Because of issues caused by the Bowen Island Lodge (detailed below), we were forced to cancel the 2017 and 2018 camping seasons, marking the first time in 54 years that there has been a cancelation of an entire camping season. These issues remain unresolved, threatening to force cancelation of future programs, 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.
Table of Contents
- Details About the Issues
- What Needs to be Done?
- How Can I Help?
- Letters of Support
- Supporting Documents
- Follow the Situation
For a summary of the issues, please click here.
- May 19, 2019
- An update was made to reflect that the lodge has removed the advertised capacity of 200 guests from its website.
- April 16, 2019
- Updates were made to reflect that the matter is stalled and is waiting to go before the Bowen Island Municipality’s Advisory Planning Commission. The Camp Bowen Innovations Society (Formerly the Camp Bowen Society for the Visually Impaired) remains committed to fighting blocking this rezoning application and covenant amendment.
- July 24, 2018
- Updates were made to reflect the Municipal procedure for rezoning applications and to provide additional information on how you can engage on this issue.
- July 22, 2018
- Updated to reflect the fact that the lodge has filed a rezoning application.
- April 10, 2018
- Updated to reflect recently discovered information about the sale of the Bowen Island Lodge. The lodge was sold in late 2015 and not early 2016 as originally stated. New evidence also shows that The Hundred Year Education Group Corp. directly owns the property and updates have been made to better reflect this.
- April 7, 2018
- Added contact information for the municipality.
- April 3, 2018
- We have now added summary and table of contents sections to this page. We have also updated the “Details About the Issues” section to add and clarify information.
- March 19, 2018
- A meeting with the municipality is now scheduled for April 12, 2018. It is important that we receive as many letters of support before that time as possible. We need to demonstrate exactly how important resolving the outstanding issues currently is.
Details 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 late 2015, the lodge changed hands once more, this time to the Hundred Year Education Group Corp., 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 no mention in the lodge’s 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 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, citing 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 its tone and suggestions, it flies directly in the face of what the facility was intended for and the covenant protects. 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 its responsibilities as set out by the covenant.
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.
On May 2, 2018, we met with the municipal bylaw office to discuss our complaint. There were two subsequent meetings in May and June. The May meetings centred around Bylaw asking questions about our current stance on how we feel the covenant governing the Bowen Island Lodge is not being followed. At the June meeting, we were told that the owners of the property have filed a rezoning application that, if approved, would change the covenant. Bylaw expected that this would go before council in late July or in the fall. No further details on what in the covenant would be affected by the rezoning application were given at that time. We were also encouraged to reach out to the Bowen Island Lodge to seek resolution. As recommended by bylaw, a meeting was arranged; however, logistics were poor and the meeting took place without the presence of a bylaw mediator. As a result, the discussion that took place was unproductive.
On July 20, 2018, we were made aware of an initial report drafted by the bylaw office, dated July 13, 2018, regarding a rezoning application submitted by the owners of the Bowen Island Lodge. This application went before Mayor and Council on Monday, July 23, 2018. As per municipal procedure, Mayor and Council are required to consider the application. The owners of the Bowen Island Lodge wish to see amendments made to both the covenant governing the Bowen Island Lodge and “BOWEN ISLAND MUNICIPALITY LAND USE BYLAW NO. 57, 2002”. Proposed amendments to the covenant include but are not limited to: alteration of the Principal Use definition to remove primary rights of use from people with disabilities, removal of the maximum number of guests allowed to use the guestrooms, removal of a restriction limiting the number of days usable for secondary uses of the facility, increases to the number and length of permitted Assembly Events, and removal of a clause that requires the owners to bar excessively noisy users for a period of 1 year. In order to be able to alter the Principal Use definition to remove primary rights of use from people with disabilities in the covenant, the lodge’s owners are requesting that the definition of “Recreation, Training, and Meeting Centre” in “BOWEN ISLAND MUNICIPALITY LAND USE BYLAW NO. 57, 2002” be changed by removing the words “…for the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities…”
The amendments the lodge’s owners are proposing strip rights from people with disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf blind, and visually Impaired. People with disabilities are a marginalized group that has very few opportunities to access spaces designated specifically for their use. For example, blind, deaf blind, and visually impaired people have no other legally protected training, meeting, and recreation centre in Canada. For this segment of the population, a legally protected recreation, training, and meeting facility represents the only means of meaningful socioeconomic advancement by way of access to quality independent living skills training. Legally designating and protecting facilities as “recreation, training and meeting facilities for the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities” ensures that people with disabilities are not systematically squeezed out of spaces in favour of business interests as is so often the case.
By amending the definition of “Recreation, Training, and meeting Centre” in “BOWEN ISLAND MUNICIPALITY LAND USE BYLAW NO. 57, 2002” to remove the words “…for the care and rehabilitation of persons with disabilities…”, the owners of the Bowen Island Lodge would effectively remove the rights of people with disabilities to have recreation, meeting, and training centres that are currently protected from business interests by the Land Use bylaw. This does not only affect the covenant governing the Bowen Island Lodge but would remove all protections for any future facilities wishing to use the designation to safeguard the rights of people with disabilities.. If these amendments pass, it will set a dangerous precedent that will have far reaching consequences for Bowen Islanders with disabilities and other Canadians with disabilities for generations to come.
We were disheartened to see that after over a year of attempting to resolve issues surrounding use of the Bowen Island Lodge by the Principal Use group through official channels, the Bowen Island Lodge chose to put forth this rezoning application. It is our position, speaking on behalf of people with disabilities, that this rezoning application must not move forward to ensure the continued protection of the rights of people with disabilities and those of our Snug Point neighbours.
What Needs to be Done?
The time has come for the facility to be restored to its intended purpose and help Canadians with disabilities become first class citizens in society. This can be accomplished by upholding the existing covenant and provisions in the Land Use bylaw 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 of April 2019, the matter is stalled and is waiting to go before the Bowen Island Municipality’s Advisory Planning Commission. Every moment that this rezoning application and covenant amendment remain unblocked is another moment that people with disabilities do not have assurance of the protection of their rights.
Failure to protect this unique resource sets a dangerous precedent. The law was put in place to protect both people with disabilities 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.
There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that these rights remain protected. Support from the entire Bowen Island and disability communities will be crucial to ensuring proper protection remains in place. The next step will be a public consultation process. Public consultation will be held at the Bowen Island Lodge at a date and time as of yet unknown to us. We feel this venue is not neutral enough for this process to be effective.
How Can I Help?
We urge the community to stand with us and make it clear to Mayor and Council through official channels that this rezoning application cannot go ahead and should be blocked at the first opportunity. You can do this by attending Council meetings where this issue will be discussed and attending the public consultations. If you cannot attend in person, please still let Mayor and Council know that you oppose the proposed amendments by submitting a letter of support for this cause.
Letters of Support
Letters of support from both organizations and people like you are important to our case as they demonstrate clearly the need for upholding the current covenant and provisions in the Land Use bylaw. To submit your own letter of support, you can: use the form found below, email <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or write to:
Mayor and Council
981 Artisan Lane,
Bowen Island, BC
- 2017 Safety and Accessibility Report: PDF
- The Bowen Island Lodge Covenant: Original PDF (inaccessible), HTML
- Bowen Island Lodge’s Response: PDF
- The Importance of the Bowen Island Lodge Covenant: PDF
- Bylaw’s Report Re: Rezoning of the Bowen Island Lodge: PDF
Follow the Situation
You can follow the above situation as it unfolds in several ways. To get updates by email, you can add your email address to our public community mailing list by filling in your name and email address below. Alternately, you can follow our social media or let us know and we can give you a phone call with updates.