Memories of Cowan Point
Cowan Point was known as a summer vacation spot; a community where the same families came back to their cabins year after year. As Sue Lucas remembered in 1988:
My family started spending summers at Cowan Point in 1948, renting the same cabin year after year from Mrs. E.T. Rogers (nee Cowan). There were six cabins built by George Cowanaround 1912 to house their invited guests and help. Each year the same families returned or would pass the cabins on to relatives or friends.
The lower field in the early Cowan years was a grass tennis court and a dancing area. In our days it was used for sports days, volleyball, bolls, "nasty" croquet matches, flashlight tag and midnight badminton by "headlights."
After Cro and I were married we shared the rental of many of the cabins, until Alder Bay Cottage became permanently available. We then summered there, with our son, for 20 years. Although we restored it year after year and held the outer walls up with cables running through the interior, we always knew it was really being held together with love, bat droppings, and millions of layers of paint!! None of the cabins ever had power. They were heated by fireplaces and wood stoves, and magically lit by kerosene and Aladdin lamps as had been done by past generations.
Marjorie Weld also shared her memories of Cowan Point in 1988:
Until the start of the ferry service in the fifties we arrived by water taxi (occasionally the Sannie) to the Government Dock at Seymour Bay. We would then be picked up, with all our supplies; by Angus Bell-Irving (Mrs. E. T. Roger’s caretaker) as his was the only vehicle in this area. Fridays were eagerly awaited, as they meant the arrival of all the “Dads”, bringing fresh supplies and surprises for the week!
Sundays were Church services at Grannie Cowan’s log cabin and baseball games in the upper field, with as many as forty. All ages were included, and the tradition lasted through many generations. We had our own “newspaper” – The Cowan Point Chronicle, full of each week’s gossip, sent in by many contributing editors! We learned to swim at the end of a fishing rod, built villages under tree boughs, spied on the Boy Scouts at Seymour Field, ran free and wild, reluctantly coming home when our whistles called us for meals or bed.
During the summers of 1965 to 1979 our nephew, Jim Shaw and family, occupied the Konishi Bay cabin and tent. Along with their five children, the Gamages’ three children (in the orchard field), and the Moirs’ four children in the Cowan log cabin, there was always activity.
Both Sue and Marjorie enjoyed the family atmosphere of Cowan Point which was named after George Cowan, a Vancouver lawyer, who discovered the point on the southeast side of Bowen Island in the late 1890s. He was so taken with the area that he bought acreage belonging to Henry Lee’s as soon as it was available and then slowly acquired other parcels of land to add to his holdings.
Volume 5 of Early Vancouver describes the progression of ownership at the point this way:
The man who started Cowan’s Point was the man who preempted it. I don’t know his name now, but he afterwards mortgaged it to A.G. R.A. Seymour, M.A., of Oxford. Seymour got some money from England, and thought a mortgage would be a good way of investing it, but he finally had to take over the place to protect his money. Mr. Seymour occupied it for a time; grew a few apples; used to bring them out in a row boat—bare feet and hatless and all—for a passing steamer to pick up and take to Vancouver; Seymour never washed, and he could swear perfectly. Later, Geo. H. Cowan, M.P. for Vancouver, acquired it, and it got called ‘Cowan’s Point.' Read and approved by Mr. Simson, 16 April 1937. J.S.M.
By 1917 George Cowan owned most of the point and built cabins to rent to his friends. It was not a commercial venture but rather a way to share his beautiful Bowen Island acres with his friends. This unconventional start led to a community with a unique outlook.
Forrest Rogers’s recollections of Cowan Point start in 1920 when he sailed there with his brother Ernest. The next year Forrest went to cub camp there. His memories of George Cowan and life at the Point bring us back to a time when Cowan Point was in its infancy. As he wrote in his recollections:
At this point I think it would be appropriate for me to tell you what I remember of George H. Cowan. He was a very interesting character, a rather second-rate lawyer and although he tried, not much of a politician, however like all good Irishmen he had a great love of the land – hence his adoration of Cowans Point.
There he was “laird of the manor” and rode around his “estate” on his horse Maxie. For this, Mr. Cowan wore leather leggings, a sola topee, and carried a riding crop. Thus accoutered he visited his “tenants” where he enjoyed having the odd drink – this, of course, being heartily disapproved of by Mrs. Cowan who claimed to be deaconess of the Anglican Church and was opposed to alcoholic beverages. Mr. Cowan had great visions for the development of the “Point” but never the wherewithal to do them. This did not stop him from having blueprints made of his grandiose schemes that called for hotels, golf courses, residential developments etc.
It was probably Mr. Cowan’s political connections that brought about the construction of the wharf at Seymour Bay, the building of the government road to Snug Cove and the service supplied by the Union Steamships. All these were in place long before my time, and it is of course quite possible that Mr. Seymour, the former owner, had a hand in it all.
Service by the Union Steamship of course varied between winter and summer, but also from one year to the next and it was always a great matter for discussion and debate each spring. I think the best service we had was a 2 p.m. sailing from Vancouver on Saturdays, arriving at Seymour Bay about one hour later, then a return journey on Sunday night, the time of departure from Seymour Bay being somewhat flexible, and finally a Wednesday afternoon sailing from the Point to town. It is impossible to conceive that the service ever paid as there were seldom more than two or three passengers plus a small amount of freight. But then there was the mail, and Mrs. Cowan was a very strict postmistress who was armed with a postmark cancelling stamp supplied from Ottawa and bearing the words, “Cowans Point”. Mrs. Cowan took her position very seriously and luckily was largely unaware of the fact that some of us, who volunteered to carry the mailbag from Seymour Bay to her house, had a quick look en route to see if a personal letter had arrived – this was definitely not to be done!
And there we leave our memories of Cowan Point, back in the days when the community began and Mr. and Mrs. Cowan were still involved in its daily workings in a big way.
Thank you to Bowen Archives for the use of their photo of George Cowan and cub scouts at Cowan Point.
Sue Lucas's and Marjory Weld’s memories come from interviews conducted by Daphne Shaw. Forrest Rogers’s memories are in the Rogers Fonds at the Vancouver Archives under the title “Recollections of Cowan’s Point 1920” and they were written in late May 1987.
Story compiled by Meg McLaughlin
Last updated September 2013