Belterra, Bowen and Being Here!
By Dorothy Buckland
I woke up at 4 am, which I often do, to moonlight filling the room with its silence. The
half- moon rode high above Cates Hill. In the east, the pre-dawn light was just showing.
Celestial twilight, it’s called. It was my first night here. It was glorious.
I have the honour of being the last original Belterran and I join and become a part of this
community cold, flung into this new world in mid-rush, without having taken part in the work
that you have all put in to make this beautiful place and to build a sense of togetherness. I
look at all you’ve accomplished and the years and the work that it’s taken for you to get here.
I am awed and impressed.
How I came here was like many major life decisions for me. The ideas lurk about for years,
half-formed, background noise, and not acted upon. Then, something happens and everything comes
together and I go forward all at once.
I’d been toying with the idea of moving to Bowen for years. It’s been a place of refuge and
sanctuary for me. From time to time, I would set out and look at houses for sale, but I always
thought, well, I’ll think about this some more. And I would think and it would be, no, not right
now: the commute, my mother’s poor health and all the maintenance that goes with house
A friend of mine is a member of a co-housing project in Vancouver and a proselytiser for
co-housing in a big way. I was randomly going through the BC co-housing web-site and came upon
Belterra. One unit left. In a strata development. It looked beautiful in the pictures. I came and
when I walked in, I thought, this has everything I want. I joined as an Associate Member that day
and made an offer to purchase that week.
Co-housing appeals to me in so many ways: knowing my neighbours well, finding my place and
work and contributions in a close-knit community, having others’ knowledge and expertise to rely
on and learning more about myself and how I can be in community.
I lived in co-op houses for many years. Sometimes we all ate together and shared all food costs
(in one, we ended up eating only meat and potatoes and sodden vegetables); sometimes we had
separate parts of the fridge and cupboards allocated for our stuff and the horror if someone drank
your juice or took an egg without asking. One was for single parents and dealing with a lot of
parents with very different parenting styles and skills was a struggle.
I am still friends with many of the people from those experiments in community living. They know
me in a way that friends from work or groups don’t. I am comforted by their presence in my life.
I became an accountant when I was 40 after a long time struggling to live on the proceeds of art.
My work was mostly with charities and government and brought me a lot of new ways of being in the
world. That work taught me a lot: about respect for others, especially those with disabilities,
about boundary-setting and saying “no”, about listening to people in distress, about explaining
things that seemed self-evident to me (oh, money) without patronizing and making sure that people
understood and finally, about conflict resolution. How talking with others is always the best start.
I am ready to try and grow into community living again.
I expect to spend my time here communing with the trees and ocean, revisiting art and photography
and making things. Eating those fabulous croissants they make at Artisan Eats. Learning new skills
from the rich and varied community here on Bowen. Talking with my neighbours. Making music. Watching
the dragonflies flit over the Terminal Creek Meadows. Biking up to the end of Killarney Lake. I’m
hoping we’ll have gardens and food preserving. I’m hoping we’ll have regular meals together as a
group, company and togetherness in the common house. That we’ll become a cultural centre for Bowen,
with our Common House offering a great group space for events, ,music, talks and discussion.
I’m thrilled to be here. Bring on the laughter and music.
Return to the Village
By Susan Swift
Living in a small town never really appealed to me. I believed that the anonymity of a Big City
granted me freedom and privacy, two values that I held closely and without question for many years.
But, I also had contradictory impulses that germinated during university. Eventually, those
quietly insistent inclinations toward connection, collaboration, and mutual aid eclipsed my pursuit
of “freedom” and veneration of private ownership.
'Community roots' took hold while I was living in Isla Vista, a college town adjacent to the
University of California in Santa Barbara.
After student riots during the turbulent sixties and seventies, Isla Vista was granted limited
authority over its own affairs. As students and recent grads, we served on the community council,
staffed the park district, created a recycling center, organized the food co-op, worked in the
coffeehouse, started a free medical clinic, banked at our credit union, performed in the local
theatre troupe, and started a number of "new age" businesses.
With its yurts and tipis, communal households, extensive community gardens, and hobbit-like
homes in vans and garages, the enclave of Isla Vista could have been a model for today's eco-
villages. We lived as an intentional association of people who self-governed and worked for the
betterment of the whole. It was so engaging that many of us chose to stay in Isla Vista after
What I experienced in that small yet connected community led me to Belterra and Bowen Island
nearly 40 years later. Without realizing it, I was yearning for a return to the grace of a
community net that would catch those who were falling and connect us to each other and to a
It’s with a sense of wonder and discovery that I now find small-town life so rich and engaging.
When we decided to move here, drawn by Belterra cohousing and the opportunity to live more
collaboratively, we hadn’t realized that Bowen Island itself is an established and interconnected
community – one where the post-mistress greets you by name and forwards your mail because she knows
you just moved and where, not because you filled out a form.
It’s the kind of place where you learn that Bill, who stocks shelves in the health food market,
is a talented painter who also created the fantastic mosaic walls at the middle school and, when
you stop in at the Snug Café on your way to catch a ferry, owners Pierce and Judy might ask if
you’re having your usual.
A number of recent transplants, new residents of Bowen Island and Belterra, have begun to weave
themselves into the local fabric. Matthew has opened his Somatic Institute in Artisan Square;
Rebecca is providing home services and coordinating volunteers at the Caring Circle; Carmen is
inspiring kids as the new teacher/librarian at the Bowen Island Community School; and Brent bought
Bowen Island Sea Kayaking, one of the island’s premiere tourist attractions.
