The Bowen Island Community Profile is a publication of the Economic Development Committee that outlines Island attractions, annual events, community services and more. If you would like to order professionally printed copies of the Community Profile for your business, please contact Artisan Office Services at 604-947-9119 for pricing options.
Bowen Island is a natural jewel surrounded by the spectacular beauty of Howe Sound, and an ideal place for those who want to live close to the city—but not in it.
A short ferry ride and a few kilometres from downtown Vancouver, Bowen is home to some 3,500 permanent residents. It’s been a municipality since 1999, and a tight-knit community for decades. Increasingly vibrant, Bowen remains resolutely a sanctuary of nature, peace and safety for Islanders and visitors alike.
A popular place to own a vacation home, Bowen grows by about 1,500 part-time residents in summer, along with thousands of short-term and day visitors. Major attractions? Hiking and walking, kayaking and boating, swimming and picnicking at clean scenic beaches. More and more, new residents and visitors are drawn to the Island’s growing arts, music, artisanal and culinary delights. And, as it has been for over a century, Bowen is ever the perfect place for restorative retreats from city life.
Bowen sits at the south entrance to Howe Sound, the second-largest island in the sound and the only one with car ferry service. Mount Gardner, the highest of three peaks, attracts hikers by the score with shimmering panoramas of the Salish Sea, Sunshine Coast and Vancouver.
Settled areas consist of over 30 neighbourhoods and hamlets that, all told, consume only a tiny portion of Bowen’s total area. The remainder is largely Crown land. Snug Cove village is the commercial hub, with restaurants, food and specialty stores, medical offices, pharmacy, public library, post office, museums, credit union, elementary school and other useful amenities. Nearby, Artisan Square is home to artist studios and galleries, boutiques, cafes and more. Wrapping around the village, 242-hectare Crippen Regional Park offers 12.5 kilometres of walking trails through nature and history, forest and seaside.
- Geo-position: 49°23’00” latitude, 123°22’00” longitude.
- 49.94 sq km or 5,260 hectares total area.
- 12 km long and 6 km wide at its widest point.
- 37 km of coastline.
- Highest peak: Mt. Gardner at 719 m/2,500 ft.
- 2nd highest: Mt. Collins at 411 m / 1,350 ft.
- 3rd highest: Mt. Apodaca at 360 m / 1,181 ft.
- Largest lake: Killarney in Crippen Park.
- Other lakes: Grafton, Josephine and Honeymoon.
- Numerous wetlands dot the valleys and lower lying areas.
- 399 hectares in the southeast are protected as an ecological reserve.
Climate and Weather
Overall, Bowen enjoys the same weather as Vancouver—just slightly more rain and a couple of degrees cooler on average, thanks to steep mountainsides and its location at the gateway to Howe Sound. The island has two climate zones: Coastal Western Hemlock, and the drier Coastal Douglas Fir zone. July and August are typically hot and dry.
- Average annual rainfall: from 150 cm to 180 cm.
- Winter temperatures can drop to just below freezing, and can climb to about 30⁰C in summer.
Major Visitor Attractions
- Exploring in and around Snug Cove.
- Hiking Mt. Gardner.
- Walking around Killarney Lake and other trails in Crippen Park.
- Cycling to westside beaches.
- Participating in a theatre, art, music, culture or culinary event.
- Kayaking around Bowen and Howe Sound.
- Golfing at Bowen’s excellent public 9-hole course.
- Boating around Howe Sound, with pleasant harbour at Snug Cove’s marinas.
