You may wonder why people live on Bowen Island. It is a rather alternative sort of place, attracting people who want to escape the big city life. It is a quiet place. It has a small population, few cars, and has even enforced tougher noise restrictions than in Vancouver. This means you can walk down the road and hear nothing but the birds overhead.
Boweners talk about being on Bowen time. This refers to being away from the demands of the busy life. It means you can relax and kick-back. Bowen time takes a bit of getting used to. It is a more extreme version of the laid back west coast attitude. It also means that you may wait a long time for your contractor to show up - he’s not late, he’s on Bowen time!
And Bowen attracts it’s share of celebrities, perhaps attracted by the chance to escape. For example Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient is just one of the artistic community who lives (part-time) on Bowen Island. There has been a rumour that Harrison Ford is buying somewhere on the island too.
Part of Bowen Island’s attraction is it’s natural beauty. It is a only 20 square miles, and just two miles off the coast. It is in the entrance to Howe Sound, and has views of downtown Vancouver, Vancouver’s north shore, and over to Vancouver Island,
The population of 3,500, swelled by summer visitors, enjoy the island in peace. It has three mountains, two valleys, four lakes, about 15 beaches and one village. The village, Snug Cove, is downtown Bowen and is where the ferry from Horseshoe Bay docks.
There are roads on Bowen, but they don’t cover the whole island. Some places are only accessible by boat or hiking across country. And Bowen’s ecological reserve is only accessible by permission as it is intended to preserve the forest ecosystem.
The Cape Roger Curtis lands, covering 649 acres of the south-west corner of Bowen, are another area of beauty. They are currently threatened by development, but so far are largely unspoiled except by the old logging roads. These can be used to hike the area. There is a trust working to preserve this area.
Our daughter Gwen and her friends like to go up there on overnight camping trips.
Part of the charm of living on Bowen is it’s relative isolation. This does not mean that it is inaccessible. But getting to Bowen does mean catching a ferry.
BC Ferries run a service from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. The ferry runs every hour from 5:35am to 10pm. The last ferry to the island is at 9:35pm and from the island at 10:05pm. The motel in Horseshoe Bay probably does a fair business for people who missed the last ferry!
It is something to consider if you are thinking of living on Bowen Island. We have often had one of our children’s friends stay over because they wanted to go to an event that finished too late for them to catch a ferry afterwards.
Students are not charged to use the ferry during school terms. Adults pay just over $6 each way. If you bring your car it will be $20 or so. This means that commuting by car is expensive.
So it is good that the ferries connect with Translink buses that take you into downtown or West Vancouver. As Bowen is part of the same zone as the North Shore, it costs $2.25 to/from Bowen to anywhere on the North Shore (plus ferry cost). The express bus (257) from Horseshoe Bay, gets commuters downtown in 40 minutes.
There is a proposal for a ferry route directly from Bowen to downtown Vancouver. If that goes ahead, then Bowen will be both more accessible and is likely to attract more commuters.
Getting about on Bowen
Once on Bowen there is the Bowen Island Community Shuttle. This is part of the Translink service, but has been given the Bowen factor - they are the only translink buses in BC that run on biodiesel. Their service is only at peak commuter times - aiming for the ferries leaving Bowen between 5:35 and 9:35am and the evening peak 3:35 to 6:35pm.
Hitch hiking is quite common as a result. This is also governed by the ferry schedules, because it is only in the times just before or after a ferry arrives that you can rely on there being any traffic.
There are numerous hikes that you can do. For example in Cape Roger Curtis or Mount Gardner. The latter is a four to six hour hike to the summit. Once you reach the north summit, you will have 360° from this mountain on Bowen’s west side.
There are 15 beaches on Bowen. Sandy beach near the ferry terminal at Snug Cove is the most accessible. The other main beaches are Bowen Bay and Tunstall Bay on the South west coast of the island, for which you will need to take your car.
A recent addition to the attractions of the island is the new 9 hole golf course.
You can enjoy kayaking, either by renting a kayak or having a lesson or tour.
If you are visiting Bowem, then you will arrive on the ferry at Snug Cove. The route from there takes you up Government road. This is the main area for restaurants and shops. Here you will find a variety of restaurants and café’s to suit any taste.
You can get anything from a burger from an outdoor stand, to a pub lunch, fish and chips, coffee and a muffin, a pizza or sushi. So if you are there for a day trip you will not go hungry.
Staying on Bowen
In the early part of the last century, Bowen was served by the terminal steamship company and had it’s own hotel and a thriving tourist trade. At it’s height in the 1920’s the 1400 passenger steamship, the Lady Alexandra, would bring in crowds of people for day picnics or to stay in the hotel or one of the 200 cottages.
Nowadays Bowen does not have any hotels, motels or campgrounds. However it does have a wide range of places to stay. These range from purpose built B&B’s to rooms in private houses.
One B&B worth mentioning is Twiggleberries. This is a spa too, so you can switch to Bowen time while you relax in the hot tub.
Some B&B’s are less accessible. You may need a car to get to them, and at least one is only accessible by boat.
Part of the attraction of Bowen is that it is a rural retreat on the edge of the city. That means that housing is more expensive than more rural areas, but less expensive than the mainland.
It is not a big market, and prices are low relative to the mainland, with homes currently selling at an average in the mid $800,000's.
If you are interested in building your own house, Bowen does have land available. In the last year there were 8 lots sold, with an average sold price of $390,000. Price per square foot varies considerably, from an amazing 67¢, to $69, but with an average of just under $12. Factors like water access, views and nature of terrain explain the variation in land values.
If you are interested in buying in this area (or anywhere in BC) please use our buyer's agency form to tell so that we can help you find the right area and the right home. Our local experts are available here and for most other areas.
Bowen, not surprisingly, is not a centre of industry. It has more of an alternative economy. If you work on Bowen, you may well be an artist, catering for visitors or one of the new age set. Perhaps there are still some of the old hippies there.
The island is occasionally used as a location for movies. The Fog was filmed on Bowen, and currently Nicholas Cage is filming the Wicker Man on Bowen. His helicopter can be seen regularly. I guess the ferry is too slow for him.
Bowen has attracted a strong artistic community. These include stage and screen actors, directors, writers and filmmakers; recording artists and concert musicians; published authors; painters, potters, sculptors, photographers, jewelry makers and glass blowers, as well as world-class woodcrafters.
Artisan Square is the main artistic showcase of the island. It is close to Snug Cove, accessible by bus in peak hours. There are a host of galleries and studios as well as shops and a chocolatier.
If you do live on Bowen, your younger children can go to school on the island. The public elementary school was established in 1893. It serves students from kindergarten through grade seven.
In addition to the public school, Bowen Island is the home of Island Pacific School, a small, independent school, with high standards, serving grades six through nine.
Both schools have excellent reputations. However once children reach grade 8 or 10 (depending on which school they attend) they will have to travel to the mainland to attend school. The school buses will meet them at the ferry terminal in Horseshoe Bay.
Bowen is not for everyone. But if you are looking for somewhere quiet to get away from it all... but not too far away. Then this might just be the place for you.
- Bowen Island Chamber of Commerce
- Bowen Island Community School
- Island Pacific School
- Bowen Golf
- Bowen Island Kayaking
- Cape Roger Curtis Trust
- Twiggleberries Spa
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