Belterrans who lived on the island before joining provide even more links between our cohousing
community and the Bowen Island community: Kristen is the municipality’s Finance Manager; Kat & Cam’s
island-based, video-for-television company hires locally; Katy has long provided home health care;
Tess is moving up in Bowen municipality’s Planning Department; and Betty & Thij’s invest their
creative energy in the Bowen Island Arts Council and Gardening Club.
From the forested slope where we live, we look down on water and snow-tipped mountains along the
coast, dramatic reminders that we dwell in the cathedral of nature. And, by taking a few steps
outside our doors, we become connected to the dew-sparkled web of people and activities that make
up Belterra and our village by the sea; it’s the embrace of community and it feels like coming home.
Creativity, Connection and the Sound of Community
By Kat Kelly Hayduk
Our last home was typical of a lot of Bowen Island homes. It was down a gravel road, over a little
bridge and set deep in the woods with only a couple of neighbours in sight. It was so quiet at night
that our sleep would be disturbed by the sound of an owl hooting. Sounds ideal, right? If you had
described this type of home to me before I lived it, I would’ve thought it sounded perfect. But, now I
can say that the isolated home on a big piece of property set away from the rest of the world is just
We moved into Belterra just before the new year and, though there are still more members to come, we
already feel reinvigorated and more fulfilled -- creatively and socially. It’s hard to be lazy when you
live in a close community. It’s hard to watch TV or surf Facebook in the middle of the day when there
are people around you buzzing off to work or for walks in the woods. It’s made us more accountable to
ourselves and our fellow humans.
We’ve run our own home-based creative business since 2009 and we were contemplating a move to
Vancouver or Toronto to be around more “energy” for the sake of our business pursuits. But we love
Bowen; we love being at the doorstep to natural beauty and we love the small, interconnected broader
community of this island. Belterra also gives us an immediate connection to people. We’ve bounced
story ideas around with neighbours and even produced a short video together. Spending social time
with neighbours also gives us a chance to take a break, and when we return to work it feels like less
of a slog.
It’s so easy to be social and neighbourly when you’re surrounded by people who also value these
things. We’ve been to a couple of game nights, we’ve shared meals and we’ve looked out for our
neigbours' kids and pets. We love watching people come and go from the buildings. Living at a
construction site is even kind of energizing (though not as pretty as the finished product will
ultimately be). Our business is flourishing right now, in part because it’s also feeling the buzz and
energy of living in a more connected way.
Our 11 year-old son is also thriving. He was recently paid a small amount of money for taking care of
Belterra’s resident black cat, Biko (on Friday the 13th even!). When Biko’s owners gave Sam his pay he
said, “I’m going to put this in my wallet that’s full of good deeds.” He has a wallet where he’s saving
up the money he’s been paid for babysitting, pet sitting, and helping people move. The intrinsic value
of those deeds is worth much more than the money in that wallet: to him and to us.
In More Ways than One:
Belterra is Development
By Matthew Ramsay
Cohousing “development." Is that a noun, or a verb? Is that a housing development, or a process of
community development? Whatever we are up to here, it is certainly more than bricks-and-mortar!
The foundations have been established - literally and figuratively.
First there were the early works: feasibility studies, municipal zoning and land use, three years of
design workshops, and eventually the tendering of design and construction contracts. I am continually
grateful to the pioneers of Belterra who exerted great effort to establish this foundation for us to build
upon. Today, the cement foundations have been poured for all the buildings, along with retaining walls and
slabs embedded with radiant heating systems.
Meanwhile, thanks to the equally great efforts of the initial group of equity members, Belterra also
has a solid foundation in the form of a mission statement and operating principles that guide our decision
making process. The mission statement and complete version of the operating principles are found
here, and they provide a solid basis as we
contemplate the innumerable, mundane, and sometimes quite-consequential decisions we must make each
We maintain a simple but significant ritual of reading the mission statement and one or two of the
operating principles at the start of each business meeting to remind us of our shared intentions and
values. As each meeting progresses, I have been so heartened to see the care and consideration brought to
bear on each decision as these principles are put into practice: Respect, Resolution, Social
Responsibility, Ecological Stewardship, Participation, Co-operation, Financial Responsibility,
Interpersonal Communication, and Concern for Future Generations.
Framing has been completed, and it is also in progress.
The wood framing has been completed for Buildings 1 through 3 and Building 5. Framing is underway on
Building 4 and the Common House.
The framework of our organizational structure during the construction phase is well established. It
consists of three main committees: Legal Finance, Community Building, and Design. Each of these committees
has two or three focus members who provide leadership and coordination on behalf of their respective
committee and act as a liaison between the committee and the larger group. Once again, I am ever grateful
for the extra effort that these committee members and focus members dedicate to the development of this
As we begin to transition from the construction phase to the operations phase of actually living
together in community, we have started to frame the organizational structure that will carry us forward
after occupancy begins. This entails identifying the distinct on-going services that will be required of
us to support our day-to-day lives in community while sharing much of this property in common. Currently,
this is taking the shape of a Community Council with four Teams, each with its own responsibilities and
decision making authorities on behalf of the larger collective.