A Few of Our Annual Events
Round Bowen Sailboat Race (since 1987)
Round Bowen Kayak Challenge, a gruelling self-propelled race
Canada Day Celebration in the Park, a family event hosted by Bowen Island Community Recreation
Steamship Days, celebrating Bowen’s heritage as the Happy Isle, when thousands from Vancouver came for summer fun and recreation
People, Plants & Places Tour, a rare chance to see inside Bowen’s most charming homes and gardens, and meet the interesting Islanders who own them (a biennial event)
Volunteer Firefighters Annual Dock Dance
Dog Days of Summer, a highly entertaining fundraiser for BC Guide Dogs
Bowfest, the Island’s community fair, with Run for the Ferry, parade, concerts, games and more
Applefest, a Thanksgiving Sunday heritage tradition
Hallowe’en: Community Trick-or-Treating hosted by Deep Bay neighbourhood, with fireworks by Volunteer Fire Department
Light Up Bowen: Holiday Kick-off Event in Snug Cove and Artisan Square
Community Craft Fair
The Tourism Bowen Island website includes a community events calendar.
Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) is governed by a mayor and six councillors, assisted by a chief administrative officer and about 35 full-time and part-time staff. BIM is responsible for all of Bowen Island, Finisterre Island and Hutt Island as well as the land covered by water extending 300 metres around these islands from the high-water mark.
The Official Community Plan guides local economic development, environment and natural resource use, housing, municipal services, parks and trail development, and transportation. BIM is a member of the Metro Vancouver regional government with a seat on its Board of Directors. Bowen is the only Island Municipality in the Islands Trust, with two elected trustees on the Islands Trust Council.
PEOPLE AND COMMUNITY
“Come for the nature. Stay for the community.” Islanders are passionate about their home, as the unofficial motto implies. They are very proud of its natural beauty, rich heritage, arts scene, volunteerism, reputation for safety—and, perhaps above all, its difference from everyplace else.
Here, “community” is more than a pleasant lifestyle feature. A measure of pioneering spirit is required to live here year-round, a willingness to make do and pitch in. Neighbourly caring that fills the gaps of absent “frills” is what makes it all work. Although older adults still dominate the demographics, more and more young families are drawn by Bowen’s reputation as an outstanding, even magical, place to raise children. Community spirit runs deep here, with residents reporting a higher than average sense of belonging.
(All data from 2011 Census unless otherwise noted.)
Population and Demographics
- Total permanent residents: 3,402, up by 1.2% from 3,362 in 2006.
- Population grew by 22.7% between 1996 and 2006, compared to 15.6 % for Metro Vancouver, and a 1.4% provincial average.
- Bowen’s population differs markedly from the rest of BC, with substantially more people aged 40 to 65, and under age 15. (However, markedly fewer people aged 25 to 35, and over 75, live on Bowen than in the province overall.) These numbers reflect Bowen’s growing reputation as a mecca not just for retirees but for families with young children, attracted by a host of singular benefits.
- The median age is 46.6, compared to 40.2 for the region as a whole.
- Nearly 70% of Islanders are married; about half have children.
- More than 80% of Islanders are over age 15, with the largest category comprising those aged 50 and 54.
- Fewer people age 65+ live on Bowen (12.2%) than in BC overall (14.5%).
- The Island has 11.4% fewer people age 20 to 39, compared to the whole region.
- Population forecast: 5,100 residents by 2031, a 40% growth over 2015. Economic Impact Assessment, Parks Canada, 2010
- 82% of Islanders feel a “sense of belonging” here, versus 56% in Vancouver. (“My Health, My Community Survey,” 2015)
- 90%+ are native English speakers, 7.5% are native French speakers, with the balance representing other (mostly Northern European) first languages.
Education and Income
- Education rates are high: 41% of Island residents have a university degree or equivalent, versus 31% in the region overall.
- On Bowen, only 5% of the total population lack a high school education, versus 12% in BC.
- At $32,206, the average annual income for Islanders is 25% more than the provincial average of $24,867.
- Bowen has 5% more people in upper-income brackets ($50,000 to $100,000, and $100,000+) than Metro Vancouver generally.
