We share the government's concern for making housing affordable. However, we find it heartbreaking that family cabins may be forced into becoming long-term rentals. For many of us, short-term renting helps us cover the rising costs of owning a family cabin, covering taxes, insurance, and other overhead expenses. The thought of selling our cabin because we can no longer afford it makes us reminisce about the good old days of vacationing on Bowen with our family.
It's incredible how memories of the past can transport us to a different time and place. In 1954, during the summer, the previous owners of the Eaglecliff cabin/fisherman's shack listed it for sale for $1,500. My Auntie Jerry and Uncle Willy Luft decided to buy this remote cabin on Bowen Island. By the end of the summer, they managed to negotiate a special deal and bought it for $1,200. If they were here today, they would be pleased and shocked by the appreciated value of their shack.
My favourite Uncle Willy and Auntie Jerry Luft were hardworking regular folks. Willy was an employee at a dry cleaner in Vancouver, and Jerry was a bookkeeper. They bought a weekend cabin to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of 60th and Knight Street in Vancouver. Little did they know that this old shack would become a treasure for our family for the next seventy years. I can't
help but feel nostalgic as I think about all the beautiful memories we've shared at our Eaglecliff cabin over the years. It's been a place of laughter, storytelling, and bonding for generations of our family.
1954 was a time when Eaglecliff Road was a single-lane dirt road, and the only way to reach the old fisherman's shack was through a deer trail or by boat. It was a time when we had to work hard to enjoy our family weekend getaways, loading up the boat or car with luggage and groceries and racing up and down the deer trail with loads of supplies. The energy of youth accomplished these arrivals with enthusiasm.
The original owners had created a "kitchen" on the back side / trailside of the house to clean the day's catch. It had a long stainless-steel counter with a huge sink and a water pump where fish were deboned and scaled. That room was also the "bathing" room, where we filled an aluminum tub with boiling water from the wood stove to scrub-a-dub-dub after a day of activity. There was no indoor toilet but rather an outhouse up the trail and on top of a rock. Today, I wonder about exactly which "rock."
One of my favourite memories was the sound of solid hands slapping on the cabin siding as their Eaglecliff neighbours walked along the trail. It was a friendly "Howdy and see you later" from the Eaglecliffers.
The cabin's 1910 living space was like a modern-day Great Room: It was spacious and had a long dining table where the family played games of Whist and Hearts all night long. The room had a wood stove for heat, and Mom made us hot chocolate to keep us warm. The kitchen area was off to the side and had an authentic Hoosier Cabinet filled with flour, sugar, spices, and other baking essentials. The original range had a wood-burning stove on the left side and an oven on the right.
Celbrating 70 Years of Special Bowen Island Memories: 1954- 2024
Seventy years ago, there was no internet or TV. We entertained ourselves with family games, swimming, and other fun activities on Bowen Island. Jerry and Willy always eagerly went for an evening swim when the tide came up. Of course, we had to wait 30 minutes after dinner to avoid cramping. We loved pushing the logs back out to sea. Auntie Jerry and I often swam from Eaglecliff dock to Shrimpton's. Sometimes, we walked from the cabin for 45 minutes, maybe an hour, into Snug Cove, singing tunes from The Sound of Music or other popular musicals. Once we reached the cove, we regularly stopped at the Bowmart (now Barcelona Tapas) for a hamburger, fries, and a shake. We also visited the grocery store, which was located in the library building back then. Can you imagine fruits and vegetables instead of books?
These memories hold great value and are significant in our family's history. However, I used to wish that my parents would take us to Disneyland, like my friends, but that never came to fruition. Instead, we would spend several weeks, if not months, vacationing on Bowen Island. In hindsight, I fully understand and appreciate why my parents opted for Bowen as our vacation destination.
In 1978, the original cabin burned down due to a flu fire. The chimney had never been cleaned since the 1900s, as such services were unavailable back then. Even though the original cabin had its charms, the walls were old and thin wallboard, and the wiring was hazardous. Therefore, it was a blessing in disguise, providing a fresh and safe home for the future.
Auntie Jerry and Uncle Willy rebuilt their cabin using a Lindal kit home. Since there was no road access to the cabin site in 1978, wooden chutes transported the building materials to our waterfront property starting from Eaglecliff Road. The rebuild used modern codes, making the cabin much safer for future generations.
Eventually, Uncle Willy and Auntie Jerry retired. They sold 60th and Knight and made Bowen their full-time home. Since they never had children, my brother Mike and I were like "their kids." To this day, I have only once driven past the Horseshoe Bay exit by accident. I have never been to Squamish or made the drive to Whistler. As far as I knew, there was only one vacation place I dreamed about...Eaglecliff, Bowen Island. The cabin continues to be our forever vacation destination.
Sadly, Uncle Willy passed away in the 1990s. Jerry continued to live alone at Eaglecliff for several years. During this time, she was one of the few full-time residents, along with Sandra Murray and Len Gurski, who lived just a few houses up the trail. However, Jerry passed away in 2004. While we miss them both, we are forever grateful to have been named the heirs to our beloved cabin on Bowen Island.
As Mike and I emptied the contents of the cabin into a 30' dumpster, we wondered what would happen next. I remember sitting in the ferry lineup crying as we were leaving Bowen. I could not imagine selling our memory-filled cabin, yet I didn't know how to pay for it either. As a divorced mother with a 9-year-old son, self-employed, and paying for my small home 1200 miles away, how could we continue to have the cabin as our vacation home and pay for the overhead, too? The answer was to short-term vacation rent providing the income to keep our family cabin and for us to use it for Vacations too.
