The first mention of Bowen Island was a by a Spanish explorer named Naravez. While on a 22-day exploration of the Straight of Georgia in 1971, Naravez sailed across the entrance of Howe Sound and only charted the outlines of Passage Island, the Pasley Island Group, and Bowen Island. His commander, Lieutenant Eliza named the island “Isla De Apocada”. Captain George Vancouver made no mention of Bowen Island though he entered the Sound the following year. In 1860, Captain George Henry Richards named the island after Rear Admiral James Bowen after his wartime efforts in defeating a French Fleet in 1794.
Originally, Bowen Island was populated by the Squamish Indians who hunted and fished on the grounds. Bowen was also a neutral meeting ground for other Indians, as well as a stopping place when traveling up or down the coast. In 1874 the first white settler, William Eaton, claimed 160 acres south of Killarney Lake.
Bowen Island has seen many industries over the years. From brick making in Deep Bay, to logging dynamite manufacturing in Tunstall Bay, the one mainstay has been the tourist industry. As early as the 1880s, there have been tourists coming to camp, rent boats, and enjoy themselves at the Picnic Grounds.
Bowen Island 20th Century
The Cates Family had a large impact on Vancouver’s marine history and therefore Bowen Island. Captain Jack Cates first opened Bowen Island as a resort by purchasing a 320-acre Mannion estate on the Deep Bay in 1900. He then brought partners into his Terminal Steamship Company and began to enlarge his fleet. After about 20 years, Cates sold his successful resort and company to the established Union Steamship Company. The new owners made immediate changes, which included building new summer cottages, a store, and picnic grounds to handle the growing business.
The Sannie Transportation Company began operating three steam launches between Horseshoe Bay and Bowen in 1921. Thirty-five years later, the service was withdrawn, making the appearance of the Black Ball Ferry Line possible. On May 7 1957, this service provided the first car ferry to Bowen and was eventually taken over by the B.C. Ferry Corporation.
In 1956, Union Steamships transformed “the people’s playground” into an exclusive Evergreen Park Resort, but closed its doors after only a year. People could travel further because of the easing of the economy and the availability of gas, which diminished Bowen’s popularity. Even though the hotel was demolished in 1962 and many cottages were sold and removed, a few of the “steamship” cottages still remain and are rented out year round.
“Nowhere else in the vicinity of Vancouver, expect on city beaches, do crowds gather in such numbers on hot summer days as on Bowen Island – and there is room for them all”
-Vancouver Province newspaper, July 19, 1925