- In 2007, total personal income was $135 million, 53% of it earned by employed people, while investment and pension income accounted for nearly 40%. (Economic Impact Assessment, Parks Canada, 2010)
Housing and Density
- Most dwellings are single-detached, set on comparatively large lot sizes.
- Density is low on Bowen: only 67.9 residents per square kilometre.
Occupations and Employment
(From Economic Impact Assessment, Parks Canada, 2010, unless otherwise noted.)
- 76% of the adult population is employed, versus the BC average of 63.1. (BC Statistics, May 2015)
- Similar to the region overall, 81% of residents who work are employed in the broad Services sector, and 19% in Primary & Goods-producing industries.
- At 13.4%, the largest occupational category is Professional, Scientific & Technical, higher by 3% than in Metro Vancouver as a whole.
- Construction workers are the second-largest group on Bowen; at 13%, or twice the regional rate.
- Third-largest category of employment is Education, capturing the high number of teachers and academics (195) living on the Island (almost all of whom work off-island).
- Those working in Information & Cultural sectors (5.4%) combined with Arts, Entertainment & Recreation (7%) result in an exceptionally large “cultural/information” category—reflected in Bowen’s volunteerism and vibrant arts culture.
- 44% commute to jobs off-island.
- 65% of households include at least one person in the labour force.
- 14% are employed in arts and culture, and recreation and sport.
- About 7% make at least 50% of their income from arts-related occupations. (Bowen Island Arts Council)
Kwílakm. That was most likely the original name for the island as a whole, although other names are often cited. It describes the abundance of clams and other food resources that, for centuries, attracted Coast Salish peoples to fish, hunt and harvest. Spanish explorers, on their way by in 1791, dubbed it Isla de Apodaca. Then, 70 years later, the British named it in homage to Rear Admiral James Bowen.
Between then and now, Bowen has seen a few major but gradual transitions:
- Crown Land grants in the 1890s opened up early industrial activity and Bowen’s long-reigning cottage era. A few hardy permanent residents, chiefly engaged in fishing, logging and farming, shared the island with clusters of summer people.
- Bowen’s destiny as a get-away took off in 1900 when steamship magnate John Cates developed a large resort in and around Snug Cove. In the 1920s, Union Steamship Company took over, attracting thousands of holidayers a day in summer with its “Happy Isle” brand. Few, however, lived on the island year-round.
- Bowen’s artistic and literary heritage took form in the 1940s and 50s; several Canadian arts luminaries, such as poet Earle Birney, came here to commune and create.
- In 1958, car ferry service ushered in Bowen’s modern future. Growth in full-time residents was minimal before the 1980s but, as the population began to increase in the 90s, demand arose for local government. After a successful referendum, Bowen Island Municipality was incorporated in 1999.
Since then, Islanders have been engaged in the challenge of ensuring, despite growth, that Bowen’s best attributes will endure, for residents, visitors and nature itself.
Arts and Culture
Undoubtedly, one of the best things about Bowen Island is its vibrant arts community. A high percentage of residents make a living from creative endeavours both here and elsewhere. In 2006, Bowen Island was named the 4th most artistic community in Canada with a population under 50,000. Many arts and culture disciplines are represented on the Island: artisans and artists working in a variety of media, musicians, actors, producers, directors, writers, poets, instructors, cinematographers and photographers. The dynamic Bowen Island Arts Council (BIAC) promotes the Island’s many cultural groups and artists, and produces events that attract both local and visitor audiences.
Bowen Island Community School, known as BICS, is part of the West Vancouver School District. BICS provides outstanding learning for children and youth from kindergarten to grade 7.
- Most high school students attend West Vancouver’s Rockridge Secondary School, Sentinel or West Van High. (Students travel free on the ferry.)
- French Immersion at Pauline Johnson in West Vancouver is an option for middle school.
- Island Pacific School, a private day school on Bowen, takes up to 70 grade 6 to 9 students.
- Some elementary and high school students attend private schools in West Vancouver.
