Archive for the ‘Misc’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


‘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

The Ferry Hill

liquor store island

If the large and tacky 'liquor store next left' sign doesn't turn you off, the daunting hill just might.

 One of the most effective barriers to being over-run by pedestrians from ‘the outside world’  is the ferry hill.   The rise from the ferry dock to the post office can be a challenge to anyone who is not used to it, or carrying a few extra pounds.    Since ferries operate pretty much at sea level, and the gulf islands are fairly elevated, ferry hills of varying degrees are quite common on this coast.  During those rare spells of real nasty winter weather, maintaining the ferry hill for traffic is a challenge, and our local highways crew is usually right on top of it.   Between the inexperienced winter drivers, the rush for the ferry, and the balding summer tires on many local vehicles, loss of traction on that hill would spell disaster.

Gabriola’s ferry hill was established very early on in the settlement of the north end of island.   Half-way up the hill, to the right, a millstone quarry used to operate, and the road went at least that far.       Initially, much of Gabriola’s original development was at the south end of the island, where agriculture was the prime activity.     People came and went from Degnan Bay, Silva Bay and The Maples (a lost dock at the south-east tip of the island).   The north end development was primarily driven by the quarry work  along the ferry hill and up Easthom Road, and by the first recreational developments that evolved along the shoreline at Gabriola Sands and out Berry Point Road, via the Taylor Bay Road.   The ferry hill soon forged its way up to South Road and things developed from there, with the arrival of the north end post office and later the T&T – which is a whole story in itself.

 entertaining  or irritating signs

They may inform you, annoy you or entertain you, but the assortment of signs that assault you on the way up the ferry hill are mostly illegal.

 Twenty-odd years ago, when the ferry ramp was a little simpler and more accessible,  it was not uncommon to have some wild stunts off the end of the ramp – maybe on New Years or Halloween.    Some alcohol/testosterone-charged  lad would go blasting down the ferry hill on an old bike, through the opened gate, and off the ferry ramp, to the delight of anyone waiting for the ferry.     One eccentric gent – Yuri – was also a sight to see – his long hair flying and a violin under his arm - on a unicycle – coasting down the hill.  He didn’t jump off the ramp, but he may play his fiddle if you were lucky.


07 2010

George Street and Whalley

 “I love blondes – no matter what colour their hair is”.

Many of Gabriola’s seasoned veterans will instantly recognize that as a quote from one of the island’s most colourful characters – Walter Krull. He built houses and barns and roads and just about whatever you wanted back in the days when tradesmen were as scarce as building permits.

When the Mander family did a small subdivision – Mander Estates – off Stalker Road, they decided to name one of the roads they created after the charming Walter. ‘Whalley Road’ runs off Stalker Road and was a dead-end until recently when Hyham Road was created to access some new waterfront properties that appeared as a result of the uncharacteristic subdivision of an old farm.

Whalley Rd. from Stalker

Whalley Rd, named after Walter Krull, runs off Stalker Road and connects it to the newly created Hyham Road.

Walter himself owned some land close to Silva Bay and did a small subdivision of his own off Marvin Road. When it came time to name the new road, Walter was not around to talk to the highways department inspector  – but his neighbour George Detweiller was, and now we have George Road.   That is a case of being in the right place at the right time…for George that is.



07 2010

Brickyard Hill

This long hill on South Road takes you over  Gabriola’s ridge, past Wharf Road and down to Brickyard Beach, where South meets Ferne Road.  The name came from the old brickyard that operated at the bottom of the hill and was a busy place in the first half of the 1900’s.  It  eventually ran out of material and a market for the bricks. The history of the brickyard has been recorded by more than one student of Gabriola history, and old photos show some of our early residents at work there.   When a  huge cement company bought out the company that owned the old brick factory, they got all the land with it.    It had no real value to them and eventually it fell into the hands of a former company exec, who was given the land as a retirement bonus of sorts.   He held if for a while but has since sold most of it in bits and pieces.

One interesting tale about the thousands of discarded bricks that were left in the area after the brickyard closed, involves an enterprising young Gabriola roofer- Steve - who saw an opportunity.    He paid locals cash for any and all the bricks they could bring him, and many ‘under-employed’  islanders  took him up on it.  They gleaned thousands of discarded bricks from the area around brickyard beach, and  Steve stockpiled them and sold them to the local builders and bricklayers  for a profit.    Many homes on the island (including Steve’s) feature reclaimed bricks from  the old brickyard in their fireplaces and hearths.

looking up brickyard from near wharf rd

Cyclists may second guess their choice of direction when they look up this hill.

Cyclists know the hill as a challenge to ride, and it is always discussed when debating the best direction to go when riding around the island. Many feel it is easier to go up ‘brickyard’ and get the climb over with (relatively)quickly, rather than the long hill from the Maples up to the south end fire hall. Try it both ways and see for yourself.


06 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