A Look Through Time: the History of Bowen Park

Feb 05, 2019 |

Bowen Park is named after a pair of brothers, George and James Bowen, owners of the San Francisco-based Western Fuel Company. In 1918, the company donated the parkland to the City of Nanaimo with a condition that it be used for park purpose only (official land title registration took place in 1931).

The park was very popular with residents who enjoyed hiking the trails and having picnics and other gatherings in the picturesque setting next to the Millstone River. Controversy arose in 1949 between the parks board and City Council when the parks board hired well-known logger Ole Buck to remove 293 trees in the interest of public safety. Plans for developing the park were brought forward by the BC Forest Service in 1951 and on February 18, 1953, the Rotary Club of Nanaimo took on the project and established the Bowen Park Development Association. 

Largely driven by volunteers from the community, work on clearing some of the land and putting through a roadway alongside the river began.

Bowen Park Rotary Project Clearing Bush 1953

Bowen Park Cleanup Sunday Work Party April 19 1953

Bowen Park Rotary Project-Burning Brush 1953

In 1958, Harry Wipper was hired as the manager for the newly formed Civic Properties and Recreation Commission board and began work on a ten-year master plan for the park. Mr. Wipper later became the first Director of Parks and Recreation and both he and the commission played a role in building the recreation complex, outdoor pool, tennis courts and bowling green.

Bowen Park and Complex 1967

Bowen Park’s natural beauty has always been a main attraction for visitors, both then and now. At the main entrance to the park is the Billy Lewis Centenary Memorial Rose Garden, which was dedicated in 1963, when Mr. Lewis celebrated his hundredth birthday. 

Centennary Memorial Rose Garden at Bowen Park Dedication Billy Lewis ca 1968

Another colourful feature is the Hailey Rhododendron Grove, thanks to the donation of 350 rhododendron hybrids from the collection of Mrs. Ellen Hailey in April 1975. There are shady interpretive trails that meander along the Millstone River, passing by Garry Oak meadow, a salmon habitat and a scenic waterfall.

Hailey Rhododendron Grove

Bowen trail

Deadman Falls in Bowen Park

Many come for sports! Bowen is home to a championship disc golf course, the only outdoor sand volleyball court in Nanaimo and a popular lawn bowling club. The park’s sport field, curling club, tennis courts and outdoor lacrosse box provide ample opportunities to try a new sport and get some exercise! Other popular features include the outdoor amphitheatre, duck pond, playgrounds and picnic shelters.

Bowen Lawn Bowling

Bowen playground

Bowen Park ampitheatre

Bowen Park- Landscape

Bowen Park really does offer something for everyone. Sign up for a cooking course and you might end up in the Bowen Kitchen, where many of these Parks and Rec classes take place. If you stroll the halls, you’ll hear little voices and footsteps running around, as it is home to pre-school and baby ballet. Seniors meet regularly and enjoy dancing classes, yoga, card games, music, pool, woodworking and much more. Check out the Activity Guide for a full list of courses offered and come visit soon!

Want to explore more parks in your area? Check out the City of Nanaimo's park search!

Historical information courtesy of "A Place In Time: Nanaimo Chronicles" by Jan Peterson. Historical photos courtesy of the Nanaimo Community Archives.

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