- The Island Discovery Learning Community offers programs focused on child-led learning as well as support for full or part-time home-learning families.
- Bowen Island Preschool and Bowen Island Montessori Preschool both offer early childhood learning.
- Bowen Children’s Centre, home to the Preschool, also provides community daycare and runs the “After School Club.”
A recent health study found that Bowen Islanders rate themselves as considerably healthier than Vancouver residents rated themselves. However, they enjoy fewer local healthcare services per capita. An initiative to build a Community Health Centre is under way, in early stages.
- Two family practitioners serve local patients, with varying schedules. (A family practice clinic in Horseshoe Bay is a nearby option.)
- Other primary services are provided on the mainland through the Vancouver Coastal Health Region.
- A dentist visits the Island on Fridays, and also sees Bowen patients in Horseshoe Bay.
- LifeLabs offers twice weekly medical testing.
- Cates Pharmacy in Snug Cove fills prescriptions on island.
- Additional services include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, massage therapists, counsellors, homeopathic care, and other complementary modalities.
- The Caring Circle Health Resource Centre provides free information about access to local and regional health, caregiving and support resources, helping residents navigate the health system and advocating for improved services. Its Health Resource Guide is a comprehensive directory of local and off-island practitioners and support services.
The ferry plays a vital role in the lives of virtually every Islander and visitor. How to improve transportation options at both ends of that crucial sea link is an ongoing focus. The Municipality is currently developing an Integrated Transportation Master Plan, aimed, among other goals, at better, seamless service to, from and on the Island.
Between Bowen Island and Mainland
- BC Ferries: Makes 16 return runs most days, taking up to about 100 vehicles and 457 passengers and crew. Fares are round-trip only; tickets are not collected on the Bowen side. A preloaded “Experience” fare card offers discounts. During the summer, ridership swells with visitors to the Island.
- Bus: Two TransLink routes terminate at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, with service to West Vancouver and Downtown Vancouver.
- Commuter Bus: A “Super Express” bus saves passengers time by running directly downtown, avoiding stops in lower West Vancouver and Park Royal. It often connects to a water taxi run back to Bowen, bypassing the ferry to get commuters home even faster.
- Ride-Sharing: The LIFT program connects riders and drivers in real time, making it easier to find and give rides on the ferry and around the island.
- Water Taxi: Two companies offer several options. Cormorant Marine makes a late-run from Snug Cove to Horseshoe Bay and back every night, enabling residents to work later or attend events off-island; also available for private hire. English Bay Launch operates two scheduled routes between Snug Cove and Granville Island and Coal Harbour.
- Delivery: Several trucking and courier services give Islanders an array of transport and delivery options to and from the city.
On Bowen Island
Private vehicles dominate on-island transportation, with a recent uptick in use of scooters, electric bikes and “mini” or electric cars. The other options are:
- Community Bus: Two TransLink community shuttle routes take passengers from both the East and West sides to Snug Cove and back, with a timetable tied to the real-time ferry schedule. Passengers just wave it down anywhere along the route.
- Hitchhiking: There is no taxi service on Bowen, but hitchhiking is common. Riders use designated LIFT pick-up spots—or hitchhike from anywhere at all.
Emergency 911 service is available on Bowen. Policing is provided by the RCMP; three full-time resident officers are assigned to the Island. BC Ambulance service is on call 24 hours a day, while the Fire Department, led by a full-time Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief with highly trained volunteers, responds to all emergency calls from two fire halls.
All roads on the Island are single-lane, except ferry-marshalling zones on Trunk Road in Snug Cove. Public roads are maintained by the Municipality. By choice, Bowen has no municipal streetlights.
- 70 km paved primary roads.
- 60 km paved secondary roads.
- 5 km unpaved roads.
- About half the population is served by municipally managed water systems. Cove Bay System is the largest, serving homes in and around Snug Cove.
- Others have private water systems or individual or communal wells.
