On Canada’s birthday we ask Bowen Islanders... how did you get here?

Joong Kim owner of Bowen Island Sushi

It was a long journey from Seoul, South Korea to Bowen Island. Now that Joong Kim is here, he thinks he never wants to leave.

Kim arrived in Toronto in 1985 as a university student but he didn’t have enough money to continue his education so, after one year, he quit and worked in the construction industry. Seven years later he got landed immigrant status and opened a small variety store. He’d wake up early, go to a wholesaler’s to stock the store, return to the wholesaler’s during lunch to spend the morning’s proceeds on new supplies, work until night and start the whole routine again early the next morning.

When new laws governing cigarette sales took effect, he worried about the store’s viability and headed west to Britannia Beach in March 2003. When a long-term relationship broke up, he sold the store and came to Bowen, where he knew the owners of the General Store. He worked at the store until nine at night and then took the ferry to the mainland, where he trained as a sushi chef for two hours every night. He opened Bowen Sushi in 2004 and moved here in 2009.

Work doesn’t allow him much time to enjoy island life. He works 10 to 10 six days a week and spends Sundays shopping, also going to town at least one early morning to buy supplies before the Village Square restaurant opens. Recently he opened another restaurant, Sushi Hub, at Main and 33rd in Vancouver. He puts in the long hours to be able to send money to his 83-year-old mother, who lives in Seoul and has health problems.

“Canada is a good country,” he says during a rare break. “Bowen is a very nice place. All the time my heart says, ‘Thank you very much.’ Maybe my life will finish here.”

 

Sarah-Jane Curry

Sarah-Jane Curry (formerly Hayes) was a week old when she bumped into a hunchback whale — or, more accurately, the sailboat she was on nudged the sleeping whale out of its slumber. It might have been a sign that she wasn’t going to have a “normal” childhood.

When Sarah-Jane was nine, she and her six-year-old brother Will and four-year-old brother Miles left Johannesburg, South Africa with their parents Piers and Joan aboard a 41’ sailboat. Anticipation was high, not for the journey ahead but to be able to open the tin of homemade fudge that their grandmother had given them to enjoy once they couldn’t see land any more.

For the next two years they made their way past continents and islands, across oceans and seas all the way up the coast of North America until they reached Port Colborne on Lake Ontario.

It was a journey filled with many wondrous memories but of all the places she’s been and things she’s done, the memory Sarah-Jane hangs onto the most were those quiet moments in the cockpit at night, cuddling up with the parent who was on watch duty. In such cramped quarters, being able to spend one-on-one time with either your mother or father was a special treat. “It was just the stars and the water and no land. So peaceful.”

After two years in Toronto, Piers settled the family in Abbottsford while he started a new job. It wasn’t the family’s happy place. One day they phoned the couple who had sailed beside them for much of the journey, parting ways when the Hayeses headed for Canada and the other stayed in New Zealand. The couple had some friends over for dinner, including someone from Vancouver. The man from Vancouver asked them where they were living.

“Abbottsford? Oh, God, no,” he said. “You need to go to this little place named Bowen Island. You’ll love it. It will remind you of home. Go there.”
The Hayeses arrived on a Sunday morning and went to a church service at Cates Hill Chapel. They were greeted by the then-pastor, Larry Adams, and his wife Sylvia. The family was about to go on holidays for a month and invited the Hayes family to live in their home and get a feel of island life. That was the summer of 1997.

Today, Sarah-Jane is married to Gord Curry — “he also grew up in a similarly strange way” — and is enjoying maternity leave from the family-run Snug Café with seven-month-old Elijah.

 

Kate Coffey

“My first choice was New Zealand but it was too far from Ireland. I had three criteria: it had to be relatively close to Ireland, English speaking, and close by the ocean.”

At 23, Kate Coffey owned her own home in Dublin, flew to Milan for weekends on a lark, worked “crazy long” hours for Rothschild International and earned oodles of money.

At 29, she thought to herself, “Oh my God, I’ll be dead by 40.”

The lifestyle was one thing; the pace of life needed in order to sustain it was quite another.

“I didn’t know what life was meant to be like but I knew it wasn’t supposed to be like that,” she says, sitting in a Vancouver coffee shop almost kitty-corner to where she’ll hop on Peter King’s express bus back to Bowen Island at the end of a work day.

To the shock and horror of everyone, particularly her family, she decided to quit Rothschild’s and apply for permanent residency in Canada.

Within six months, the embassy in London was on the phone, asking her about her plans, her work experience and how she intended to provide for herself in a place where she knew absolutely no one. When she mentioned Rothchild’s and told them she’d live off the proceeds from the sale of her house, she literally heard the stamp of approval as her application was marked “good to go.”

She chose Vancouver as her final destination because of its weather but didn’t want to just plop down in her new life. In April 1997, she flew to Halifax and boarded the train to Prince Rupert. Well, she got on lots of different trains, taking nine weeks to travel across the country.

She picked up a tourist brochure which told her to discover Bowen Island. Little did she know her second OMG epiphany awaited her there.
After finding an apartment in the West End, she started taking a good look at her surroundings. She picked up a tourist brochure which told her to discover Bowen Island. Little did she know her second OMG epiphany awaited her there.

Sitting on the bench by the lagoon and looking over at the North Shore mountains, she realized, “Oh my God, this is it, this is where I want to be.”

There was only one small problem: money. With no work experience in Canada, it wasn’t easy at first to find a job. She went from a six-figures-in-a-European-currency job to thinking that a once-a-week Starbucks coffee was a treat on a $36,000-a-year Vancouver salary.

She says her talent is to be able to process a hundred things at the same time, “pick out all the silly bits” and then be able to communicate a strategy to both the president of the company and a person on the street.

Among larger international companies, those skills are more highly valued than the university degree she doesn’t have. The only problem is that not many of those companies are based in Vancouver. But one job led to another and eventually she hung out a shingle as a consultant for boutique firms. “I knocked on doors and said ‘Here I am.’”

At the second door she was invited in for a year-long contract. It was time to move to Bowen.

The house she liked was, in Bowen parlance, “Gordie Begg’s mother’s place” on Lenora. Gordie was a big, tall man and he didn’t want to sell the house to just anyone. He wanted it to be loved and nurtured and told Coffey that she had to come for an interview. “They met me and came back and said, ‘You’re it; you can have our mother’s house.’”

Later, Gordie was moved to tears when she invited him to see how she’d infused the house with her own personality.
Settled on Bowen, Coffey’s life went into overdrive in town when a two-year contract put her smack dab into “the craziness of mergers and acquisitions.” Every week it seemed she was on a plane to somewhere, her only requirement being that by Friday at noon she was touching down at YVR for a weekend of being restored by life on Bowen.

“It’s that sense of belonging and that Irish thing of owning a house. To own land and a house is a big thing for an Irish person. My parents were the first generation to own a home,” she says.

Although Bowen will always be home, her curiosity and quest for meaning will always be her passport to a world of discovery. After one of her work contracts ended on a Wednesday, she departed for Nepal the following Monday for a year of “mid-life enlightenment.” In Nepal she volunteered at a rehabilitation centre for people with spinal cord injuries; in Bangladesh her focus was micro-financing. When she left Nepal, part of her heart stayed behind and, after the devastating earthquakes, she’s been working hard to raise money for the centre. (It’s chronicled on her blog, www.bowen2bangladesh.wordpress.com.)

“Nepal is very close to my heart,” she says, just before the bus arrives. “It’s another one of those Bowen-like places.”

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