Author Archive

Retirement Village

twenty years later

The Retirement Village has matured as gracefully as many of its residents.

In the late 80′s, when the trees were cut down to begin the work on the retirement village on North Road, many islanders went ballistic.  When the  stand of large fir trees was reduced to to a jumble of timber and stumps, the land just east of the school was very visible and it was a shocking change that happened virtually overnight.  

The land had been for sale for a while with no takers, but when Don Powell, bought it he saw potential for development.   The island’s OCP (Official Community Plan) called for seniors housing and Don decided to take a chance and provide it.   He got through all the red tape and got underway - despite the great hue and cry over the logging.    There was a road to be built, and the clearing continued – amidst the wailing of the many islanders who did not want any trees cut down.   In some circles, Mr.Powell was not a popular guy, but many tradesmen were very happy to see a project that provided employment, and many seniors were happy to have a local option for retirement living, when the time came to sell their acreages and scale down. 

The zoning  allowed for ‘institutional use’ and churches fit that category, so a small lot at the corner went to a religious group that erected a church – which obviously inspired the name of the road.   Amen.   

The first few residential units that went up were a hit.   A couple sold right away, and the rest were rented over the next few months.    Slowly, the project grew, and over the years Don put up two more phases,  along with a custom-built building for the ambulance.  By now, more folks were getting used to the new development and recognized its value to the island.  Don Powell himself moved into a unit in the newest phase, and his hands-on approach to the project indeared him to the residents and the island in general.   Ironically, it was not long after that the Island’s Trust  – whose local trustees had been vocal and harsh in their criticism of Powell’s development  -  ended up leasing a building from him for their Northern Office. 

Today, as trees have grown and landscaping has matured, it is hard to imagine NOT having the Retirement Village.  Although it met with plenty of oppostion during its infancy, it now blends in  nicely with the island’s style and many of the strata units have been sold to local seniors.  There is almost always a waiting list for rentals. 

 A flock of of guinea fowl and of wild turkeys have taken up residence there as well- although feelings about the birds is mixed among the human residents.    The birds do provide natural entertainment – albeit noisy and messy at times.    Just like Gabriola politics!


06 2011

Folklife Village


The high point of Folklife Village overlooks what has become the village center and is an integral part of the island's character.

When Vancouver hosted Expo ’86,  British Columbia constructed a pavillion to represent the province to the world.   The “Folklife Village” was concieved and built to show off some of BC’s fine timber and no expense was spared to put together a masterpiece of post-and-beam construction.   The architect was flown over the forests of BC to personally pick the trees to be cut to make the largest of the beams that support the unique structure.    The ‘village’ created at Expo included two main components - the best of which is now the centerpiece of the village of Gabriola. 

After Expo ended, the folklife village pavilion  was sold, dismantled, and  barged off into storage.  It next appeared a couple of years later in drawings at an Island’s Trust meeting on Gabriola.  An artists rendering of the village –  shown nestled in the trees at the intersection of North Road and Lochinvar Lane was presented,  along with a proposal to rezone the land from rural/residential to commercial.  

Naturally there was dissent, but the Trustees of the day  saw the opportunity have a beautifully designed and constructed commercial center – right there in what was already becoming ’downtown’.   The existing commercial architecture was less than inspiring.  The local restaurant – ‘D’Pizza’  (now ‘Roberts Place’ ) – was in a house that had been expanded, and the cement block strip-mall-gone-sideways that wanted to be ‘Gabriola Center’,  didn’t have much style at all.   Here was a rare chance to have an expensive post and beam showcase as a focus for Gabriola’s commercial core.   At the time, given the population on the island, that type of architecturally designed commercial construction was unaffordable, since there were not enough prospective tenants with enough hope of making the rent required to pay for it.   It was only because the ’used’ structure was sold at such a bargain that the developer could afford to put the project together.    The other factor that made it work was the timing.  The island’s growth was at a point where there was a demand for more local services and therefore more commercial space.    It certainly took courage - and a big mortgage no doubt - to take it on.    The owner of the land offered the community a portion of the acreage as ‘park’, and the deal was soon done despite the omnipresent opposition.

