The Steamer Wharf

The Steamer Wharf

During the Union Steamship glory days as many as 5,000 people were ferried to Bowen Island on the summer weekend. The all-time high of 101,000 visitors was reached in 1946 when Vancouver’s population was still only 365,000.

The Lady Alexander, the pride of the Union Steamship fleet, used to deliver huge crowds of picnic excursions and Moonlight Cruises. She could accommodate up to 1400 people and boasted a formal dining, comfortable lounges, and a fine maple dance floor. Daytime visitors arrived for concerts in the band shell, refreshments in the tearoom and enormous company picnics at the 6 large picnic grounds. Weekend excitement began with the arrival of the “Daddy Boats” which were greeted at the dock by wives and children who spent the week vacationing on Bowen.

Another very important presence at the dock were the Sannies, a small fleet of gasoline powered launches that taxied people and small cargo to Bowen year round. The word “Sannie” comes from the name of an Australian race horse. From 1921 to 1954, the Sannie Transportation Company provided an essential service to island residents. Amazingly, the 25 cent fare remained the same for thirty years.

Look north. Just above for the remains of a stone retaining wall on the left shore at the water’s edge. Imagine the sloping lawn from the Tearoom where the brown house stands now. The Tearoom stood at the top of the slope, just near the restauant and the Dance Pavilion.

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Van. Arch.    People Leaving the Dock in Snug Cove
Walk From the Dock
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Built c. 1910 by Captain John Cates, the Tearoom was a popular spot for summer visitors to sip afternoon tea and enjoy the view of Snug Cove. During Union days, people came for typical summer fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, milk shacks and banana splits. In the 1940’s, and 50’s, music from the juke box added to the fun.
Images:    Van. Arch.   Img 014

In the early 1900’s, Jack Dorman operated a merry-go-round behind the Tearoom. It had a canvas roof, a slatted wooden platform, painted ponies and a calliope that played three tunes. Jake Dorman was also an engineer and built a steam engine to propel it. As a religious, he did not operate the carousel on Sundays.
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#2 – Girls on Carousel

Also near the Tearoom was the largest dance hall in British Columbia. Built in 1921, the octagonal building boasted a polished, hardwood, spring floor (designed to give more bounce) with a raised dais for the bandstand. It could dance 800 couples and featured some of the big bands with leaders such as Frank Scott, Barney Potts, Dal Richards and Frank Bolney. On the popular $1.00 Moonlight Cruises, Union Steamship Company vessels ferried merrymakers across Howe Sound to the dock at Snug Cove. Having fox trotted their way across the water, the dancers were primed for a fun evening at the pavilion. From the dock, the dancing crowd followed the band up the hill to the dancehall. In the beginning, the Moonlight Cruises were simple fun affairs. In later years, they became rowdier and dubbed the “booze cruises”. Although alcohol was never sold on the ships or at the dancehall, people brought their own supply.
Images:        Van Arch. –  Dance At the Dance Pavilion
Annual Fancy Dress Ball
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Maritime Museum – (waiting to receive image)

We’re pleased to announce that Tourism Bowen Island has been awarded a Provincial grant, $2000 of which they’ve earmarked for the QR Trail Marker program.

With help from Tom Carchrae we have now upgraded the map so that it can show your location.  Tom is also the main creator of BowenLift, an app to help people get around Bowen Island.

Pending approval by Council, we hope to put about ten more of the small signs around the Snug Cove area to create a heritage walk. Each stop will feature photos and stories about our past. You can view the first one for Sandy Beach already. Many thanks to MLA Jordan Sturdy who made the grant happen, as well as Murray Atherton and his crew at Tourism Bowen Island.

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