These teams consist of a buildings and maintenance group responsible for the care of our shared built
environment, a grounds crew responsible for our shared outdoor environments, a community living group
responsible for our social programming inside and outside the cohousing community, and an administrative-
financial group responsible for managing our shared economic and legal affairs. Like the wood framing of
Building 4 and the Common House, our community living structure is still a work in progress, but I am
clearly aware that we have a wealth of resources and talents among us to provide support for one another
in this way.
The envelope is nearly complete.
The roof and siding are complete on buildings 1 and 2 and exterior closure is underway for buildings 3 and
5, so the building envelopes are nearing completion. The buildings' exterior forms are well established
and their interior environment is becoming shelter from the elements. It is exciting to see a
multicoloured village take shape on the hillside as you drive up Carter Rd.
Just as the building envelopes are now nearly established providing enclosure, the community
composition of Belterra is nearly fully established with 97% of the homes sold and just one unit left for
sale. However, unlike the structural closure of the building exteriors, the Belterra community will always
remain open and accessible to the broader Bowen community through interconnected trail networks and
through the community involvement of the household members in schools, workplaces, local government, and
festivities. Still, the feeling that we are nearly 'all-aboard' for this next phase is undeniable and I
can sense the sheltering warmth of community on these winter days as members offer moving assistance to
one another and housewarming for those who have just taken possession of their homes.
Applying the finishes.
Buildings 1 and 2 are applying their final finishes this month as walls are painted, flooring installed,
and appliances delivered. Meanwhile, finishes are being selected for the remaining units and are on order
for installation during the final few months of construction.
While the process of physically building a community may be largely approaching completion, the process
of community building has only just begun. The very process of designing, negotiating, and navigating
through the innumerable decisions along the way to arrive at this point in the development project has
itself served as a process of community development. Trust and communication are being built right along
with the walls and windows. This is the beauty and promise of cohousing.
In an honour befitting this curious interplay between establishing a community building and building
community, Belterra members have elected to leave portions of the Common House unfinished by the general
contractor and professional crew of builders in favour of taking the sweat equity approach to apply the
finishes ourselves, all together.
P.S. For more photos of the construction sequence, visit:
Beautiful Common Ground: Belterra and Terra Firma
By Soorya Resels
This past summer when Jack and I made a trip out east to visit family and friends in Montreal, Ottawa,
and Toronto, the conversation naturally turned to our impending move into cohousing
We generally heard positive comments. Many thought that we were courageous to venture in this
direction. Several expressed interest in wanting to experience cohousing themselves. Others, interested
in our experience of forming Belterra, were curious to hear about how it will all unfold — before
entertaining such a possibility themselves. And understandably so: cohousing is, as yet, a model
exquisitely different from our current preferences for private homes and getaways.
One of our dearest friends, with whom we had shared a house several decades ago in our first community
venture, introduced us to a small group of her women friends. They were currently researching the
cohousing model. We met over brunch and Jack and I shared the Belterra website along with our experiences
and our enthusiasm. There was a common theme to the conversation. While the women were interested in the
adventure of living closely together to make their lives richer and easier, their husbands were not. When
thinking about cohousing, their husbands seemed to conjure images of no privacy, a disinterest in sharing
tools, and a disruption of routine.
Whereas Jack and I have chosen to live in a multi-generational social system, these women were more
interested in gathering a group of peers. That’s what’s wonderful about cohousing. It is a model that is
highly adaptable to the needs and dreams of a given group who want to create a neighbourhood of any size
or shape. What it takes at first is a like-minded group of people wishing to grow in community. From
living in the city in a few apartments, to buying up part of a street and renovating, to going outside the
hub and into the suburbs or countryside to build something new — the sky’s the limit as to what’s
On Canada Day, we met with a different set of friends at Ottawa’s Terra Firma cohousing development. It
was a terrific experience and an opportunity to discover cohousing in a city setting. Not far from the
centre of the city and the Rideau Canal, Terra Firma is comprised of old row houses that were renovated
with another unit and common space added later on. After removing fences from their private backyards and
with the addition of an adjacent street, a wonderful commons was created. This multi-generational
community has a playground at one end of their common space and a sanctuary at the other with plenty of
room to picnic, share meals, garden independently and play in between.
The folks at Terra Firma agree that cohousing is a wonderful way to live: in community, bringing
back the experience of truly knowing and enjoying one’s neighbours. The calm feeling of appreciating the
simple things in life is apparent here: sharing some of the chores and the day-to-day tasks, celebrating
occasions like Canada Day with impromptu gatherings and rituals, and still being able to retreat into
one’s own home. The mix of individual space and community commons with an intention to create community
provides a balance and a sense of well-being that has been largely lost in our usual housing models.
Our last stop was Toronto where again we found folks with similar interests. Discovering that a new
cohousing site was being planned, I mentioned it to friends who live in the area. They attended an
information meeting for potential new members and really liked the organizers and their approach. The
process is not very far along yet: they are currently creating a business plan and will then explore
possible properties. Conceptually, this development follows the cohousing emphasis of common areas and a
sense of community being high priorities. Our friends expressed enthusiastically that it would be great
if their kids got involved too!
