How Crippen Regional Park on Bowen Island came to be

How Crippen Regional Park on Bowen Island came to be

The following is an excerpt from “Voting for the Islands: Thirty Years of Conservation on the Salish Sea” by Sheila Harrington (Heritage House, July 9, 2024), reprinted with permission of the publisher.

I completed the final leg of my conservation sailing trip in July 2023 to Bowen Island on the outer edge of Howe Sound. Squamish Nation Elders unveiled a new sign at Snug Cove to welcome visitors to Nexwlélexwem, Bowen Island, in 2021. It was a fitting gesture, as the island is an integral part of the Squamish territory. Another Skwxwú7mesh sníchim (Squamish language) name for Bowen I had heard is Xwlíl’xhym, which means “swift drumming ground,” referring to the sound of running deer. The Skwxwú7mesh (the Squamish people) hunted deer, gathered clams, caught salmon and herring, and foraged many native plants on the island. Today, there are still numerous deer, which travel between some of the habitats, through adjacent protected areas, and into the vast crown lands on the island.

Surprisingly, Bowen Island, in the western coastal hemlock zone, has a higher level of mature and older forest than islands in the coastal Douglas-fir zone. Given its proximity to Vancouver’s three million residents, you might think the island would be more suburban. The saving grace is the Crown Lands, found on three towering peaks—Mount Gardner and Mount Collins—plus the large 395-hectare ecological reserve on Apodaca Peak on the southeast side.

The latter rises next to the small maritime entrance in Apodaca Provincial Park. These crown lands make up 40 percent of the island’s land area. Because of these high peaks and earlier logging than the more remote Gulf Islands, 58 percent of the forests are between 80 and 250 years old.

Protest march on Government Road against logging.
Bowen Island Museum & Archives, Photo ID #1565

When I arrived at Snug Cove and neighboring Kwilákm (Deep/Mannion Bay), I was struck by the level of development, with homes packed tightly together and many private jetties. Ferries arrive at Snug Cove every hour, filled with day trippers, residents, summer residents, and contractors. Near the terminal is a hub of commercial shops and restaurants unlike any other island outside Salt Spring Island. A bald eagle drew my attention to the wooded southern shore of Snug Cove. Low-flying herons and seals perched on the rising cliffs of Kwilákm’s southwest shore revealed a continuous bluff leading to a public causeway built a century ago, beyond which lie a lagoon and the island’s Terminal Creek.

There is a large trash pile that runs across the front of what is now known as the Festival Field at Snug Cove. Further along the shoreline are the old steamship playgrounds, where people from the city would come to participate in three-legged races and have company picnics. A series of boats and water taxis then provided access to Bowen Island. The island has been a recreational destination for Vancouverites throughout the 20th century. Initially, the Terminal Steamship Company provided access, followed by the Union Steamship Company, which promoted Bowen as a recreational destination. The Union Steamship Company built about 180 cottages, along with picnic areas and a dance pavilion to bring people to the island for picnics, camping trips and moonlight cruises. The resort era ended in the 1950s, but even today Bowen still thrives primarily by bringing people from the mainland to drive, hike or bike the island’s mountains and the now-protected parks. In the 2021 census, Bowen had 4,256 permanent residents.

After World War II and the arrival of Blackball Ferries, later acquired by BC Ferries, the Union Steamship Company began selling off a number of its cottages, including one on the waterfront, sold to the grandparents of conservation pioneer John Rich. For more than 50 years, John Rich’s family has lived in the same house near Snug Cove. He has seen many changes. Early in our conversations, he remarked, “If it weren’t for the threats to the natural environment and the enjoyment of it as a natural place, I’d probably be a retired carpenter.”

Instead, John lived a life far from quiet, serving as the Chairman of the Islands Trust for six years. He then became a lawyer, working with several First Nations on legal cases concerning historical claims and Aboriginal rights. John currently serves on the board of the Bowen Island Conservancy.