The project to reconstruct the ‘folklife pavillion’ took about two years.   The site was prepared and the barges landed in Descanso Bay.   It took at least 20 huge truck-loads – winding along some pretty narrow stretches of road – to get the huge timbers and accessories to the property.   Putting it all back together – adapted for commercial use and able to pass local building codes – was no mean feat.   It was the work of Bill Kristofferson – who had worked on major parts of the original construction, and Jay Friesen – with hands- on experience in post and beam construction and things architectural, that managed to get the giant puzzle back together.

The first tenants included the grocery store, a  real estate office, and the fashion boutique.  Within a few months ‘Folklife Village’ was pretty well fully leased and soon fulfilled it’s promise to focus commerce in the village, and set the bar high for future developers.


01 2011

Hippy Hollow


The trees have grown, the houses are bigger, and the prices are much higher than they were forty-odd years ago in this quiet Gabriola neighbourhood.

When half acre lots were offered for ‘fifty dollars down and fifty dollars a month’, it did not take a lot of income to buy one – ‘unemployment insurance’ would even suffice.   It was no wonder that the lots along Coho Drive were attractive to many of the folks visiting the gulf islands in the early 70′s.   To those from the east, it seemed like a paradise – and a bargian to boot.

One of the first would-be residents was a young lad from Ontario who chanced upon the island in 1971.  Visiting an aquaintance on Thompson Road, he spotted the “Lots for Sale” sign .  He didn’t quite have the $50 with him, but a  five dollar deposit held it for a week until he raised the other $45 for the down payment.   Try buying a lot today with a five dollar deposit.

The price and the financing deal attracted  several free-thinking folks, and before long there was an assortment of homes – from tents and small sheds to full sized houses, springing up.    “Celebration house” was one of the first of the bigger homes and became a neighbourhood gathering place for the small group of like-minded folks who made up the small and fairly close-knit community that came to be known as ‘hippy hollow’.    Some of them are still there today, and although they may have less hair and nicer cars, they are still part of what makes Gabriola what it is.

hippies in the trees

One of the few small-lot subdivisions on the south end of the island, this area has very few empty lots left - which is no surprise.


01 2011

Elder Cedars



Thankfully this huge sign is discreetly off the road far enough to be missed by the invasive hoards.

For a close look at what Gabriola’s forests looked like a hundred years ago, this quarter-section of gulf-island ecosystem is a joy to behold – but tread lightly…you are an invasive species.

When Gabriola was logged initially, it was often done by loggers from Vancouver who would come and go by boat.   They would log the areas closest to the Straight so they could just drag the logs to the bluff and send them sliding down to the water where they would be boomed and towed to the city.    It took more time and more manpower to log a forest then, and camps would be set up for the workers to live for weeks or months.    One such camp was located where the ‘Elder Cedars’ land is now.  Typically, the trees right around the camp would not be logged – especially if they were cedar trees, which were not favoured by the loggers, who sought the big firs.   These trees provided shade and shelter for the logging camp, and some of them are still standing today in this 160 acre parcel of relatively old forest that remained in the hands of the Crown.

At some point in the ’60s, this land was labelled ‘UREP’ land ( for the Use, Recreation, & Enjoyment of the Public).   With this designation, the land was left untouched, and had seen no significant logging since the 1940′s at least.     It became dense and thick and lush -virtually impenatrable for all but the hardiest bush-whacker.     There was no bigger chunk of old growth on Gabriola, and it was a fine example of how things live here when they are left alone.     

When the Province offered the RPAT (Regional Protected Area Strategy) program, to begin defining parcels of Crown land that were significant in terms of their intrinsic value to the province, a local activist submitted the UREP land for consideration.  It met the criteria and made the list, but a change in government saw the program stall.   When land claims began to surface in the 90′s, the UREP land- still ’Crown land’ - was an obvious target for a claim.   However, since the earlier RPAT application had precluded the land claims -  this chunk of forest was never put on the table.     Although the land was officially designated as  off-limits to land claims and logging,  control of it was eventually given to a local body. 

