Snug Cove is the traditional entrance to Bowen Island. First Nation bands used the island resources periodically before the arrival of settlers in the 1880s. In the first wave of newcomers was William Davies. Born in Ontario, he’d worked in Vancouver as a tailor and was just twenty when he preempted 30 acres near the mouth of the cove. He built a farmhouse and planted a five-acre orchard. Before long, he was selling fruit in Vancouver. Near the wharf, he built and operated the Davies & Co General Store.


Bit by bit, new folks came and by 1893, the island had its first school. In 1897, a government crew built a corduroy road and called it – what else? ‘ Government Road.’

Early Bowen had its share of fishermen, loggers and developers. Some of the more colorful of them left their mark. Joe Mannion was a successful Vancouver businessman who built a lovely home on Bowen Island for his family and household staff. Close by, he also had a successful brickyard. When the Mannions returned to the mainland, Captain Jack Cates, the leading force behind the Terminal Steamship Company, purchased the extensive Mannion property. There he created a charming summer resort with a hotel, a dance building, farm, dairy, orchards, greenhouses, picnic grounds, tent cabins, and a store. It was a popular place for Vancouver families to spend holiday time.

Its popularity made it a worthy purchase in 1920 for the Union Steamship Company. The new owners immediately began major improvements: a restaurant, a saltwater swimming pool, tennis courts, a bowling green, a band shell, a tearoom and an octagonal dance pavilion. In 1924, the creation of a handsome new store indicated how lively the resort was. The Union Steamships resort was essentially a company town and many of the permanent population were USS employees. Resort life was the lifeblood of the island until after WWII. Gas was available again and Vancouverites were able to travel much farther on holidays. Bowen’s prime business declined and finally, the resort closed in the late 1950’s.

For some years, a variety of small businesses came and went. The arrival of a car ferry in 1958 was the high point of a decade in which most of the island finally got electricity and telephone service.

In the early 1960’s, the hotel was demolished, many cottages were sold or torn down and lots were sold in Deep Bay. A number of newcomers built vacation and retirement homes. The new ferry service made job commuting possible and the population began to grow. The island had few businesses – the store, a café, an insurance company, a notary, etc. Entertainment was centered at the school, at Collins Hall or the Legion. Community organizations were few.

The Old General Store ca 1924
The Old General Store ca 1924

In the 70’s, an influx of young families arrived, drawn by affordable housing and the openness of the small community. Their volunteer energy created and staffed services like the pre-school, a theatre company, a garden club, sport teams, the Museum and Archives group and others.

In 1972, a major developer bought most of the former USS property and planned to build a community of 2000 homes. Eventually his finances fell through and the property went to a new owner. In 1979, when the old store seemed slated for demolition, newcomer David Smith mobilized a community team to find a way to save the heritage structure and some of the surrounding property.The solution was the creation of the Bowen Island Park and Store Use Society (BIPASUS).

The process took time but with regional and provincial support, the heritage building was saved and in 1984, the 600 acre Crippen Park became part of the Greater Vancouver Regional District’s Park Department. Today, that old store is the home of Bowen’s public library and a key part of Cove life.

In 1978, Snug Cove was dredged and 100 boat slips constructed. When the property changed hands in 1985, the new owner envisaged a marine village. A portion of the plan was approved and a new Union Steamship Company emerged. A second marina added to the vitality of the cove. Bowen’s steady growth meant that Snug Cove continued to supply office space and housing units.

Changes continued through the 80’s, 90’s and into the new century. Two major factors have affected the Bowen community. Since the 1970s, Bowen Island has been part of the Islands Trust, an agency created to help preserve and protect island integrity. The other change is that Bowen has become the first municipality in the Islands Trust area.

Snug Cove remains the doorway to the island. In the immediate area of the ferry landing, the Cove hosts the Memorial Garden, the Library, the Visitor Information Centre, ferry marshalling, the two marinas, a barber, a notary, a dress shop, several visitor rental facilities, the 1890 Davies Orchard and a number of excellent places to eat. Two major problems remain: lack of parking plus the congestion of ferry loading and unloading. Snug Cove facilities are supplemented by those in Village Square and Artisan Square. The upper cove area offers space for future community amenities, additional housing and business space.