Stan James, a developer with a lamentable track record, purchased 607 hectares (1,500 acres) of the former Steamship lands, which stretched from north of the island’s largest lake, Killarney Lake, to the former resort grounds at Snug Cove. James purchased the land by obtaining private mortgages at 25 percent interest, anticipating a quick sale of approximately 3,000 housing units, golf courses, etc. that would generate the funds for payments, along with a very substantial profit. A pro-development director of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) introduced a zoning bylaw that would have allowed 10,000 quarter-acre lots and a lodge on Bowen Island. Shortly thereafter, in 1969, the provincial government’s 10-acre freeze on the islands resulted in the GVRD and the province blocking the bylaw. John had a lot to say about the antics the developer, Stan James, got up to when the people holding the mortgages started to worry.

With the developer under pressure from mortgage holders and the new official community plan calling for rural rather than urban development, James decided to begin logging, from Snug Cove to Killarney Lake, the largest lake on Bowen. The community had always viewed this area as ecologically and recreationally important. With virtually no control over actions on private land, John convinced the three general trustees, appointed by the province, to apply for a Cessation Order to stop the logging under the BC Environment and Land Use Act. The Act was a fortunate one for Bowen, as John said it was only used three times in the province and then repealed.

John described the intense days of the community protest against James. “In the winter of 1977, James was trying to start a logging operation. Everyone knew that logging was imminent – beginning of the following week, so we had three to four days. Together with others in the community, we decided to hold a demonstration and try to disrupt the logging and hoped that the county would agree to our resolution for the cease and desist order.”

Stanley Burke, a member of a Vancouver family that, along with several other families, owned a ~600-acre (243 ha) plot of land on the southwest corner, sympathized with the struggle. He owned several small newspapers and had worked for the CBC. He asked John what they were going to do. “‘Show up and stand in front of the bulldozers,’ we said.” John described the dramatic event that followed.

Burke said, “Make it TV-ready. Use fire extinguishers and turn the engine off. He sent us a bunch of fire extinguishers. He also sent us a bunch of media and at 7 o’clock in the morning there were 50 people at the spot where the logging was going to start. Out into the street came The Sun, The Provincethree TV stations and one radio station. They were pissed off to come for homeowners and hippies, but we were excited. The loggers showed up and a bulldozer driver. And we were in the way. This little group started their machines and drove forward, but the driver told his men to stop and get out of the way, but the bulldozer driver stormed out. Stan James’ manager showed up, who was a big guy and very hostile. He showed up drunk, and with coffee and something you could smell in it.

We tried to make a deal with him: stop until we meet to discuss plans for the land. He agreed, and we wrote it down and signed it. We were pretty naive. Then he realized what he had done and he tried to get back at him: TV gets the action. The deal was to stop, but the bulldozer driver doesn’t agree. He starts his bulldozer and drives into the crowd with people on his blade: a potter and a 13-year-old girl. He drives and tries to shake them off. The whole crowd runs alongside. The TV cameras see it. He stops at the edge. The potter’s wife climbed over the track and grabbed the driver, who hit her, and then the potter climbed over the machine from the blade and hit the driver. This is all on the national television news that night. While this was happening, a radio operator came in and said, “The stop work order just came in.”

John explained how the land eventually became a regional park. Eventually, we were able to work with the GVRD to make a deal with the county to purchase ~700 acres of James’ property. At the time, his mortgages were held by Crippen Engineering, who was in dire straits. They had a foreclosure notice and an angry community. The president of the GVRD, Jim Tonn, sealed the deal with Crippen when he said, “How about two million and we’ll call it Crippen Park?”

Today, Crippen Regional Park covers 240 hectares, including Killarney Lake, along Terminal Creek which leads to the lagoon behind (Deep/Mannion Bay). The park also includes extensive trails leading from the north of the lake to the lagoon to the older causeway. It includes the Terminal Creek Hatchery, fish ladder and Bridal Veil Falls, down to Snug Cove and on to the end at Dorman Point. The acquisition of Crippen Park is a perfect example of how local people, with patience and perseverance, can preserve land in their own communities.