Archive for the ‘Gabriola History’Category

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

The Grande on Peterson Bay


dragrande now

Fifty-five years old, the Grande perches on the rocks overlooking Peterson Bay - and the entire south coast.

In the 1950′s an ambitious fellow named Len Dobinson decided to build a hotel on a large parcel of land he had bought from old ‘Doc’ Nichols a few years earlier. At the time, there was no electricity yet on Gabriola, and the hotel was built largely by hand and with chainsaws.  It was perched on a rocky bluff at the edge of the water with great views up and down the Strait of Georgia.  The rather unique design featured a woodframe building, but faced with vertical logs.  It was done without the kind of permitted and inspected regimen that builders face today.    Part of the work on the land included the creation of a tidal pool – a definite no-no in today’s world of shoreline protection.

Dobinson soon sold the building with about 80 acres of waterfront land, to Tom and Eva Shaw, who operated the ‘Grande Hotel’ for many years.  Old-timers will remember the beautiful old shuffleboard, and the jukebox that was full of old Elvis hits from the early ’60s.  Tom was not an especially good hotelier – gruff and unkempt most of the time, but his wife Eva made up for it.  She was a gregarious and cheerful woman who loved visitors, but she could not make up for Tom’s nasty attitude – and the fact that there was hardly a market for a hotel on Gabriola in the ’60s.   He slowly subdivided and sold the land to stay afloat.   The resulting roads he named after himself and his family, so we now have Thomas Place, Eva Road, Tamala Road and Kevan Drive.

During Shaw’s ownership of the Grande,  he was approached by a Hollywood movie producer who wanted to do a remake of  ‘The Hounds of the Baskervilles”.  Initially old Tom approved – allegedly for a tidy sum – but reneged on the deal after the shooting started.  He apparently did not like the behaviour of the show-biz folks.     Eventually – many years later and under new ownership – the Grande was used as a site for a bit in one of the ‘Scary Movie” series, and a mock lighthouse was temporarily erected on the property for the 30 second scene.  

Another infamous incident occurred at the old Grande, when a pair of bank robbers from the east chose to hide out at the old hotel with their suitcase-full of cash.   They checked in and then made a trip to Nanaimo – leaving their booty stashed in the room.   Eva Shaw ‘discovered’ the satchel of cash under the bed and reported it to police, who captured the crooks upon their return from town.   

Eventually Shaw went bankrupt and in the late ’80s the hotel and  remaining land was bought for around $350k  from the bank, by an easterner who promised great things.  He did some cosmetic renovation and turned the old 18 room derilict hotel into a private residence and then subdivided and sold off most of the remaining land.  He fancied himself as a bit of a financial dragon, and named the new road Dragon’s Lane.   Although the name has changed on the land, all the local fishermen still refer to the the deep water ‘off the Grande’.  

The place changed hands again, and today the property is the backdrop for many photographs, as the new owners have found a niche market, offering the hotel as a venue for weddings and other group events.  It is booked up for most summer weekends, as the  ever-changing signs and balloons at the corner of  Dragon’s Lane and North Road will attest.


peterson bay at low tide

Peterson Bay - shown here at low tide -is accessible via a trail at the end of Dragon's Lane.



06 2010

Phase Four & the Firehall Trail

 When Wildwood Developments (and others) were busy cutting Gabriola into half-acre lots (before the establishment of the Island’s Trust) they were doing so in ‘phases’. The last phase took place off Berry Point Road and up Norwich hill to Chelwood. The “Phase Four” developers went for the tree-named streets (Tamarack, Balsam, Spruce, Hemlock, Larch,Jackpine). It was considered a bit ‘out of the way’ and took a little longer than some phases to develop.

go through this phase

If you know where to find them, lots of nice trails lead to Phase Four.

The name may not be the most romantic, but it stuck – perhaps because it was the last phase and because it was so easily identifiable. During a particularly robust boom in the early 1990′s, while land in that area was still pretty cheap, one prolific home builder – Gordon Stevens – bought several lots in Phase Four and built ‘spec homes’ for the burgeoning real estate market. Had he done so a few years earlier, that area may well have become ‘Stevensville’. A half dozen of his houses helped make up that little community that marks the last of the half-acre-lot subdivisions on Gabriola Island.

it's just a phase

If you get your mail here - you probably live in Phase Four.

Things may change for Phase Four if the Church Road – Spruce Road connection takes place. In the mid 90′s the entire subdivision was completely cut off from the rest of the island as a result of a particularly nasty windstorm that took down several huge trees along Berry Point Road. Effectively cut off from emergency services for over 24 hours, residents were justifiably concerned.  If the proposed extension of Church Road takes place, Phase Four will be much more accessible from the village of Gabriola.  

For many years – until the late eighties, and before Church Road existed, the ‘firehall trail’ cut through from behind the firehall  to the end of Spruce, across an eighty acre parcel of heavily forested private land – owned by Weldwood at one point.  When in good enough shape, the trail was used by the fire department, and anyone else who had decent tires, lots of clearance,  and a bit of nerve. It was  the local shortcut to and (especially) from ‘the Surf’ late at night, when one wished to avoid the main roads.   The trail went up and down hills and valleys and wound through the old forest – and through a few puddles that were big enough for fish.  One certainly did not want to meet a vehicle coming the other way.  Most trips on the  ’firehall trail’ were  an adventure.   Portions are still used for a walking and cycling shortcut today, but it is still on private property – for now. 



The forest is changing around this portion of the old firehall trail, as arbutus and alder start to take over....for now.



06 2010