Enter the bureaucracy.   Now a chunk of forest that had successfully defended itself from any significant human intrusion (at no cost to the community) had turned into  a source of funding.    There was a budget to spend and some ‘managment’ to do.   Heavy equipment got involved, and some of the few meandering trails became scarred in the name of access, or safety, or esthetics - or whatever.  The trail entrance soon became big enough for a bandwagon and they erected a sign fit for Stanley Park.  

Preservation of the land as a natural habitat for whatever wishes to live there was apparently not the priority of  our local body.   Instead, easier access for more people seems to be the direction to date, and that is succeeding.  A realively small collection of people (many with dogs) use the trails regularly, although there are more now than ever before.  That may change.  The addition of 707 acres of local forest land in the center of the island  should more than meet the community’s perceived need for land to wander about in and perhaps take pressure off of Elder Cedars and let the focus be more on the preservation than the access.    This land may once again become relatively ’unmanaged’ – leaving it as a preserve for the natural gulf island flora and fauna that apparently can get along very well all by themselves.


11 2010

The ‘T & T’

When the T&T  Texaco station opened in the late 60′s,  the island was starting to grow and a ’gas station’ was a welcomed addition.   At the junction of North and South Roads, at the top of the ferry hill, the “T&T” soon became pretty much the center of automotive activity for over 30 years.

Originally opened by Ted Easthom and Ted James, the T&T was the place to go if you wanted to know anything about anything on Gabriola.    Sid Skinner bought out Easthom in the seventies and he and Ted James enjoyed the social part of the business as much as the automotive side.   They knew where just about everyone lived and what they drove.    Before the RCMP became a permanent fixture on the island, it was common for folks to call the T&T and ask  “have the cops left the island yet?”    Since they had the only tow truck, the police routinely called the T&T after hours to request their towing services.   That itself was risky business, since the tow truck driver was often in no condition to drive himself, and tales of towing mishaps are still told amongst many longtime islanders.    They did many good deeds, delivering heating oil to many folks down some bad winter roads and long driveways, and extending credit when they knew they may not get paid any time soon.    On Christmas Eve it was traditional for many regular customers to drop in with bottled gift and enjoy a holiday laugh or two with some real island characters. 


The old T&T building was the site of some automotive shenanigans and gave the island a flavour that is not so easy to taste anymore.

At the T&T one could enjoy a  cigarette and a cool beverage on any given afternoon and chew the fat with Sid and Ted between fill-ups.   Although many of the regulars could fill their own tanks if they wished, the T&T was full service (not necessarily fast).   Ted would often have to crawl out from under a vehicle to pump gas.    He would usually not have a smoke in his mouth at the time.  Usually.    It was not uncommon for one of the repair bays to be half full of empties.   On the odd occasion, when the boys had been ‘distracted’ at closing time, Ted would arrive at the station early in the morning to find the lights and gas pumps on, and the doors wide open, having ‘forgotton’ to close things up the night before.   He would check the cash register and find it untouched from the day before….business as usual.  Times were a little different then.


The sign that was once a landmark at the junction of North and South Road was rescued by a local mechanic and now stands on Carr Blvd. close to his shop.

With some serious competition re-opening another gas station down the road, things went downhill in the 21st century and Sid turned the business over to his son.  Ted James left the island, moving to Prince George, and  Sid died suddenly of a heart attack –  not far from the T&T.   The property was eventually sold along with a neighbouring parcel, and redevelopment began.  What had been a scrapyard became a strip mall – which many  islanders see as an improvement .  


In an attempt to fit the local motif, the shed 'style' of the slightly revamped old T&T garage was repeated in the design of the new development in the background. Is that an architectural shenanigan?



09 2010

Orlebar Point


From Bells Landing, Orlebar Point is silhouetted against the south coast.

One of the most scenic places on the BC coast, this point has been on the front page of the national papers –  for reasons other than it’s beauty.


Where Berry Point Road meets Upper Berry Point Road is where one politician met the end of his career.

