For the original article by Barb Livingstone, with additional photographs and content, visit The Calgary Herald.
It’s sometimes referred to as the Gulf Island that got away, sitting alone in the Pacific Ocean, enticingly close to mainland Vancouver.
Bowen Island is not large — only 12 kilometres long and six kilometres wide — and sits in the middle of Howe Sound, a 20-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.
But while near the hustle and bustle of British Columbia’s largest metropolitan area of 2.5 million people, its natural beauty (40 per cent of the island is green with parks or crown land) and 4,000 permanent residents offer a different world with a focus on relaxation and wellness, says Heather McGillivray, travel media/trade representative for Destination BC’s Vancouver and Coast/Mountains areas. “It is so close to Vancouver, yet you feel so away.”
It’s one of those best kept secrets that Timothy Rhodes says Albertans have heard about through word of mouth, or advertising by developers about specific residential projects. Rhodes, a realtor who has worked in the island’s development industry for 15 years and has also been a councillor and head of both the local chamber of commerce and tourism group, says being on Bowen is “like being in another time and place.
“People come for the quiet, the peace, the community, the nature; it’s at your doorstep. There are four streetlights on the main street — that’s it. So at night all you see is beautiful sky. It is a very unique island.”
And while Bowen (officially part of the Vancouver municipal region) has been a historic summer vacation spot for Vancouver-ites owning family cottages, or annually renting there, regular visitors extend from Alberta, Washington and internationally. It is an island with a growing “wellness” industry, sitting alongside its art galleries, restaurants and outdoor adventure treks.
With its temperate rainforest weather and beautiful ocean landscapes, Bowen is known for watersports, hiking — from beginners to experienced trails — along with guided tours for foodies and even an introductory “nordic walking” course, a low impact exercise that burns almost 50 per cent more calories than regular walking.
On exiting the ferry, visitors arrive in the village of Snug Cove (you can take your car but don’t need one on the walk-able island) with its historic marina, tour offerings and cottages leading to the island’s multiple beaches like Cates Bay and Sandy Beach.
North of the village is Artisan Square, with its collection of art galleries, shops, and food offerings like organic chocolate and elegant pastries, and its wellness offerings, from yoga, locally produced botanical products, to fitness facilities.
While lower B.C. mainlanders (some who commute to Vancouver for work) have been the main buyers on Bowen Island, “there’s lots of Albertans here,” says Rhodes. And while there are young families on the island (kids have to go off-island to high school or university) there is a high percentage of retirees and empty nesters.
Rhodes says the Metro Vancouver real estate market has slowed, hit not only by the nationwide stress tests, but also by the B.C. government’s recently implemented “speculation” tax. Bowen Island, however, is the only part of that area not affected by the tax, which annually charges 0.5 per cent of a property’s assessed value on owners who are not full-time residents.
And while there has been downward pressure on prices (to 2012 levels) — homes on Bowen range from $500,000 to $20 million — Rhodes says there has been some pick-up in what has been a slow year, including continued interest from Albertans. “Whether it is for retirement or a vacation home, there is still value in the market. We don’t get the severity of winters of Alberta, and the summers are magical.
“It’s a good time to buy.”
THINGS TO DO
Sangre de Fruta is a botanical personal products shop (and production studio) in Artisan Square that’s received high-profile coverage in Vogue, Bazaar, Nylon and Elle. It makes small batch products and its name means “blood of fruit.”
Bowen Island Tours offers guided tours on everything from history, to culture, to food to nature walks and hikes.
Alderwood Farm offers accommodation, wedding facilities, along with house-made vegetarian and vegan dishes in its food shop plus daily fresh-made pies and pastries, while Home Farm sells organic vegetables at Bowen’s Saturday farmers’ markets and at the farm via an honour-fridge. It also hosts summer long-table dinners with top Vancouver chefs.
Artisan Square is a hub for wellness, retail, food and culture. You will find massage therapists, acupuncture, fitness, yoga, dance and music and a collection of artists, galleries and boutiques. There’s also Yoga on the Pier on Sundays and new this year, Barre on the Pier, select Saturday mornings.
Bowen Island Lodge will, this fall, host the Art of Slow Living, a women’s wellness retreat. There will be daily yoga classes, and an Ayurvedic (alternative historic Indian subcontinent medicine) workshop.