Because of issues caused by the Bowen Island Lodge (detailed below), we were forced to cancel the 2017 camping season, marking the first time in 54 years that there has been a cancelation of an entire camping season. These issues remain unresolved and have serious consequences for blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind Canadians as well as the community of Bowen Island. We need to stand together and make sure that the rights of our two communities continue to be protected.
About the Issues
Note: While the below section borrows heavily from our report entitled “The Importance of the Bowen Island Lodge Covenant”, the information it contains is more up to date and supersedes the original document.
In 1963, the Bowen Island Lodge (formerly the Bowen Lodge by the Sea) was opened by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) on donated land. The goal of the facility was for use as a recreational retreat for blind and visually impaired individuals in the summer and for use as a training centre for newly blinded persons in the winter.
Throughout the years, the programs offered at the facility underwent many revisions and grew tremendously. Programs were established for various age groups and included instruction in many diverse topics, such as independent living skills, technology, recreation, music and Braille literacy.
In 2002, a covenant governing the lands and facility that is the Bowen Island Lodge was put in place by the Bowen Island Municipality that protects the residential nature of Snug Point and ensures blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind individuals have access to a facility for recreation, meeting, and training. The covenant, which was signed by CNIB and the Bowen Island municipality and which also applies to their respective successors, was designed to restrict the use of the lands and facility in keeping with the residential nature of Snug Point by designating the principal use of the Bowen Island Lodge as “recreation, training and meeting facilities related to the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities…” (Covenant P. 4), activities that do not typically disrupt the surrounding neighbourhood. Furthermore, the covenant places restrictions on the amount of accessory use events, events not considered part of the principal use, that can be held at the facility to ensure that the principal use group has access to the facility and to reduce the amount of noise and other issues typically associated with an event space and resort. When the covenant was instated, it created Canada’s first and only legally protected recreation, meeting, and training facility for the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind.
In 2009, CNIB announced its plans to replace its program offerings at the lodge with day camps at their Vancouver office. This move was met with much outrage from both the blind, visually impaired and deaf blind community and the local island community. After a community movement gained the support of several sponsors, CNIB relented and continued the more traditional format of the camps at the lodge.
In 2010, CNIB began the process of selling the Bowen Lodge by the Sea property. It announced that the 2010 camping season would be the last CNIB run camping program on Bowen Island.
In August of 2010, former campers of the original CNIB Camp Bowen project formed the Camp Bowen Working Group. The BC-based organization, now known as the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired, set out to fill the learning gap left by the closure of CNIB’s programs. In 2011, representatives of the society met with members of the Trethewey family, who had purchased the lodge earlier in the year. The Trethewey family was open to the idea of using the facility for events related to the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind. They provided the society with greatly reduced pricing options for both accommodation and catering that made programs affordable to blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind individuals. During their tenure, the Trethewey family made every effort to ensure the society had desirable dates, including long weekends, something that contributed to the success of programs for the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind.
Together with the BC visually impaired community, the society organized its first retreat at the lodge on Bowen Island in 2011. The retreat was considered to be a success by the board of directors and the campers who were in attendance. This was followed by annual program offerings that have been held at the lodge ever since, excluding 2017 (explanation below).
In 2014, the Bowen Island Lodge partnered with the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired to host the Canadian Federation of the Blind’s conference and convention in addition to Camp Bowen’s regular summer offerings.
In early 2016, the lodge changed hands once more, this time to the Hundred Year Education Group, a company with off-shore owners. Under this new ownership it has been made very clear that they intend to run the facility primarily for accessory use groups. Repeated attempts to resolve issues of affordability, safety, and accessibility have met with no success. Efforts to meet with lodge management for resolution of concerns have resulted in two meetings where lodge management failed to be present. Organizers trying to set up programs for the principal use group at the lodge have been called a waste of time by lodge management and there have been other comments made that clearly demonstrate their attitude towards the principal use group. There is also no mention in their marketing of the principal use group, something that serves to reenforce their position.