Orlebar Point is at the end of Berry Point Road – now.     Apparently the Berry Point road allowance used to run directly to the point – that is until a certain high-powered politician took a liking to the location and somehow managed to purchase it from the province and amalgamate it with another lot  -  when nobody from Gabriola was looking.   What was intended as a fine beach access, became part of a residential waterfront lot  where former BC Cabinet Minister Dave Stupich built himself a home.    It was beautifully done, and even included a desalinization plant.  Many local tradesmen worked there off and on for months and when the news broke a few years later that Stupich had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar (misappropriating funds from a charity bingo) the island was buzzing with stories about the place.   The media decended on the island and choppers brought in RCMP investigators.   It was a big scandal,  and Gabriola Island made headlines, as Stupich – a former Provincial Cabinet Minister AND  federal Member of Parliament faced some damning charges.


Some nice rockwork graces the entry to Orlebar.

Mr. Stupich was eventually convicted for his actions, and sentenced to serve some time under ‘house arrest’.    The court, however, recognizing that confining the disgraced politician to a luxury home on arguably one of the nicest locations on the coast, was hardly a tough sentence.   The court required that the time be served at Stupich’s daughter’s house in Nanaimo.  Now, to me…that makes Nanaimo a penal colony for Gabriola Island, and I take great delight in telling that particular part of the Stupich saga to folks from the Harbour City (much to their chagrin).    Most Gabrioloids love it – unless perhaps they voted for the man.

It is worth noting that the fellow who originally blew the whistle on Stupich rented a modest place  on Gabriola for a while as the case was coming to a close.    Jacques Carpentier had worked for one of the  charities involved and discovered the discrepancies in the books.   Jacques kept good records and had collected lots of paperwork from the Nanaimo Commenwealth Holding Society (NCHS)- which was run by Stupich – a powerful man in the NDP at the time.   When he started asking questions, his life was threatened and he soon went public.   The RCMP then began a forensic investigation.  When the case ended with a conviction, a large box of paperwork was returned to him by the RCMP, representing the evidence he had presented.   He left Gabriola shortly thereafter.

The Stupich home  has changed hands now, and –  questionable ethics aside - Orlebar Point remains a beautiful place to visit, and the entire south coast is spread out before you.   The tourists love to take pictures there – usually with their backs to Orlebar. 



These views from Orlebar Point are much different than the ones Mr.Stupich got while serving his time in Nanaimo.


08 2010

Gossip Corner

s rd at martin

This corner has a very 'south end' feel to it, winding between a farm and a bay.

The old Gary Oak on South Road, near Martin Road is the centerpiece of Gossip Corner, where folks met to get their mail and shoot the breeze.  Before North Road went all the way to Silva Bay, South Road was the route to take and one of the early stops for Gabriola’s postal delivery was at this corner in the road, just steps away from the head of Degnan Bay.     Someone built a bench under the oak tree and it became a regular meeting place for the south-end folks.   It didn’t hurt that there were blackberries and fruit trees nearby either, and the old MacDonald farm (perhaps not the one of nursery-rhyme fame) was right there as well. 


Maybe someone will repair the old bench at Gossip Corner - so folks can sit and talk about it.

It is a good bet that the earliest settlers on the island liked that area too.   One of the few petroglyphs found along the shore is only a few meters away, suggesting that the rock-carver likely spent plenty of time in that area, where good soil, fresh water, great fishing,  and a sheltered bay - rich with clams and oysters - are all close by.


08 2010

Sir William and St.Catherine


If you manage to find this sign, you could probably find the trail to the sea.

One notable (or notorious) Gabriola pioneer was Bill Coats, who has been described as a handyman, farmer, and entrepreneur. According to two books on the subject, he worked for the infamous Brother Twelve – a cult leader from the early 1900′s who bamboozled many gullible folks out of their money and operated a commune of sorts on DeCourcey Island. One of Coates ventures on Gabriola was an attempt to generate electricity on the island. He was close to completing his hydro plant, using the water from Hoggan Lake that he diverted over the bluff on his land, to generate the power. Of course BC Hydro had shown no interest in supplying the island previously, but immediately began putting up poles and wires when Coats got close to finishing his project, and beat him to the punch.   

