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Page last updated August 4, 2009
© Michael Kluckner
Sketched/written in 2002: The Denman Island General Store, built in 1908 by storekeeper P.J. Doheny. Strategically located at the top of the hill above the ferry slip, it is the most "village-like" building in the Denman Island village, a blip of activity in what is otherwise a very quiet place. Typically of the Gulf Islands, there is a rush of traffic following the arrival of ferries at either the mainland side opposite Buckley Bay or the Gravelly Bay side near Orkney Farm, then a great calmness, interrupted only by the occasional dog crossing the road and the carolling of the crows in the Douglas firs. Everyone else disappears into the forest to their personal heavens.
It is one of the best examples of a boomtown-fronted store in the province, made better by its extensions over the years, the additions of the porches and the side sheds. I'd appreciate any stories of its evolution. We ate an excellent Chicken Caesar there in August, washed down by some wine we provided ourselves and drank discreetly from coffee cups kindly provided by the waitress. Alas, it is not a licensed establishment, and every time I think a) BC is a modern, civilized place or b) I'm an adult and can make my own decisions, the government tells me it's still in charge.
Two BC Archives photos, both by unknown photographers and both marked as being from the 1920s, indicating the era of the store's expansion
Denman Island has good agricultural land and was a thriving farming community for the first half of the 20th century. Nearby markets included the coal mining towns strung along the east coast of Vancouver Island, Union Bay being especially close. By the 1950s and 1960s, though, the population was declining as old farmers retired and there were few newer ones interested in attempting to make a living where transportation put such a premium on anything bought and sold. Then came the hippie era, with urbanites from Canada and the US dropping out and purchasing the old properties, in some cases collectively. Over the years many have cut their hair and commute to jobs on Vancouver Island, but their laid-back pace and hobbit-house rural architecture is a lasting legacy. There is a deja vu quality to some of the young people--members of the "Church of the Latter Day Hippie," "Bush Babies," or whatever--who are dropping out in the midst of the elder dropouts, camping in the woods or crashing in unoccupied buildings, and often seen hanging louche and footloose around the store.
I went back to Denman Island in May, 2005. One of the views I wanted to paint was this one, from the escarpment above Lacon Road, looking west across the strait to Vancouver Island. My understanding is that a development group, which had earlier logged much of the highland along Denman's "spine," is proposing to develop it with housing. The impact of such a scheme on Denman's rural atmosphere would be, in my opinion, catastrophic.
Update August, 2009, from Daniel Terry: I thought you might be interested to know what is happening with one of the landscapes you portray on your Vanishing BC website. It is painted from the vantage of the bluff overlooking Greenridge Farm on Lacon Rd, looking west towards Baynes Sound and Vancouver Island. Part of the area you mention on the top of the bluff has been subdivided for residential lots, but these are still relatively large - and will result in the addition of only a couple of houses along the bluff. The rest of it, a quarter section that includes the portion of the southwest face of the bluff that was logged in a @#$%^&*-you message to Denman Islanders, has been subdivided into two parcels. One of these, +/- 90 acres, has been rezoned to allow for a 15 unit cohousing development that will provide relatively low cost house ownership to islanders. You'll be pleased to learn that none of their buildings will be on the edge of the bluff. The remaining parcel is zoned R2 (Rural Residential), which allows for one residence, so there may at some time in the future be one more house on the ridge. An added benefit of this rezoning is that the forestry designation has been removed from these properties, meaning that never again will the forestry practices code, which permits logging on steep slopes, be allowed to overrule Islands Trust bylaws, which protect these same slopes. So eventually, the scar on the slope will green up - it's slowly becoming colonised by arbutus, maple, dogwood and other broadleaf pioneers - and stay that way.
There are, of course, other proposed developments that threaten Denman Island in any number of ways. The pressures of progress have been temporarily lessened by the economic downturn, but there is always something waiting in the wings to pounce on us. And as far as agriculture goes, not much happens here. Many residents farm as a sporadic hobby as a ploy to gain farm status and reduce their property taxes. Greenridge Farm, for example, has a few sheep on it, but mainly serves as a dryland community golf course. Better, I suppose, than a typical water-and-pesticide-sucking course, but kind of sad nonetheless.