British Columbia·METRO MATTERS

Bowen Island contemplates whether a bylaw can solve never-ending ferry lineup drama

'It's important to find that balance during those months to be able to ride to a place where tourism can can flourish without it being too disruptive to the locals,' says local businessman.

Almost all the Island's stores, restaurants and cafes are within 300 metres of the terminal

The lineup for the ferry on Bowen Island can stretch hundreds of metres into town, even on a weekday in November. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

If you want a sense of what drives political debates on Bowen Island, you just have to get off the ferry. 

Drive from the terminal at Snug Cove, up Trunk Road, and you'll immediately see the general store, restaurants and 90 per cent of the other retail outlets on the Metro Vancouver island of 3,680 people. 

But even on a grey weekday in November, you'll also see a lineup that stretches hundreds of metres back.

"There's more people trying to use the ferries, which has created a bit of congestion.," said Coun. Rob Wynen. "And on top of that there is also confusion now around where do we park, how do we line up and what not."

'Do some enforcement'

As a result, council is discussing a new bylaw, which would give the island the power to fine people who don't properly park for the ferry, or people who illegally park in the ferry lineup lane.   

"I don't think we're going to get a bigger ferry. We're not going to be moving Snug Cove," Wynen said. "So it's making things a bit more manageable, making the rules a bit clearer and also providing the ability to do some enforcement."

The ferry arrives and departs at Snug Cove, where nearly all of Bowen Island's retail businesses operate. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Tourists good or bad?

The consternation over ferry traffic is nothing new on Bowen Island. Cuts to BC Ferries sailings ordered by the province earlier this decade are an ongoing concern. Earlier this year a lack of capacity on boats meant some high school students couldn't get to school in West Vancouver. 

The number of vehicles on the ferry route has risen in each of the last five years, and the lineup trouble plays to another heated discussion on Bowen: whether the increasing number of tourists, drawn to idyllic views, quaint cabins, small-town vibes and isolated beaches, are welcome. 

Some residents on the island are calling the branding mean-spirited. (Rethink Canada/Bowen Island Municipality)

One of the town's mottos ("Bowen Island: Tell your friends it's awful here") plays on that perception cheekily, but several retail workers did tell CBC News they wished there was less tourism. However, they wouldn't comment on the record because of the tension it would cause. 

"I think longtime voters will say the changes on the island in the last five years have ... been more significant than in the last 20 years," Wynen said, implying the changes haven't been positive.

But Peter King, who has been driving a shuttle bus for his fellow islanders to downtown Vancouver for the last four years, believes the need for balance will always exist. 

"We are tourism driven, but we don't have a lot a lot of industry on the island. It does impact you ... you're always looking at your watch when you go down shopping, looking if the ferries are in or not," he said.

"We're one of the only ferry communities where it loads and unloads on the main street."

On the left is the lane where people are supposed to park if they're going to a business. In the middle is the lane where people are supposed to lineup for the ferry. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Cannabis commuters?

The new mayor, Gary Ander, wrote during the campaign of "balancing the pressure of growth against preserving, at all costs, our natural, peaceful island." 

But at the same time, the island continues to evolve. At the same meeting where council discussed the ferry lineup bylaw, it approved a private cannabis store — one of the first in B.C. since legalization — just a half-block off the main strip. 

"We would love it," said Glenn Cormier, co-partner of the proposed store. He's excited about the possibility of people from Horseshoe Bay taking the 20-minute ferry over to buy cannabis. 

Cormier says he moved to Bowen Island "for the same reason many others did: it's a different lifestyle," but thinks it's important to continue to appeal to tourists. 

"Without the tourism we wouldn't have the ability to have so many restaurants and coffee shops and services that the locals enjoy," he said.

"It's important to find that balance during those months to be able to ride to a place where tourism can can flourish without it being too disruptive to the locals."

Metro Matters: On The Road is exploring how new city governments throughout B.C. are approaching age-old issues (some political, some not) in their communities.


  • An earlier version of this story stated BC Ferries made cuts to the Bowen Island route. Those cuts were ordered by the provincial government.
    Dec 03, 2018 2:14 PM PT