Discovered by boat! That’s how lawyer George Cowan explained his 1896 discovery of Point Cowan on the southeast part of Bowen Island. Cowan was campaigning by boat for a federal election when he pulled in at Harry Lee’s place. In 1885, Lee, an early landowner on Bowen, had planted a hop field on his land at Cowan Point.
The site attracted Cowan and he offered to buy it. Lee turned Cowan down but promised him first rights to any proposed sale. Several years later Cowan did buy Lee’s 114 acres.
Then came the appealing 163-acre piece of land north of Point Cowan, which had been pre-empted by eccentric, English born Alexander Seymour in 1890. In 1906, he too, sold to Cowan.
By 1912 lawyer Cowan had created a twelve-acre farm at Seymour Bay complete with a farmer and his family. In fact, Cowan used to ride around on his horse to see islanders John Lister and Jim Collins and compare notes. He had a dairy herd, purebred Ayreshires, a milking machine and other farm items.
Cowan continued to acquire land. By 1917 he owned over 1,000 acres, almost the whole point. At some point, Cowan sold a parcel of land to W.H. Malkin and his brother, Phil. In addition, Cowan began sharing his immense property with close friends.
Convivial and gregarious, he also wanted to preserve the area and give it what he called ‘ a distinctive character different from the ordinary ruck of summer resorts.” By 1920 he had built eight cottages. Guests paid a small charge and found their houses cleaned, beds aired and grocery orders filled.
Cowan also had a group of Alberta friends, some with shared legal backgrounds, who came year after year. Mrs. Woods, one of the Alberta group, even gave birth to her third child while at Bowen.
In the years after George Cowan became the permanent host, the area remained largely a summer retreat. Cowan managed to keep the property in the family. Occasionally, he would deed parcels of land to family members but arranged matters so any sub-division and sale would be difficult. At times, he subsidized his own expenses by logging and shingle bolt operations.
Sometime around 1930, plans were drawn up for a 52-parcel sub-division at Seymour Bay. Lots ranged from 1 to 2 ½ acres at $1,000. per acre. Two waterfront lots would be reserved for common use. Also, there would be an 8 acre central area. To maintain the right kind of atmosphere, purchasers would be very carefully selected and there would be controls as to the kind of houses to be built. The plan failed because of the Depression.
Also in 1930, Cowan sold 234 acres to “Granny” Rogers: this became the site of Fairweather, the unique log lodge.
Mrs. Cowan (Josephine Irene Downie) was a remarkable woman. A staunch Anglican, she was training to go to South America as a missionary until George Cowan convinced her otherwise. In Vancouver she was active with Vancouver General Hospital, the Women’s Musical Club, the YWCA, the League of Women Helpers, the Georgian Club and more. Summers on Bowen were different. At Cowans she held church service on a verandah and enabled several groups including young Scouts from the Anglican Church to enjoy the area.
Over the years, life at Cowan Point has enriched hundreds of lives. There are fascinating stories about people, activities, development and more. There’s the story of naming the bays. It is said that everyone got in a rowboat one afternoon and named all the bays. Winnipeg Bay for visiting nieces of that city, Konishi Bay, named after a caretaker who was a favorite of the children, Alder Cove because it was overhung with alders, Trinity Bay, named after Ethel Bryant Wilson’s school in England, Union Cove and Lee Creek – named for an original settler and the boundary between Malkin and Cowan properties.
A fair number of older adults have glorious memories of a safe and homey childhood at Cowan Point. Both families and resident caretakers have become part of what some call the South Bowen Community area. As new neighbourhoods emerge, new stories and legends will be added to a rich mix.