Back home now, our journey in cohousing continues for Jack and me with our Belterra collective.
much to learn and to share, we look forward to encountering more people looking for new ways to live
Editor’s note: Since this article was written, The Toronto Globe and Mail published an extensive look
at cohousing in the Vancouver area. To view the article, click here
Back to the Future: From Bali to Belterra
By Kat Hayduk
Cohousing communities are on the rise across Canada, the U.S. and Europe. In Canada there are 11
completed cohousing communities and 19 more forming. This way of life is catching on and filling a
need in our society. Cohousing feels like a fresh approach to living in a new, atypical way. But, is
it really something trendy and new?
Our family just returned from a six-week trip to Indonesia and the commonalities between the
Balinese way of life and cohousing couldn’t be more apparent. In Bali, families live in family
compounds called “karang.” Each karang is a walled compound where three generations of family live
together. The karang have a shared shrine and shared kitchen area and separate out-buildings for
sleeping and other functions. They will often rent out a portion of the compound as a “homestay” for
The best experiences we had were staying in these compounds because our son would often make
friends with the kids and you really get to know the culture this way. Balinese communities are also
organized into town councils called “banjar,” which are made up with representation from 20 -200
family compounds. All the decisions (mainly about land management, religious ceremonies, etc.) are
made by the banjar. Decisions are made by consensus, just like most cohousing communities.
When witnessing the closeness of Bali society, you can’t help but feel that Western society has
somewhat lost its way. I don’t want to idealize the way of life in Bali -- there is a lot of poverty
and a lack of access to quality healthcare, etc. But it struck me that we aren’t really on to something
NEW with cohousing. Indeed, most of the worlds’ population lives a lot more like the Balinese than the
isolated lives most of us live in North America.
Throughout the majority of human history, we have had to depend on each other to survive and
prosper. Perhaps the expansion of cohousing is in part a result of the dwindling middle class and our
desire to heal our hurting planet; a return to relying on the broader community is a financial and
environmental necessity. You could even think of communities like Belterra as a return to a more
natural society -- almost a return to our hunter and gatherer ancestors (and there are certainly
enough deer on Bowen for us to survive for a while).
Cohousing is a way of blending the best of the old with the best of the new: living in a close,
caring community while still carrying a healthcare card, sending a child to an amazing public school,
and having a rewarding career. No wonder it’s on the rise.
To Journey as a Pilgrim
By Sarah Godfrey
There's about a 25 second count as one merges onto the Upper Levels Highway from the Lynn Valley
onramp – where one catches a brief, but breathtaking, view. In those few moments (on a clear day)
one glimpses the Lion's Gate Bridge, distant mooring freighters, an expanse of ocean and sky – often
with glowing sunsets. And, just as quickly as one soaks this in, the road begins to slope and the view
For roughly 15 years, I have been travelling this route daily and that panoramic vista rarely fails
to move me. Never did I envision actually living so close to this view.
We have been fortunate for the past 22 years to live near nature in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver.
At the end of our quiet street is a small grove of trees that was once a playground for our two
daughters (Ani and Una) when they were young. We have great neighbours and our house, very modest
by today's standards, is old but cozy and very comfy to live in.
By fluke really, we found ourselves close to the Vancouver Waldorf School and we knew immediately
that this school with its emphasis on arts and music was a good fit for us and, oh yes, the girls! And
thus, we planted our roots in this neck of the woods and have discovered as of late that indeed
they run deep.
After surfacing from those busy parent years we find ourselves feeling fairly content,
perhaps even edging towards complacency at times. So why then would we want to uproot and replant on
Bowen? On some unconscious level I think we knew it was time to branch out, meet new people, gain
new insights/perspectives, and learn new skills, among other things.
While purging and packing up our belongings, some of which span more than four decades, the
daunting realization of just how much 'stuff' we've had hidden in our small home is overwhelmingly
evident. I've also observed how much I like consistency and familiarity. All those readings and
meditations on non-attachment and impermanence – let’s just say I have a ways to go.
But this unearthing of our deep Lynn Valley roots and saying so long to the familiar certainly helps
to 'lighten our load' and propel us to explore new possibilities and adventures. There's something
intriguing about jumping into a bit of the unknown which I feel is long overdue on my part. As we begin
this new chapter we look forward to witnessing the seasons on Bowen, forming meaningful friendships with
fellow cohousers and islanders, becoming adept ferry commuters (at least eventually), and embracing the
many nuances of island life.
We've also had a very strong bond with Gabriola Island. I've been going there since I was a wee
tyke – had my first kiss there, Mike and I got married there (not my first kiss), both my parent's
memorial services were held there, and some family members still live ‘on the rock.' Bowen Island,
like so many of the west coast islands, has its unique culture and geography and one can feel that
sense of island magic when stepping off the ferry. It will be exciting to explore new turf!
Many Belterrans have been involved with the cohousing project for several years. When looking at a
recent group photo of new and longtime members, one can't help but smile and feel the warmth that
these faces project through the computer screen. It's that warmth that is so inviting, uplifting and
keeps one wanting to experience more of this community. It's moments like this when that niggling doubt
factor fades and excitement trumps.
I came across this passage by poet/philosopher Mark Nepo the other day. Somehow it seemed fitting
for us Belterrans as we embark on this adventure of living together in community. Although we won't be
'journeying' in the literal sense of the word, we will nonetheless be exploring new beginnings and
adapting to a new way of life.
"To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a
chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journeying is to be a pilgrim."
Dahlias, Daisy & Desolation Sound
By Chris Farah
Moving on... How great it is to find other ways of living, namely cohousing - its unknown
adventures/challenges and a new learning curve.