Bill Coats came to own a considerable amount of land on the island, including the sandstone quarry above Descanso Bay.  When his son Clyde subdivided one parcel the family owned between Degnan Bay and Gabriola Passage – at the end of Martin Road – he named the resulting roads Sir William and St.Catherine, after his father Bill and mother Catherine. Obviously Coats Road bears the family name, but as yet there is no Clyde Road on Gabriola…just Clyde.      

public access

It may LOOK like a private drive, but that small lane is on a public road allowance that goes right to the beach, just steps away from Drumbeg Park.


08 2010

Petroglyph Way


short and straignt

Petroglyph Way, at the end of Crocker Road, is in the middle of lots of large acreages. The small trail that connects it to South Road is not visible in this image.

  This short road was put in in the late 90′s to serve three large acreages created after some of the fabled ‘Weldwood’ lands were sold and developed.   Since some known petroglyphs were not far away, it was expected that some would be found on this land.     When the logging took place, large areas of smooth sandstone -an ideal canvas for stone carvings -were exposed. Experts from the University of Victoria came up to search the land for any signs of the ancient graffiti.  They found nothing and approved the subdivision.  

The real trail  is a narrow dedicated right-of-way that runs from the new road, between the acreages, to the site of some of the island’s most accessible petroglyphs, on the land adjacent to the United Church on South Road.    Although the strip of land was dedicated by the developer, hands-on members of the  local trails organization (GALTT)  maintain the trail through it.   By connecting to South Road, the trail is an important link in a series of trails  that allow hikers and cyclists to get up and down the island and stay off the beaten track.

fine trail starts here

This trail leads towards South Road from Petroglyph Way

If you want to get a sense of how long it takes Gabriola to regenerate, take a walk down this trail.   The land it passes through was cleared of all marketable timber in late 1996.  All that remained standing were a scant few fir trees, some arbutus, and a smattering of alder and maple.     Fourteen years later, much of it is looking pretty lush.  One of the acreages is being turned into a ‘Small Species Sanctuary’  by its owner, who rescued it from being totally overgrown by the invasive broom – which he spent months pulling out by hand.   With some simple techniques – primarily seeding the open land with some grains/grasses,  the land is attracting lots of wildlife up and down the food chain, and becoming a gorgeous patch of gulf island ecosystem.   It is different than the old forest, but no less beautiful.


08 2010


‘Back in the day’ when there were less than a thousand people living here full time, everyone pretty well knew everyone else….and where they lived.   In the early 80′s, when a new family bought an old home on North Road from a local mechanic, there were no house numbers.   When describing their location to new island acquaintances, they found most  would exclaim at some point – “that’s Gus Hussey’s old place!”     When being introduced, neigbours would say, “these folks live at Gus Hussey’s old place.”    It became a bit of a family joke and after a couple of years of living at ‘Gus Hussey’s Old Place” they decided to give the place a name of it’s own that reflected the elements of the property, and they painted it on the old mailbox at the side of the road.

snailmail box

A few old mailboxes still grace the island's roadsides. Snail mail anyone?

  Very few of the old mailboxes remain, but they are reminders of a time when leaving your mail in an unlocked box by the road was the norm.   If the box was turned with the door facing the road, that meant there was mail to pick up, or mail had been delivered. 

I cannot write about mail on Gabriola without mentioning two of my favorite old-time islanders –  ’Wayne & Phyllis’ , who delivered the mail for many years (between smoke breaks).   Wayne, who taught mathematics at the College in Nanaimo for a time, was a small man with a deep voice that would be the envy of any radio announcer.   He and Phyllis were fixtures in the White Hart, where they practically owned a table.  Avid smokers, they were good at growing and curing their own tobacco as well.  They had a few good friends with whom they shared their harvest.   Apparently they would even deliver their home-grown tobacco  right to  your mailbox – a service frowned upon by Canada Post.    When you were checking your mail (perhaps for your government cheque), it was easy to tell if Wayne and Phyllis had been there yet;  there would be fresh spots of oil in front of the mailboxes where they had stopped their tired old vehicle.   Although they have long since moved away, I am sure many folks still remember them fondly.



07 2010