Archive for the ‘island development’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

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

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

Gabriola Sands

an isthmus and peninsula

Gabriola's most accessible beaches are right here, and they attracted some of the earliest recreational development on the island.

This little peninsula – complete with an isthmus – has some of the island’s nicest waterfront and it is no suprise that is was developed very early on in the history of the island.    City folks from Victoria and Vancouver  who were looking for a nice summer getaway back in the fifties and sixties discovered Gabriola and it’s relatively inexpensive waterfront.     This area was ideal, with nice beaches and moorage and not all that far away from civilization.   The Gabriola Sands development divided  up the little peninsula into many half-acre ‘recreational’ lots.   The fact that water was scarce in that area did not seem to matter, and many summer cottages  were built here.   Over the years most of them have become full-fledged homes with many swanky waterfront places barely visible from the road.  There are still many little summer cabins to be found as well, tucked away behind the greenery.

 It is a unique part of the island and a great penninsula to circumnavigate as a beachcomber.   At low tide, one can park at Gabriola Sands Provincial Park – known colloquially as ‘Twin Beaches’  – and follow the shoreline around from one side to the other.   There are the  two bays – Pilot Bay (the ‘pilot’ boats used to moor there waiting for freighters heading to Nanaimo Harbour)  facing the Georgia Straight,  and Taylor Bay facing Nanaimo.    You may get your feet wet if you miss the beach access and the tide sneaks up on you, but that’s not the end of the world.     Twin Beaches is the island’s busiest beach in the summer, and many spoiled locals bemoan the ‘crowds’ and head for more secluded spots.    Note: Over a dozen people could qualify as a ‘crowd’ on Gabriola.

If you want to get temporarily ‘lost’ on Gabriola, try driving around the Sands at night looking for an address.   Every street looks the same and one crescent seems to be everywhere in the green maze.  

looks familiar....

Have we been here before?

look familiar?

Does this look familiar?

which way?

Left or right?

 should have turned left..

We should have turned right...

we should have gone straight

We should have turned left....


05 2010

Dick Brook

see this off dorby way

This bucolic scene shows part of the farmland that was once Dick Swamp

Gabriola’s largest working farm is on the site of what used to be Gabriola’s largest swamp. Somerset Farm, owned and operated by Eric Boulton and family, has been a fixture on Gabriola for over fifty years. Many islanders have been brought up on Boultons’s local beef and their huge turkeys have graced many a Christmas dinner table. The 400+ acre farm looks great from satellite pictures as its green pastures cover a lot of flat land between North Road, Peterson Road, and Dorby Way.

Before the farm, Dick Swamp covered that part of the island. With some creative ditching the water was funnelled to Dick Brook, which runs east towards Silva Bay. The small seasonal stream crosses under North Road about a kilometer outside Silva Bay and empties into the Georgia Straight at Peterson Bay. It has usually stopped running by mid summer, with only a few wet spots that only the local deer know about.

The farmland that was created was cleared and fenced over the years and remains the largest farm on the island. It became very popular in the sixties – much to the dismay of farmer Eric.  The unwelcome popularity was a result of a certain mushroom – psilocybe – that thrived in the rich soil. Every September, when the rains came and the mushrooms appeared, so did great numbers of young mushroom pickers from afar. These transient pickers – usually defined as ‘hippies’ – found their way to Somerset farm and peacefully harvested (and ingested) the hallucinogenic fungi. They set up camp in the nearby ‘Centennial Park’ on Degnan Road, and made a party of their time on the island. Unfortunately their partying included trashing up the park and they got careless with their treatment of the fences and gates at the farm. With cattle escaping and the park becoming a haven for squatting hippies, the quiet farmer came up with a plan. He spread a nitrogen-rich mixture of poulty dung over the fields and within a couple of seasons, the mushrooms pretty much disappeared. The annual horde of hippies did too, although if you ask enough foks here, you will probably find someone who will admit that mushrooms led to their move to Gabriola Island. Far out man.

nettles love Dyck Brook

It feels like a rain-forest along Dick Brook as it flows towards Peterson Bay.