In 2004, Mike wanted something other than the cabin. I borrowed enough to buy him out and to make some cosmetic improvements: the avocado and gold of the 70s needed an update. I decided to rent the property to friends occasionally; it could cover some of the overhead costs, and our family could continue to use it as our vacation spot; after all, this was a 2nd home, a vacation home since 1954.
My son, Akira, was thrilled (like I was) to have the months of July or August for our summer vacations. I will never forget him running up the trail, wildly waving his arms after exploring the beach alone and exclaiming, "I feel so FREE here!!." Yeah, I wasn't watching him every minute like in the city: Bowen was safe, and I felt more relaxed knowing he could explore Bowen safely.
Over the years, Akira and I invited our friends to stay with us on Bowen. We were so proud to share this exceptional vacation spot with others. Akira's fun and freedom on Bowen continued as he joined the soccer camps, hiked Mt. Gardner with Len, and swam off Eaglecliff Beach.
One summer, Akira and his friend Chance were hiking near Blue Water. It was the summer that bears were on the island. They heard a low growl and twigs snapping as they wandered through the brush. Scared, the boys ran for their lives until they reached the main road. From there, they hitchhiked back to Snug Cove. We still talk about the close call with the bear to this day. The bear scare and the hitchhike story is another treasured memory to be told to future generations.
It is 20 years now that I have been the sole owner of my inherited Bowen home and 69 years that I have been coming to Bowen for my vacations. I am now retired, living on a fixed income, and I rely on the short-term income to cover the costs of keeping this home in our family. With rising taxes and other overhead expenses plus the challenge of finding labour, I sometimes become frustrated and throw my hands in the air, saying to my son, "Akira, just take it over now, or we can sell it!" He instantly reminds me that selling is not an option. He plans to vacation on Bowen and be the 3rd generation of family ownership. He also wants to keep the property in the family for his children, creating a 4th generation of extraordinary family stories.
Again, I am sitting with tears in my eyes and wondering how to keep our beloved cabin in the family for Akira and the future generations.
Starting around 2010, I managed several short-term rentals for various cabin owners. These owners chose to short-term rent their family's inherited properties to generate extra income, which helped them offset the rising costs of ownership, including taxes and expenses. Vacation renting is mutually beneficial for owners and the Bowen community. We provided accommodations for visitors, including extended Bowen families, tourists, and labourers. We employ locals to clean and maintain the properties, and the guests we host support the Bowen businesses by dining out, buying gifts, or other activities. The property owners can maintain their properties, which benefits their neighbourhood. In the future, none of these properties will be available as affordable rentals and will remain empty vacation homes for the owners.
Suppose the Bowen Municipality chooses to opt into the ban of nonprimary short-term rentals and revokes our business license. In that case, our family will continue to use it as our vacation home, leaving it empty when we are away. Our vacation home will not become a long-term rental. We will figure out a way to cover the overhead. Sadly, the Bowen community will lose the economic stimulation of hosting guests on the island and will not gain a long-term rental (nor will it be an affordable rental).
We feel relieved that the Government of British Columbia has clarified that they are not targeting family vacation homes. The new legislation exempts Bowen Island from the "primary residence" requirement. This exemption gives us hope to continue to short-term rent our property for visitor stays, which will help us cover our costs and keep our cabin.
However, the Bowen Municipality can opt into the new Short-Term Rental Ban, which would be unfortunate for the community. Has the Bowen Municipality thoroughly evaluated the consequences of implementing the BC Government’s Short Term Rental ban? We doubt this law will meaningfully increase the affordable long-term housing stock, but we are sure it will affect the community with a substantial financial and emotional burden.
A search on the Municipal site shows approximately 68 RGA (Registered Guest Accommodations) licenses. I understand that a municipal employee is researching the exact statistics for the data below. We are estimating:
~ 50% of the licenses may be primary homes
~ leaving 34 nonprimary dwellings that would have licenses removed from short-term renting.
~ Of the 34 homes, how many would become long-term rentals?
~ How many will become affordable long-term rentals to Bowen residents?
~ For those refusing to let go, how many cabins will sit empty as families desperately hold onto these treasured memory boxes?
~ For those without financial resources, how many cottages will be sold and turned into a million-dollar trophy home welcoming only a few?
Why not consider other proposed options for affordable housing on Bowen Island? The BI Municipality could consider the following options:
- Approve the proposed tiny home village as it offers a realistic and practical option.
- Issue building permits for apartment living.
- Support temporary trailer living while building affordable living sites.
- Provide tax incentives to those with disposable income to invest in long-term affordable housing. This approach worked in Vancouver during the 1970s, when apartments were in high demand and short supply.
We urge the Bowen Island Municipality to acknowledge the historical significance of family cottages to the Bowen community. Our family has been a part of the Bowen community for 70 years, and we are not alone in our concern for the potential loss of our heritage homes. The Athertons have been our neighbours for over 60 years, and Murray Atherton is my oldest friend - we've known each other since childhood on Bowen. We still have many funny stories to share, and we hope to continue making special Bowen memories for future generations of our family and friends.
Signed a proud multi generational Bowen Island cabin owner,