Of course, living 20 years "doing" dahlias has been a passion and a huge satisfaction. Now, I
wonder, where will they grow? Somewhere (just a few)... Although, I am further away from special
islands near Vancouver Island, how great will it be to kayak and land on other spots around Bowen?
I look forward to that. (Daisy can enjoy the dog ranch and come home afterwards worn out.)
It is my understanding that there is tons to do, not only at Belterra, but on Bowen. I look
forward to the People, Plants and Places tour July 19th and 20th, and hiking on trails all over -
and to support that, going to the gym will be a must.
Come winter, how about a bit of skiing? Yes, ferries... but, it will be a break. And guess what?
At the school there is carpet bowling – an activity I thumbed my nose at until I found humour to
the game, as well as a social deal. “Yes, you made a great shot…” (Whoops, someone knocked you out.
While I am leaving a small marina village - sea scents, walks to die for, letting go, and
downsizing - it comes at an appropriate time, especially knowing there are such interesting occupants
living all around me. And, you are all YOUNGER than me - fun! To boot, such positive, homemade spirits...
It blows my mind.
In the meantime, I’ll be renting a smaller place (like what I eventually will live in) which is a
great way to start this new experience. And, it has an outdoor shower and moss floor (great for
washing off Daisy).
Why am I moving to Bowen Island? I have two lovely daughters with two children each living on Bowen
with grand children Jasmine and Kira, 10 years old, Arjun, 4 years old and Kian, 2 years old... that
answers that question, and I am delighted. (Sometimes also exhausted!)
So, once more, I am on the move – but my exposure to Bowen culture feels familiar. Hooray!
It Really is All About Community!
By Nancy Lanphear
Many things in our life have led us to the day we signed on as Belterra members. My hope in
sharing a few of these things is that you will understand a little bit more about us and our vision for
life at Belterra.
Bruce was raised in a family dedicated to radically changing the world by living in areas of
greatest need and focusing on community development from within. His parents made this choice in the
late 1960’s and Bruce and his siblings were part of it. Their journey took them to Chicago,
Indianapolis, Amarillo, Texas, and eventually to Kenya and India.
I was also able to experience living in community while in medical school on a two-month elective
to India. Sharing meals, washrooms, equipment and common spaces with a group of 15-25 people was an
incredible learning experience in how to share, get along, and also find calm and quiet in the midst
of chaos. (I think that growing up with seven in my family and being part of a large extended family
had given me a decent start!)
Bruce and I met at the end of school and shared the belief that being part of a community/family
was deeply important. In our early years, our path led us to cities far from family. As many in our
situation do, we created family where we were.
When we moved for my training to Cincinnati, a family acquaintance reached out to us and simply
asked us for dinner. We were welcomed and quickly became part of a weekly study group which sought
to explore common interests of ecology, sustainability, and a fair and just society. We explored
books, movies, local presentations and community rallies. This group shared meals, the ups and downs
of family, births, holidays, and then sadly sent us off four years later when our path took us to
Rochester, New York.
My sense of real loss for this sustaining community hit home when we celebrated our daughter’s
second birthday alone. I realized that along with a stable partner and distant extended family, we
needed a local community. We found friends who had a son the same age and shared common interests.
Again, sharing experiences such as picking blueberries at an orchard, sharing a CSA membership,
sharing books, and making applesauce were life sustaining.
Our circle of friends gradually expanded to include the “doula” for our second daughter's birth.
How fortunate we were to have friends who opened their lives and hearts to us. Five years after our
arrival, this community of friends sent us off as we moved back to Cincinnati. We have managed to
maintain a tight connection and continue to share the ups and downs of family even with the distance
In Cincinnati, we moved to a street that truly functioned as a small community. On moving day,
many neighbors come over to greet and welcome us. Our Mooney Ave “family” celebrated with a July 4th
picnic, end of summer brunch, New Years Eve party and an annual Easter egg hunt. Our next-door
neighbors became my daughters’ surrogate grandparents and were there to share a cup of tea, offer a
warm meal, share birthdays, watch the pets and children if we needed to travel and offer a presence
in our lives which has not been replicated.
In Dec 2007, we learned that my father-in-law had been diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Bruce’s parents were co-founders of Songaia, an intentional co-housing community outside Seattle.
Overnight, living in distant cities apart from our families ended. We wanted to be part of Fred’s
life for whatever time remained. Six months later, we had jobs and moved to Vancouver, Canada,
two-and-a-half hours away. This proximity allowed us to make many trips and be an important part of
Fred’s journey with ALS. In addition, we were welcomed to participate as members of the Songaia
community with their evening meals, celebrations, work days in the garden, and friendship.
As Bruce and I began to look ahead to a time when our daughters (now 23, 17 and 16) were grown,
we dreamed of living in community. We contemplated starting our own, building a family compound with
friends, and moving to Seattle. Then we saw an advertisement for Belterra in the Vancouver Waldorf
We took the ferry, listened and let the idea rest for a bit. The timing was not great, but we
tested the water again by coming to a weekend of meetings and we were hooked. We had found a group
of people who liked to eat together, talk, play, and share ideas and stories, all while honoring
each other’s voices and beliefs.
We have been so lucky in our lives to find lasting friendships and communities of people who are
looking for life, conversation, a shared meal, interesting ideas and a way to connect. At times our
society makes this difficult. Although it will take a bit of time to fully transition to life at
Belterra, we are happy to be engaging in this adventure and building our next community!