In June of 2017, two months after the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired’s 2017 Safety and Accessibility Report was released to the Bowen Island Lodge, a representative of Victoria-based Huntington Manner, the Bowen Island lodge’s parent company and a subsidiary of the Hundred Year Education Group, sent an answering report. In this report, the representative made it clear that they don’t see the need to follow the covenant as it pertains to the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind, sighting a paragraph that is superseded later in the covenant. To the best of our knowledge, according to the covenant, at the end of the day, all parts are to be interpreted according to the spirit of the covenant, which is to protect the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community, as well as the neighbourhood of Snug Point. If correct, this invalidates the representative’s claim. The report goes on to suggest that the answer to the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community’s safety and accessibility concerns, as expressed in our report, is to ensure that any concerned blind, visually impaired, or deaf blind guest be accompanied by a sighted person. This is as ridiculous as saying any concerned black guest should be accompanied by a white person or any concerned female guest should be accompanied by a man and is blatantly unacceptable. Just as society wouldn’t tolerate this report were it based on skin colour or gender, neither should it stand for a report that makes such suggestions based on disability. Not only does the report’s recommendations insult the independence of members of the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community by it’s tone and suggestions, it flies directly in the face of what the facility was intended for and the covenant protects, that being the independence of the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community. Having a sighted care giver for every blind, visually impaired and deaf blind person affected by the concerns in the 2017 Safety and Accessibility Report is unfeasible for most people to afford, not to mention as demeaning as the above hypothetical statements on skin colour and gender. Finally, the report’s suggestions that the society bare the cost of substandard safety and accessibility measures, coupled with the report’s conclusion that the society perhaps look elsewhere for a venue, paint a grim picture of how the lodge views the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community.
From the attached reports and above explanations, it is clear that the lodge, as it is currently operated, has too many issues regarding safety, accessibility, and affordability to be usable by blind, visually impaired and deaf blind individuals for meeting and recreation, let alone training. This has already lead to the cancelation of the 2017 camping season, marking the first time in 54 years no camps have been run.
Today, more than ever before, there is a need for a training and recreation centre for the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind in Canada. The blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community is currently in a state of crisis. There are high rates of depression and low self-esteem, a lack of freedom, and an estimated 80% unemployment rate in the community. A large part of the solution to these problems is access to safe, accessible, affordable, and quality independent living skills training. At present, the Bowen Island Lodge is Canada’s only legally designated training centre for the blind, visually impaired, and/or deaf blind.
What Needs to be Done?
The time has come for the facility to be restored to it’s intended purpose and help blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind Canadians become first class citizens in society. This can be accomplished by upholding the existing covenant and ensuring that the lodge’s principal use group remains protected. Bringing in principal use groups as the primary occupants of the lands and/or facilities and keeping accessory use events as secondary would also serve to protect the residential nature of Snug Point.
As noted above, issues of safety, accessibility, and affordability are what is holding the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community back from being able to use the property as set out in the covenant but what needs to be upheld is the requirement that the property be used for its stated purpose and
Failure to protect this unique resource sets a dangerous precedent. the law was put in place to protect both the blind, visually impaired, and deaf blind community as well as the local neighbourhood and failing to uphold it sends the message that any other laws, not to mention additional parts of the covenant, pertaining to these groups can just be ignored.
How Can I Help?
One way you can help is by writing a letter of support. The more we can show that the above issues are important to people in the community, the better chance we have of collectively seeing them resolved. Sharing this page via social media and word of mouth to help us gain awareness for what is going on is also a very powerful way to contribute. The more people know about the issues we face, the more people can help us respond.
If you have other ideas on how you would like to help us or wish to discuss with us about the above issues, please contact us.
Thank you in advance for your support.
The Camp Bowen Team
Letters of Support
Letters of support are greatly appreciated. They can be sent using the form below or by any of these other methods.