot of respect for the candidates that were able to show up in the forum over the last couple of weeks and I have enjoyed the process of putting my money where my mouth is.  It feels to me like I can trust the folks who WILL get elected to carry this tenor of collaboration across and with differences into their four year terms on Council and I hope we have chances to continue to have these kinds of civic conversations face to face.  I am willing to continue exploring forums for better civic dialogue and participating as I can to host and encourage this kind of exploration and collaboration to continue.

Good luck to all on Saturday.

Being hosted by the land

Bowen Island oriented with Snug Cove pointing towards you, as the entrance to the Island.


Yesterday in our five day residential we invited the participants out on the land for a solo retreat.  Bowen Island, where I live, is an incredible place.  To get here, you have to take a boat across the Queen Charlotte Channel, a deep body of water at the entrance to Howe Sound.  Howe Sounda was formed by glaciers and mountain making processes, and now is a fjord surround by walls of 1200 meters or more.

Entry to Bowen is through Snug Cove, a small and protected harbour that s part of of a bigger bay called Mannion Bay.  it is a deep round sanctuary that serves as a channel into the island, and a kind of birth canal when you leave.  I have never tired of the process of crossing this threshold.

Once you are here, the Island draws you ever inward, with our one main road branching into three at the crossroads and later into dozens of ever smaller roads and lanes ending at beaches, bays, lakes, mountains or sometimes just petering out into the forest.  There are no real loop roads here: once you take a path you have to retunr pretty much the way you came.

This landscape sets us up for a beautiful retreat.  When I have helped people have solo experiences here I have always framed them first with a noticing of the threshold that is crossed.  Richard Rohr captures the power of these kinds of thresholds here:

The edge of things is a liminal space – a very sacred place where guardian angels are especially available and needed. The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there.  To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position.  You are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.  When you are at the center of something, you usually confuse the essentials with the non-essentials, and get tied down by trivia, loyalty tests, and job security.   Not much truth can happen there.

via On the Edge of the Inside: The Prophetic Position by Richard Rohr, OFM.

Once we have crossed the threshold, typically a person’s experience will consist of three phases: a moving out onto the land, a resting phases in stillness and a return.  It is a mythic journey in many ways.  In going out I invite people to dwell on what they are getting ready to leave.  In resting I invite people to be still for at least an hour in the forest or by the sea, which is enough time to let the forest close back around a person and let it reveal itself to you.  And the return journey is always accompanied by a gift; you are bringing something back.  These little out and back pilgrimages are important and very powerful for people.  As I learn more about the way this land works us, I feel like I can let it more fully host me and the people I work with and the insights can come.


Taking a stand on my home island

Another beautiful SUP Sunday afternoon out from Tunstall Bay, into a small headwind and down to Cape Roger Curtis.  We are having the most amazing summer, as evidenced by the water restrictions in place and the fire ban.  It’s dry and hot – most days the temperature reaches 25 and the ocean is in the low 20s.

I like that I practice a water sport that requires me to take a stand.  It’s a hell of a way to think about things.

There is a lot happening at the Cape.  Monster houses are going in there – the biggest is said to be 17,000 square feet, which is about ten times the size of mine.  And the docks have started to be built, with the first one on Lot 13 about 100 meters north of the Cape now featuring three sets of piles, two of which have been driven into the sea bed.  It is creeping out to sea and is now probably a hundred feet out from the foreshore, and growing.  There is a current application for another dock BETWEEN that one and the Cape.  The view is already ruined, the iconic view of the Cape with a gnarled and sweeping arbutus tree, is forever overwhelmed by a two story set of pilings soon to be topped by a pier.  A second dock going in between that one and the lighthouse will simply make the whole place seem crowded and cluttered.

Not a whiff of the usual seals and sea lions that hang around there.  Before the construction I would see one every single time I was out there, whether on land or sea.  Perhaps they will return, but for the moment they have fled the pile driving and the rumbling engines of the work barge for quieter waters.