I Can’t Keep a Secret
By Carmen Yamashita
My three kids, aged 4, 6, and 8, still believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth
Fairy. In our current community, this is considered "unusual." It is not considered "unusual," however,
for them to be afraid to answer the door, to be aware that their school playground needs to be swept
for hypodermic needles before they play there, or to refer to Tim Horton’s as "Timmy’s" as if he’s a
close family friend.
I don’t remember which day it was exactly that I woke up and gave my head a good shake. This wasn’t
how I had envisioned the environment where I would raise my children.
It’s not all bad: we live in an East Van co-op where my kids know most of their neighbours by name,
and have been able to participate, or at least witness, diverse groups of people working together
toward common goals. They attend a small neighbourhood school with a strong sense of community,
supportive staff, and involved parents.
We limit television and video games, spend quality time together, and take time to discuss the good,
the bad, and the ugly. There is way too much "ugly." I had convinced myself that it was ok for them to
be exposed to homelessness, drug addicts, drunk and disorderly behaviour, panhandlers, prostitutes,
thieves, and vandals because it would open the door for conversation about reality.
But they’ve stopped asking questions. It’s just "the way it is." This, combined with the bombardment
of advertising, fast food, and a frenzy of never-ending traffic and activity, forms the backdrop of our
I’ve always thought that there had to be a better way to live, and I’ve played around the edges of
ideas like living off-the-grid in the city, ways to create a safer community, or finding several
like-minded families and creating a communal home. I’ve just always been too busy to follow through in
a big way. It was all really just a dream. My dream had too many unknowns, and required too much time
and money. And then...
[cue the chorus of angels]
...I discovered the existence of cohousing! When I first heard about a co-housing project underway
in Vancouver I was beside myself with joy, disbelief, and bewilderment. Someone else had similar ideas
as me... but they did something about it! They made it happen! I wouldn’t have to invent the wheel to
make my dream come true after all!
It didn’t take me long after that to learn about Cohousing Canada, and to find out more details
about every co-housing development completed or in progress in western Canada. Why hadn’t I heard about
this before? Why doesn’t everyone know? Increasing our community and decreasing our footprint - it
seems so obvious to me now that this is the way we should be living and raising our children.
I have always valued strong community and believe in the age-old proverb "It takes a village to raise
a child." I believe that the more meaningful contact children have with people of all ages and
backgrounds, the richer their lives will be. Children need to feel safe, loved, trusted, and valued.
What better place to nurture this than among a group of similarly minded individuals?
We found our perfect co-housing community on Bowen Island. At first, I thought Belterra sounded too
idyllic to ever be possible for us. Really? I could live on an island, surrounded by the tranquil forest
and ocean, only an hour from downtown Vancouver? With no fast food, glaring lights, or billboards? No
need for traffic lights, or always having to keep children within eyesight? With more trails than
roads? And room to grow - gardens, trees, and children? But what about work? Well, my husband and I
could commute for now, and then see if opportunities came up closer to home. School? Fabulous community
school...that my kids could walk to, through a trail! Soon, there wasn’t a disadvantage on my list that
we couldn’t overcome. We are not just buying our first family home, we are joining the Belterra
We didn’t know we had this choice until we discovered it like a shiny penny in the road. It feels
like we’re stepping back in time to when things were simpler, and life was slower. Who knew we get all
that with in-floor heating too?!
Spring on Bowen
By Jane Kane
When I sat envisioning a month ago, as it snowed on Bowen for three days (a very unusual occurrence),
I had a bubbly excitement erupting inside myself, knowing that spring was just around the corner. Any
day I’d be sitting outside admiring flowers and birds burst with enthusiasm.
After three springs here, I have developed an inner sense of the seasons and relish their magnificent
changing. Living in nature so closely, my rhythms have attuned to what’s around me and it’s been very
healing to allow myself to reconnect with the earth.
This is a very gentle environment and unique in its own way, having none of the wilderness predators
I am used to. There are no coyotes, cougars, bears, or raccoons here (that I have seen), although the
local chickens occasionally get harassed by mink, eagles, or owls. This has created an ideal home for
deer, and they are plentiful.
In the spring, the matriarch of the local herd comes through my yard, and I have been blessed to have
her stop and graze just outside my window. There is something sacred about having a deep, returning gaze
with her. She is leading her offspring into their territory for the year, and she is soon followed by
both males and females, searching for fresh grass and a delicious spot for a nap. Occasionally I see a
spotted fawn as well, and am careful when driving to keep to the posted speed limit in order not to come
upon them in the road too suddenly.
The local veterinarian has been known to go out and treat deer in trouble, such as one with tangled
netting around its snout last year after foraging in a garden.
A sure sign that spring is approaching occurred this week when I heard my neighbourhood flickers
drumming on the metal eaves troughs at dawn! They are advertising themselves to their prospective mates
and I know that I need to keep my birdfeeders full to allow them to grow their family nearby. There is
nothing more entertaining than the whole tribe visiting me here and flashing their beautiful orange
feathers at me while lustily calling to one another. They are often followed by the hummingbirds who
love to buzz me when I go outside. To show their appreciation, they dive dizzyingly from great heights
revealing their iridescent loveliness.
