My grandmother was the family’s resident storyteller, and I recall with great fondness hearing her talk of distant relatives’ lives, including time spent somewhere called “Bone Island.” Years later, in poring over maps of BC, I’d alight my eyes on a Bowen Island, just northwest of the city and the bottom-most jewel in a cluster of islands I’d managed to never visit.
The ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Bowen Island is more unceremonious than its bigger counterpart crossing from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay; look for the sudden motion on the horizon in place of a substantial ocean voyage horn send-off. It’s just a few minutes across Howe Sound until the ferry deposits you on Bowen, but the city will have completely melted away from you by then. It’s a little like time travel.
Sadly, I can’t time travel to talk more to my grandmother about Bowen Island (and why she mispronounced it), but as a modern Vancouverite and food lover, Bowen Island is a delicious escape–even just for the day.
Bowen Island’s heyday during the first half of the 20th century was rooted in its role as primary destination for company picnics and summer camps. Very much the terrain for quaint cabin accommodations, to date Bowen is free of hotels or even camp grounds.
Inside the museum’s cabin festooned with archival treasures from decades ago, steps away from historic and still-fruit bearing apple trees in the Davies Heritage Orchard, a tea towel espousing “Cooking with Apples” dangles in the moody half-light of a June morning. Jody Lorenz, who runs Bowen Island Tours, including a food-focused one, explains that apples remain a key food draw to Bowen Island; Apple Fest takes place in October annually.
A little while later, while seated inside the charming French-style Rustique Bistro, we sip gently bubbled cider from bowls made by hand by a local potter, and tuck into a beautiful crepe filled with apples and a salted caramel sauce. Lorenz pulls out an iPad set to display photos from Bowen’s storied past, showing sepia-toned crowds of revellers playing tug-of-war or posing for a group portrait. It doesn’t seem so far away from today; things on Bowen run on what locals joke is their version of “Island” time. Not a lot of rushing. Taking time to savour and appreciate what’s going on.
There are plenty of restaurants where taking time to enjoy each bite and Bowen’s rustic and natural environs is easily facilitated. Rustique, with its Francophile bent, is a prime example.
Down on this side of the island, arrivees to Snug Cove can hang a left to head west on the main drag, Bowen Island Trunk Road, and they’ll swiftly encounter Rustique, along with a handful of other Bowen hangouts and favourites, like the longstanding Snug Cafe, a family-run spot that specializes in breakfast, coffee, and baked goodies, from their impressive menu of Bennies to their decadent brownies. Next door is Tuscany, a dinner-only restaurant beloved by visitors and locals alike.
Also right off the main road is Doc Morgan’s Pub and Restaurant, with its lovely back patio and water view, where you can dive into a pile of peel-and-eat shrimp served in a bucket, and sip on a Caesar punctuated with a pickled asparagus spear.
Blink and you’ll miss the sign beckoning sweet tooths to squeeze into Candy in the Cove, the world’s smallest candy store. Specializing in rare sweet treats from across the pond, this closet-size gem is packed with colourful displays of curious confections.
While Sung Cove and Bowen Island Trunk Road is indeed a commercial hub for the island, if you make your way up into Artisan Square, not only do the breathtaking views increase, but also your options for delicious food expand. You can slip into a French-inspired cafe with picture windows overlooking the water at Artisan Eats, where their display case is loaded with fresh-baked pastries and savoury items for a casual lunch or snack.
The tiny storefront for Cocoa West, just a few paces away, is the gateway to even more goodies, including a gelato counter, and the beautiful handmade artisan-style chocolates of husband-and-wife duo Joanne Mogridge and Carlos Vela-Martinez.
Venture further afield to find Alderwood Farm, which offers multiple food experiences, depending on the nature of your visit. A favourite local spot for destination weddings, the verdant event space oozes quaint charms, and the menu showcases some of the farm and region’s best fresh ingredients. If you’re keen on staying over, there are cabins on the property for rent, and shoppers staying onsite, or just visiting for a taste of something truly local, will want to visit the well-stocked shelves and fridges at The Bowen Butcher & Specialty Food Shop, located at the foot of the farm. Here they’ve got their own goods, from teas to grains, along with custom cut meats, prepared foods, and other groceries for stocking up.
If you do happen to be bunking down on Bowen, the locals’ favourite larder is the Ruddy Potato–it’s like a friendlier Whole Foods with less square footage and heaps more personality. The space is divided into retail and a cafe which serves anything from breakfast burritos to their own cakes and treats. Coffee lovers will want to count their lucky beans at Bowen Island Roasting Company‘s Bowen Island Coffee Store for their award-winning espresso and vast selection of coffee roasted right on the island, and custom tea blends.
For those who prefer a different kind of kick in their beverages, head to the nearby Bowen Island Beer and Wine Cellar, and make your selections with the guidance of Bowen Island’s resident “wine guy,” Paul Rickett. The shop also hosts tasting events for the change to sip, mingle, and learn.
Back down the hill in Snug Cove, remember that right I mentioned you could hang when you got off the ferry? That will put you at Bowen Island Marina, which is home to a couple of great food options. Shika Provisions is definitely a taste of contemporary Bowen Island, with a menu of rice bowls, rice balls, and mochi muffins city slickers and Islanders alike can love.
Next door is the original outpost of the Lime & Moon Pie Company. Vancouverites will recognize the name from their Yaletown location, but Bowen Island is home base for this husband-and-wife pie shop that owes its name to a love poem penned by co-owner Chris Oben to his wife, Stani. Feast on their selection of handmade savoury, fruit, and speciality pies. You have to save room for dessert when on Bowen.
Thanks to a day eating my way around Bowen Island, I definitely had the chance to take a little time out from the Vancouver daily grind. I wonder if my relatives enjoyed their time on “Bone Island,” and if they were eating tangy-sweet salmonberries fresh from the bushes, or doing a classic cookout. I’ll probably never know, but at least when I next arrive on Bowen Island, I’ll know where I’m eating.
Address: 433 Bowen Island Trunk Road, Bowen Island
Address: 443 B Bowen Island Trunk Road, Bowen Island
Address: 451 Bowen Island Trunk Road, Bowen Island
Address: 996 Dorman Road, Bowen Island
Address: 437 Bowen Island Trunk Road, Bowen Island
Address: 1351 Adams Road, Bowen Island
Address: Bowen Island Marina Pier
Address: Bowen Island Marina Pier
Address: 449 Bowen Island Trunk Road, Bowen Island
Address: 996 Dorman Road #105, Bowen Island
Address: 103-996 Dorman Road, Bowen Island
Address: 581 C Artisan Lane, Bowen Island
Address: 539 Artisan Lane, Bowen Island