- The Municipality operates 38 km of waterlines.
- Conservation is practiced in some systems through metering and rationing from June 1 to September 30.
- Only the Snug Cove area is served by a municipal sewage system.
- Everyone else is required to have an inspected and properly functioning septic system.
- An oil-water separator in Snug Cove mitigates the run-off of oils into the ocean.
Waste and Recycling
Bowen Island has progressive and well-organized waste management services and practices, and the community has strong values about waste reduction and recycling.
- Garbage is collected every other week, with weekly pickup of organic materials.
- The Municipality operates BIRD, a community recycling depot, originally established and run by volunteers.
- A volunteer-run “re-use-it” store, the Knick Knack Nook, sells eclectic used items cheaply, donating the proceeds to community sustainability projects.
The Island has all the essentials: grocery and other food and beverage stores, several restaurants and cafes, post office, credit union, gas station, shops and boutiques, physicians and other healthcare providers, childcare, pharmacy, hair and personal care services, several churches, real estate agents, an indispensable hardware/lumber yard, marinas, notary and insurance services, pet care and boarding, and a plethora of other skilled trades and services. Information and referrals are easily found in the local Bowen Phone Book and elsewhere online.
In the summertime on Saturdays, a Farmers Market offers local produce and other delicious treats.
Volunteerism is arguably Bowen’s most important “amenity,” making possible an abundance of charitable, arts, social and recreation initiatives. There is no Community Centre yet, but Islanders make creative use of other venues, presenting a calendar chock-full of events and classes all year. Tourism Bowen Island maintains a Community Calendar at its website identifying local events and activities.
Venues for Activities and Events
Most venues are in and around Snug Cove. In summer, outdoor events take place throughout Crippen Park, on the docks by the ferry, and at smaller gathering spaces.
- Bowen Island Community School.
- Bowen Island Public Library in the Old General Store.
- Bowen Island Children’s Centre.
- Bowen Island Legion.
- Cates Chapel.
- Gallery at Artisan Square.
- Little Red Church.
- Tir-Na-Nog Theatre School.
- Tunstall Bay Clubhouse (west side of Bowen).
Recreation and Sports
Islanders are outdoorsy. They love to walk and hike, making great use of an ever-expanding network of trails and greenways — find maps and more at Bowen Trails. They also enjoy an abundance of other sport and recreation options:
- Bowen Island Community Recreation coordinates seasonal programs of classes, activities and events for all ages, engaging skilled local instructors; mostly held at BICS.
- All ages participate in popular outdoor soccer leagues at Bowen’s “outdoor gym” and soccer turf, located at BICS.
- Clubs and private classes are also offered for many other sports and fitness pursuits, such as yoga, equestrian, sailing, martial arts and more.
- A challenging and picturesque nine-hole public golf course on South Bowen is an important social and recreational resource, attracting residents and visitors.
- On the waterfront, Bowen’s two commercial marinas and municipal dock in Snug Cove are popular with area boaters and local residents.
- Snug Cove is the ideal starting point for kayaking around Howe Sound, with rentals available from Bowen’s kayak outfitter.
- Crippen Park, with its 242 hectares and wide web of trails, offers many delightful destinations for walking, sightseeing and quiet contemplation.
- Islanders are outdoorsy. They love to walk and hike, making great use of an ever-expanding network of trails and greenways — find maps and more at Bowen Trails.
Major Community Organizations
For a municipality of only 3,500 people, Bowen pulses with community activity of all kinds. A list of community organizations and clubs can be found here.
Bowen is served by a weekly newspaper, The Bowen Island Undercurrent. Several Bowen-only websites and Facebook sites enable online real time communication and discussion.
- Telus provides telephone, television and internet service, and Shaw provides internet and cable services.
- Bowen Island Municipality communicates regularly through print and social media.
- Free computer and internet access are available at Bowen Island Public Library.
