The new community center marked a milestone this week with a traditional earth blessing ceremony.
Tuesday morning’s event was chaired by S7aplek and Spakwus Slolem (Bob Baker and the Squamish Eagle Song Dancers). Baker explained during the ceremony that he and other members would use “cedar branches to spread water on sacred ground to neutralize anything that’s not meant to be there so we can have a clean slate to work with.
“And to recognize that our ancestors have been doing it from the very beginning, with totem poles, canoes and houses. To start well. It also keeps everyone focused on what we’re doing,” Baker said.
Several dozen people attended the event, as well as students from Bowen Island Community School, neighboring the community center. Mayor Gary Ander and Patrick Weiler, MPP for West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country were also present, along with representatives from Golden Globe Construction – winners of the $14.4 million tender for the construction of the center.
“It’s a momentous occasion here, I find it hard to believe it’s actually happening,” Ander told the crowd.
“This community center will become the heart of Bowen Island. It will be our island place of gathering, celebration and community, creating traditions for generations to come.
Construction is expected to start in weeks and take around 18 months, with a completion date in the second half of 2023. The project – decades in the making – received final council approval late last year .
“Today is an incredibly incredible day to see that we are finally at this stage of the project,” said administrative director Liam Edwards. “To be here today with all of you and to be able to recognize all the hard work and effort that has gone into this is remarkable.”
Weiler, also representing Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities, pointed to the recent increase in the population of Bowen Island – up to more than 4,200 at last year’s census. “Growing communities need community infrastructure to keep pace. This is particularly true for island communities where access to services can be even more difficult,” the MP said.
“This new facility will create a culturally rich space for all Islanders to access art, exercise, social events and programming…I’m especially excited about today’s announcement. , as I know this will be a game-changer for the community, creating much-needed facilities and services that will dramatically improve the quality of life for everyone on the island, while adding to the vibrancy of the community,” said Weiler said.
He also noted the significant community contribution to the project, over $6.5 million. A $7.9 million grant from the Community, Culture and Recreation component of the Federal and Provincial Infrastructure Program of Canada also helped the center move closer to completion.
There is still work to be done in terms of financing since the total cost of the project was $18.7 million. But Weiler says the results of the 2020 referendum show the community is behind the center.
And the municipality too. “It’s been seven years since we decided that this community center was going to move forward,” the mayor said. “There was nothing that was going to stop us and we gave it our all. We never gave in, and that’s why we’re here today.
British Columbia Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne was unable to attend the event, but provided a statement read by Ander. “This land is a beautiful space for the future community center. The new building will serve as a gathering place for the Bowen Island community, bringing to life a long-awaited vision of togetherness, community development, and physical and cultural activities. Together with the federal government, we are investing in community infrastructure that will serve residents for years to come,” Osborne wrote.
There was a brief site visit after the ceremony, which will soon be overtaken by construction machinery for the next year and a half as the center is built. Baker says the positive impacts will be long-lasting.
“This marks an occasion where things will change. Everyone will benefit from it… It’s our future there (BICS kids), and their children will benefit from this work. So we’re very honored to be a part of it,” Baker said.