Posts Tagged ‘gabriola lore’

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

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

Pat Burns Avenue


mt benson from a deck on pat burns ave

At least one deck on Pat Burns Ave has this view of Nanaimo's Mt.Benson

     Depending on your age and inclinations, Pat Burns is either a hockey coach or a controversial radio talk-show host from Vancouver. As far as the local avenue in the ‘Harrison Estates’ development – Gabriola’s largest subdivision – the late radio personality is the man for whom it was named.

   Not only did the once popular radio host have a fine avenue named after him,  he earned a lot or two into the bargain for his part in the promotion of the 600+ lot development in the 1960’s.  Blasting across the airwaves of CJOR, Burns would plug the gulf island development regularly, and would-be buyers were offered flights over the island to see the wonderful half-acre lots that were for sale at bargain-basement prices.  Burns became a radio sensation primarily through his entertaining – almost abusive – style. He had many unpopular views –  but he never enjoyed the view from his property on Pat Burns Avenue.  The lots were sold several years ago without Mr.Burns ever having enjoyed life on the island.  


   Several years ago, a group of local residents (presumably from Pat Burns Ave) petitioned to have the name changed to ‘Madrona’ but have not yet succeeded. Perhaps too controversial?


03 2010

Huckleberry/Huxley/$100k Park



Part of the original trail constructed in 1988 at Huxley (Huckleberry) Park

   Although there is some controversy over the name and ownership, there is no doubt that this piece of land played an important part in the development of the ‘village’ of Gabriola.

  Originally the land where the park is now was part of a five acre parcel that included the spot where Folklife Village is today. That vacant and treed five acre parcel was for sale for about $25,000 and languished on the market for some time. The folks moving to Gabriola back in the late eighties were not interested in buying such expensive  land so close to ‘downtown’ when they could get five nice acres elsewhere on the island for less than $20k.

   When the proposal surfaced to relocate the ‘folklife pavilion’ from Expo ’86 to Gabriola Island and create a shopping center, that parcel of land became of interest, and the owner at the time – aware of the folklife proposal at hand – applied successfully to rezone her land from ‘rural residential’ to ‘commercial’.   Since the location was just about perfect for ‘folklife village’, the Island’s Trust agreed to the rezoning application.    Part of what sold  the rezoning deal was the requirement that a portion of the land be dedicated to the community as a park.    The deal was embraced by the overwhelming majority of islanders (there were half as many of us then),and the rezoning went ahead.  The commercially zoned land  then sold to the owners of Folklife, who paid $137,000 for their portion.  The island watched with glee as the project got underway to create what is now the focal point of Gabriola’s village community. 

   To develop the park, an unemployed local man put together a complex funding application that saw the provincial government grant him a large sum to spend on employing islanders to improve local provincial parkland.   Along with work at Twin Beaches Park and Drumbeg,  the project included establishing the  new downtown park.  It included a small clearing for parking, a walking trail, and a horseshoe pitch(since destroyed by a careless equipment operator when the tennis courts were established a couple of years later).  The crew of a dozen local workers spent six months on the projects – most of the work done by hand.  

    The recreation commission of the day was overseeing the project, and asked the hard-working crew to select a name for the new park.   Not only did the workers select a name that represented the natural vegetation, but they created a large sign welcoming the public to ‘Huckleberry Park’.   Then things got ugly. Infighting and politics  saw the name changed to reflect the name of the person ( a  rec commission member) who had sold the land – and made a tidy sum in the process.    The  ’Huckleberry Park’ sign promptly disappeared and the ‘politically correct’ one was installed.    Perhaps “One Hundred Thousand Dollar Park” would have been a better name, considering the benefits accrued by the ’generous’ donor.   

the big old huckleberry bush by the parking lot at the park

The Huckleberry bush that inspired the original name of the park over 20 years ago still thrives here. Huxley has long since left the island.


03 2010