Along with the birds, the bright spears of daffodils are bravely poking themselves out of the ground
and will soon be nodding happily in the warm breezes, since deer don’t like to eat them. Wild things are
blooming all over the island, and the colors proliferate every year as locals plant more to increase the
Maybe the dolphins will appear again on my ferry ride, as they have in recent years, having returned
with the cleaner waters these days. Orcas, too, are now common in Howe Sound off the coast of Bowen
Earth’s song will be even more obvious at Belterra than where I am currently living. I look forward
to smelling the skunk cabbage while wandering along the bubbling creek to the waterfall next year at
this time as I prepare to inhabit my new home. I have spotted a magnificent stag on the border of our
land and I hope he will be back to greet me when I am living there next spring.
This Small School with a Big Heart
I have worked as a special education assistant at the island’s public elementary school now for
nearly one year. It reminds me of the school in the small town where I grew up, where people knew each
other and looked out for one another. With fewer than 350 students, Bowen Island Community School
(BICS) has an intimate feel. I immediately liked the proximity to nature, the vegetable garden and the
sight of the deer that occasionally wander by the classroom windows.
Among the school’s unique features is the unfenced back forest playground where children from
kindergarten to grade 7 enjoy dramatic and creative fort building and other outdoor play.
One of the BICS programs that I found immediately appealing is called Outside 45. It is a Bowen
Island-based environmental education program for students in grades 6 and 7 that blends learning in
the classroom with frequent experiences in natural and built environments on and off the island. I
would have loved this program as a young person and I am eager for my future child to join it.
The geography surrounding the island has much to teach these students about Bowen and there are
several field experiences planned off island, including overnight camping trips to Garibaldi Provincial
Park, a bike tour, and a kayak tour of Howe Sound. It’s neat to see the students drying out their
sleeping bags after a camping trip or to see them dehydrating fruit for an upcoming trip. The last time
the students left on an overnight trip to Gambier Island there was a buzz in the air at school, and we
all looked forward to hearing their stories when they got back.
Many recent financial cutbacks in the lower mainland have hurt schools and that’s why BICS students
are so lucky to have access still to the Roots of Empathy program for kindergarten students. Roots of
Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant effect in reducing levels of
aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. A
mother and infant visit the classroom once a month throughout the year and help students learn
Another incredible program at B.I.C.S. is the MindUP curriculum which helps teach children
mindfulness, awareness of breath and other relaxation techniques. By getting the children to sit or lie
down and observe their breath while focusing on feeling their stomachs rise and fall, a classroom that
was wild and loud with energy can slowly change into one that is ready for listening to a story.
Another learning opportunity available to students is the fenced garden near the back of the school.
Children benefit greatly from seeing how things grow from seed to harvest. They love getting their
hands full of dirt, seeing worms, picking apples, and tasting and smelling herbs. Each classroom even
has its own composting buckets to help cut down on garbage at school. Students have the chance to plant
seeds, help fruit or vegetables grow, and then harvest the produce to sell at the local farmer’s market.
Classrooms have made “stone soup” and had salad feasts after a big garden harvest.
There is a student council that organizes popcorn sales during the year to raise money for a young
girl in Egypt who the school has sponsored for many years as a foster child. The council also has a
“B.I.C.S. Cares” food drive where students donate non- perishable food to the island food bank at
Christmas time. I was amazed at how much food was gathered.
There are many more programs worth mentioning: Whale Day, the Youth Curators of History, the BC
School Fruit and Vegetable Nutrition program, School Choir, Intermediate Band, and much more. BICS has
a special charm that comes from being a school on a small island where the community cares deeply about
its students. The school has become the hub of the island: there is always something happening, anyone
is welcome, and the best learning happens because families, children, and staff feel connected and
proud to be a part of their school.
Planting the Seeds
By Brent O'Malley
Hours before I was born, my mother was out picking blackberries with her father on Vancouver Island.
When I heard the story years later, I liked to attribute my preference for blackberries (and fresh food)
to that early introduction. But who doesn’t like fresh food?
There is nothing quite like foraging for something in the wild, or picking something in the garden,
to make us realize that the winter tomato in the vegetable aisle is tomato in name only. Its genes have
been modified and manipulated to withstand the rigours of industrial harvesting, packing and shipping
half way around the world and it has that perfectly round shape and red hue that can only come from a
Fresh food is wilder in every sense: from scent on the vine to juiciness on the cutting board to the
taste and nutrition exploding with abandon on the taste buds. There is nothing like having access to
food the way it is surely meant to be.
I grew up with a vegetable garden in the yard, have had a vegetable garden most of my adult life, and
am under no illusion that plants simply appear in neat little rows. I look forward to working in the
community garden at Belterra, first deciding what is to be planted and where, and having work parties
that are more party than work.
The advantage of gardening in co-housing, compared to most other gardens I’ve had in my life, is that I
fully expect some of that work to be shared! And it’s not all drudgery, for those who may not be familiar
with what is entailed. Even weeding can have a meditative aspect that is satisfying. And snipping a
tomato off the vine or plucking a beet from the ground is about as good as it gets.
Having a vegetable garden is a joy in itself, watching something appear almost like magic over days
and weeks. Working the soil, making compost, starting plants from seeds in the dead of winter and
transplanting them outside when the time is ripe only to watch them burst with life under the
lengthening summer sun, to finally partaking in the celebration of food at the table with friends and
family – this is the heart of the garden experience. This is nutrition for the body and the soul and
certainly the stuff of community glue.