Now just a seasonal stream, Dick Brook starts near Peterson Road  and meanders through some acreages, under  Cresta Roca,  and eventually crossing North Road just outside Silva Bay.   It flows into the Georgia Straight at the head of Peterson Bay.


05 2010

Whalebone Beach Estates

stoney but beachy

Whalebone's beach is stoney in places, but fun for beachcombers and dog-walkers.


   During the days of the wild west, before the Island’s Trust was created to ‘preserve and protect’ us, the gulf islands were considered ‘unorganized’ and their land use was regulated (or not) by the province of BC.   That meant subdivisions had to have a minimum average lot size of only half an acre – roughly forty paces by seventy-five paces.    To folks from the city,that was plenty of space, and the lots were bought for ‘recreational’ use and for investment.   One of the nicest of these subdivisions was done by the Great National Land company – the parent company of Nanaimo Realty.  They did the ‘Whalebone Beach Estates’ on about 120 acres of land along Gabriola’s north-east coast.    Much of the credit for that development  goes to one of Nanaimo’s most colourful personalities – the late Mayor Frank Ney.

 Frank Ney was a decorated war vet and had a story to tell for everyone he met.   He was the founder of Great National Land and Nanaimo Realty, and when they undertook the development along Gabriola’s north-east shore he was at the helm.     He created a plan that saw nearly every inside lot get frontage on some greenspace or ‘park’ , with plenty of access points.   He even sacrificed some waterfront and water-view land in order to give more lots access to the beach.  Over time, these small greenspace/parks have been maintained in varying degrees, from mown to overgrown, providing space to enjoy or privacy.    The market was much different then, and one could get a lot with a view – and a cabin – for less than $4000.   Thirty dollars a month would carry the payments on an inside lot with a cabin.

    Aside from the physical character and layout of the ‘Whalebone Beach Estates’, Frank Ney gave it some literary roots by naming most of the streets after characters in Melville’s book,  ’Moby Dick’.      Being accessible only by Barrett Road and it’s long run down the side of the ridge,  ’Whalebone’  has evolved into a quiet little island enclave that sees little in the way of traffic and tourists, although savvy islanders know there  are beach accesses and nice walks in the area, and some make the trip down Barrett Hill to enjoy them.

this trail leads to whalebone beach

Follow Barrett straight to Whalebone Beach via this trail



05 2010

Tin Can Alley

 When Merv and Annette Sweeny did a subdivision of five acre view lots along North Road in the late 80′s , they offered the community land on which to build a recycling depot.   There was a contest to name the road that was  built to access the depot, and many entries were filed in the box at ‘D’Pizza’ ( the predecessor to Windeckers/ Suzy’s/ and now ’Robert’s') 

 ’The winning name is a slight variation of an infamous neighbourhood in Manhattan – Tin Pan Alley –  that was the centre of the American music industry in the mid to late 1800′s.  Here, Tin Can Alley is the centre of the Gabriola recycling industry, and the social experience that comes with it.  Many dedicated volunteers man the Gabriola Island Recycling Organization (GIRO) depot every Wednesday and Saturday.  They are joined by a procession of recycling islanders, many of whom make it a social event, and linger to chat with friends and neighbours over a bin of cardboard or plastic.   It speaks well of Gabriola’s roots as a down-to-earth community – and there are some fine bargains to be had.

 Directly across North Road from Tin Can Alley, is an inobtrusive access to Gabriola’s 707 acres of community forest.  The ‘single track’ trail leads between some private acreages and ends up connecting to a myriad of trails that wind through this large chunk of Gabriola’s hinterland.

not easy to find, but a great access point to the 707 acres

This rather inconspicuous path - directly across from Tin Can Alley - leads to 707 acres of parkland and a network of fantastic trails.


05 2010