Business and Economic Activities
By a wide margin, Bowen Island is a net importer of revenue, with most in the labour force working off-island and others, notably retirees, receiving income from elsewhere. Economy and employment on the island are dominated by home construction, tourism and local services—with construction employing the largest share of the workforce. Other small enterprises and home-based companies are flourishing. A municipal initiative is under way to stimulate a more robust on-island economy, capitalizing on Bowen’s strengths in tourism, the arts and education, and potential for creative light industry.
Snug Cove village is home to most of Bowen’s retail outlets and services, with shops and restaurants along Trunk Road, and a range of stores and services at Cates Corner. Artisan Square on Cates Hill, a short walk up from Snug Cove, offers an intriguing mixture of work/live artist studios and galleries, eateries, health and fitness studios and small businesses.
Since the long and storied steamship era began in the early 1900s, Bowen has been the “Happy Isle” for vacationers from around the region—and Islanders continue to extend a friendly welcome to thousands of tourists each year. Mostly, they come for Bowen’s unspoiled charm and diverse experiences in nature, recreation, arts and culture, heritage and education. The Island resonates with cultural opportunities for visitors: drama, music, and art events, and an appealing collection of boutiques, galleries, along with arts-nurturing restaurants and gathering spots.
Overnight options include three retreat centres, several small inns, dozens of B&Bs and vacation rentals and, for boaters, two marinas. Recent years have seen a new wave of creative entrepreneurs who are engaged in housing, feeding and entertaining visitors. In summer, a Visitor Centre connects people to Bowen’s best experiences, events and amenities.
- 21,800 overnight stays in 2013.
- Most popular reason to visit: short get-away.
- 84% are day visitors.
- BC Stats reports 1,329 businesses, including sole proprietorships, registered on Bowen Island, 183 of which employ staff.
- 163 businesses have 10 or fewer employees.
- The largest employer on the Island is Orchard Recovery Centre, serving clients from around BC, and the only business on the island with more than 50 employees.
- Currently, Bowen Online lists about 250 businesses offering goods and services on Bowen Island.
- Value of construction industry: $15 million+. (BIM building permits, 2014)
- Housing units built: 20. (BIM, 2014)
- June 2015 Home Price Index: $616,800. Considerably lower than most areas in the region, the HPI has climbed about 5% since fall 2014. (Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver)
New enterprises are welcome. The Official Community Plan and Municipal and Islands Trust policies set out the types of activities and enterprises deemed to advance the Island’s social, environmental and economic goals. (Heavy industry and chain/box stores are not permitted.)
The business property tax rate is the same as the residential property tax rate.
Enterprises in these categories are particularly encouraged:
- Arts, health and wellness.
- Visitor accommodation: small inns, lodges, retreats, B&Bs.
- Other hospitality-oriented services.
- Services for residents: Islanders are receptive to new services relevant to their needs.
- Light industry: Selected light industries are permitted.
- Technology and start-ups: Office space is available, and Vancouver’s business centre is an easy ferry or water taxi ride away.
For New Residents
Bowen Island offers North America’s most sought-after lifestyle: the ability to spend time in nature, and relax and enjoy time with family and community.
- Homes in all categories are more affordable than in Vancouver, by as much as 40%.
- For children, Bowen is safe and nurturing, with excellent education options and child-focused activities.
- For all ages, easy access to nature and recreation, and a caring community, promotes physical and mental wellness.
- A highly social community, Bowen is home to dozens of clubs and associations catering to diverse pursuits in the arts, recreation, environment, charity and politics.
- Digital technologies are enabling more telecommuting and flex-schedules, easing the transportation challenges of living on an island.
The Newcomer Guide is now available!
The Bowen Island Community Profile is a living document produced by the Bowen Island Municipality Economic Development Committee. Additions, updates and corrections are welcome. Please send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to order professionally printed copies of the Community Profile for your business, please contact Artisan Office Services at 604-947-9119 for pricing options.