Something has changed forever on Bowen and these docks are the physical manifestation of it.  There is an irreversibility to it all.  We no longer talk about the land in terms of reverence; instead the public sphere is full of words that describe our island as if you would sell it to tourists.  The way I used to know this community of Bowen Island is now just an idea, and we collectively serve that idea, but the idea is made up and talked about only.  It is marketed, discussed as an economic advantage, but discarded in practice.  In practice we seem to be able to simply take or leave the beauty and the power of the place.  Hardly anyone with any power at all is working to preserve anything.  Instead folks like the Cape developers talk about Bowen’s charms while daily depleting them. Since the National Park vote I think we have lost the public will to steward the natural world of Bowen and instead are focused on the built environment and the economy.  Those two things go hand in hand because the IDEA of the natural beauty of the place is what drives our primary economic activity – land values.  To the extent that development DOESN’T impact MY land values, I’m okay with it, says this worldview.  It’s a kind of every-one-in-it for themselves mentality.  IN that respect we aren’t really an island anymore, we are just like everywhere else.  Where we come together now as a community is around things like Steamship Days which was fabulous, but which was targeted at commerce.  Bowfest, which this year has been reclaimed by community, and Remembrance Day continue to be two of the only things left that everyone gets involved in that have no outcomes other than community building.

We are retreating into the realm of the private.  There are few activities anymore that serve the public interest and few places in which the public can gather and simply be together.  Our municipal Council, who were so gung-ho on building a proper community hall – to the cheers from all of us – have instead re-envisoned it as a municipal campus, as a place that serves their needs.  The last true commons – the sea – now has a large phallic structure asserted across its surface in the most beautiful part of our coastline, with possibly five more to follow.  This was done despite nobody other than the owner wanting it.  Public debate is not about our place; it is angry people yelling at each other, naming each other, projecting themselves into each other’s words and deeds.  It is a disgusting display of rudeness coming from all sides.  We are ungenerous with our words, ungrateful for our neighbours, and we bathe in a narcissistic intolerance for small differences, That is how decisions are made now on Bowen.  Go to a public meeting (not that we even have those anymore) and you will be shocked by the behaviour of grown adults discussing important issues.  Any attempt at reasonable dissent is met with paternalistic carping on all sides.  It’s embarrassing.

This is becoming Dubai with fir trees.  It is made beautiful by friendship and the land itself but the heart and soul of community is now held by private effort, and we no longer speak the language of community like we used to. The community builders are the ones with money, not ideas.  You gain influence here by being accepted by certain groups, not on merit.  Things like “parks” and “nature” and “community centres” are fraught with politics.  I used to write folk songs about this place, because it used to be a place that deserved a folk tradition.  At one time those songs were sung at Council meetings, and artists joined local governors to express and care for the soul of Bowen.  But singing those songs seem quaint now, just another piece of history to celebrate during steamship days.  The poets are quieter, the painters and musicians of Bowen don’t celebrate the community like we used to.  We are in hiding.

But I am not going anywhere.  We have just finished repairing and updating the shingles on our house and three years ago we put on a new roof.  We didn’t do it so we could sell it.  We did it so that it would shelter and care for us until we are too old to climb the back steps.  Committing to things in the long term makes a guy sanguine and reflective.  It makes you pick your battles.

For me, my battleground has been respect and decorum in public affairs, but I’m starting to think I lost that war.  The loud and angry voices have won, and this is the way we do things for now.  I’ve been called a “revisionist” as if my desire for a community-minded conversation was somehow tantamount to criminally rewriting history.  Small cabals of people accuse other people of being in small cabals.  The word “conspiracy” is tossed around by people who sit and conspire about what the other group is doing. It’s all very grade five, very much like ten year olds pointing fingers and calling names.  Last week I made peace with my accuser, shook his hand, slapped him on the back, and drew a line under it.  We exchanged no words until a couple of days later when we made awkward fumbling conversation that was nonetheless a relief.  I still live here and so does he.  Perhaps he’ll draw a line under it too rather than holding a grudge for all time against his idea of who I am and what I do.  But maybe not.  He can choose to carry the stress of mistrust and suspicion as long as he wants.

The only suffering I can take care of is my own.  So this is me greeting the new Bowen.  It’s not the one I wanted, or the one I celebrated or the one I voted for, but here it is and here I am.  I’ll offer my gifts and appreciate others and get on with things and stop expecting it to be different than it is.  And when the wheel turns again, when the docks have been smashed by the sea and wind, when the real estate values collapse, when we remember that we need each other in community, I’ll be here to dust off a few old songs that remind us of who we could still be.

In the meantime, that man out there standing on the sea?  That’s me.

Posted by at 5:51 PM

This afternoon’s office

Nice place to write this afternoon at the Bowen Island Marina in Snug Cove.


Heartbroken on my home island

It was a beautiful day to SUP today.  Checked the wind forecasts and it looked like the west side was a good bet, so I chucked my board on the car and headed for Tunstall Bay.


Out on the bay the water was a little windy but I powered into it and headed for the first point, the one I call swimmer’s rock because Sue Schloegl and Sharon Slugget always rest there when they are out swimming.  Rounded the point and SHOCK!


Right beside the lighthouse at Cape Roger Curtis was a 50 foot barge with a crane and a pile driver on it.  It was pounding pilings into the sea bed next to the Cape for the first of the monster single use private docks being built for the new owners of the Cape.  I paddled out past the new house (which clocks in at more than 10,000 square feet) out to where the barge was anchored and watched a small crew of men drive a pile along a line that extended a long way out from shore.


The sea lion that usually hangs around there was obviously AWOL.  Not a seal to be seen either, anywhere.  Just the constant chug of the engine and the clanging of metal on metal as the crew raised and lowered the cuff around the newly installed piling.   I sat on my board for quite a while just witnessing the permanent destruction of one the most lovely and wild views on Bowen Island: the rocky promontory of Cape Roger Curtis, a single arbutus tree and the light house and now, a set of dock pilings and soon a dock and a float and probably a huge yacht.  Tears were shed.  A song was sung. The old world has died, and the new has come, on the heels of a massive failure of imagination and will in the face of greed.


The Stop the Docks crew have been trying to stop the docks, but obviously the owners of these properties neither know about or care about the objections of 1200+ Islanders to these monstrosities.  In fact in the Undercurrent last week are public notices for two more docks, one right next to the one I saw being built today.  Meanwhile the guys that are selling the Cape, the same people that are now building these docks, are advertising their properties like this:


This is an impossibly beautiful coastal site. Its untouched shores, whispering brooks, and deep woods are a Pacific Northwestern gem. We are determined to tread upon this land lightly. We have taken extensive measures to preserve the natural and ecological integrity of the property. Substantial planning and infrastructure work has been carried out, guided by some of the region’s most respected environmental consultants. The vast majority of The Cape’s 618-acre property will remain a protected natural green space. The site plan allows for maximum natural drainage of stormwater, for minimal impact on the water table. Burke and Huszar Creeks – crucial wildlife habitats on the property – have been protected, with generous buffer zones. All in the name of preserving The Cape’s pristine natural state, for generations. Meanwhile, we encourage owners to create a home that respects this pristine coastal landscape, and provide you with every opportunity to do so. From environmentally sensitive design to awareness of sensitive habitats, from intelligent landscaping to the use of local materials, we offer pragmatic guidance to help you build an island estate that protects the fragile natural beauty of this land.

All of that fancy copy is clearly a bald faced lie now because they have forever ruined the “untouched shores.”  They have not tread lightly at all, and have no intention to.  The pristine natural state of the Cape will now be littered with docks, the foreshore broken up, the waters and the intertidal zones impacted forever.  They are lying.  If you are considering buying a property from these charlatans, you should know that.  Who knows what else they’ll tell you to get you to part with your millions.


I hope our new neighbours are community minded, that they come on down and volunteer at the recycling centre, that they join the Fastpitch league or the co-ed soccer league, that they join SKY, shoot the breeze at the Snug and split a bottle of Chardonnay on an overloaded Friday night commuter ferry.  I hope they are like that.  But today my heart is split in two, the Cape has been forever changed and I am trying hard to suppress emotions ranging from sadness to anger.