The truth of the matter is, I like to eat. My love of fresh vegetables is driven by my love of cooking
and eating good food. There is nothing quite like going outside to grab something from the garden that
will make the evening meal just a little more special. Parsley that’s just been picked emits a greenness
that simply isn’t found in its supermarket look alike.
My mother would soak a freshly cut head of broccoli in a bowl of salt water to tease out the little
critters that had found homes in the flowerets. I suppose we could simply douse the plant in some toxic
chemical while it’s still in the ground to discourage the bugs from taking up residence in the first
place, but is that really what we want to be eating?
Kale can be chopped up and eaten raw, possibly mixed with some other salad greens, or sautéed or
steamed. The entire beet plant is edible. Fava beans fix nitrogen in the soil which the next crop
(whatever it might be) will use to nourish itself as it develops. And there is nothing like fresh favas,
though they are lot of work. (I foresee a shucking party in our future.) And what about growing fruit
trees and baking our own pies?
The abundance of summer can be extended into the dark cold days of winter by drying, canning or
brining. Whether it’s washing fresh vegetables for dinner that night, or preparing them for the months
ahead, many hands make light work. Sharing, literally, in the fruits of our labours will be Belterra’s,
“the beautiful earth’s,” rewarding legacy.
Our Journey: From Spirituality to Cohousing
By Soorya and Jack Resels
Birds are chirping, the sound of wind moves in apple trees and tall grasses; outrageous natural
views of cloud-covered mountains and spectacular moon rises hover above the valley.
Along the narrow highway, by the fast-moving, glacier-fed river, children play. Riffs of music
blend with sounds of laughter, barking dogs, and bleating sheep; people flow indoors and out,
animated or quiet, enjoying delicious meals, festivities, singing, and good company – sharing life.
More than 30 years ago we first entered this sacred valley in India in search of a healthier way
of living and being. We were seeking something more than the materiality we were born into, we were
looking for spiritual wealth. What drew us there? The mysteries of meditation and a desire for a
deeper, more spiritual experience of life.
We lived on a mountainside in a village just outside town, much like Belterra, with mountains both
behind us to the West, and facing our windows to the East. We lived in easy walking distance of
friends, a central meeting place, the local community, and shopping for basics – life was simple.
Surrounded by nature trails, we didn’t feel that we needed much else. Our interests revolved
around inner exploration and learning to be self-aware and self-responsible. Living in India granted
our wishes for inner peace, deeper spirituality, and feeling at home in ourselves.
Super fast-forward: Our decisions to join Belterra a few short months ago and to move to Bowen
Island within the next 15, has us experiencing the excitement of another great leap forward. Our
motivations? A wish for simplicity, our developing sense of social responsibility, a felt need for
ecological accountability, and desire for community.
By joining the Belterra cohousing community, we've entered into a self-directed community whose
values we whole-heartedly share. We resonate with Belterra's
Mission Statement and the people we've met.
We are already creating our community, although our new home at Belterra will be under construction
for about a year.
Cohousing, a type of co-operative village-style living, is very different from anything we've
explored previously. We love the feeling of living in community from our many flirtations with it.
This community feeling is often lacking in the way we live in the city. Cohousing – with its mandate
of neighbourhood living, evolving self-governing practises, and reliance on community spirit, demands
a different type of participation; one that we imagine will grow us in new ways yet again.
What does this mean for us?
- A healthy living style: one that is good for body, mind and spirit. In a time of increasing
stresses and fast paced city living, cohousing can create the opportunities for the closeness we need
and the feelings of belonging that nourish us, while supporting our autonomy. This way of living will
very likely expand our capacity to create and experience more flexibility, joy, fun and support – all
good for our sense of well-being.
- Diversity: a community of all ages and varied abilities to enrich our daily experiences.
- Co-operation: learning and practising skills of how to live together with our differences
so that we can work things out for the greater good of all, taking into consideration not only our own
needs but those of others around us.
- Natural Environment: living close to nature with its positive effects on our mental,
emotional and physical health.
- Ecological accountability: discovering our personal, creative balance between individual
needs and a smaller footprint on this beautiful earth. Learning to be good managers of our resources
as we consider choices that are in keeping with our values; appreciating the resources at our disposal
and being conscious of our impact on future generations.
- Fulfilling connections: The promise of new and inspiring connections with our neighbours;
enjoying knowing our neighbours, and welcoming the creativity and diversity we each bring.
For us, all this amounts to a more meaningful life: one not measured by dollars and materiality but
rather by our state of well-being, creative inspiration, relationships and offerings. We have all
inherited our past and we can consciously create our future. Creating our future in community can make
the experience so much richer.
Some of the things we are envisioning at Belterra:
Birds winging overhead, the sound of wind moving in the trees; outrageous natural views of the sky
with the North Shore Mountains out our windows and doorsteps, spectacular sun and moon rises, Howe
Sound to our East ... Children playing, riffs of music, sounds of laughter, animated conversations,
dogs barking. People indoors and out. Outdoor and indoor projects. Keeping our environment impeccable.
Gardening vegetables. Making fresh juices, smoothies and salads; sharing delicious meals, festivities,
diverse interests. Being our creative selves and discovering new possibilities: great music, singing,
stories, good company – sharing life!
Belterra: An Artists’ Colony?
By Susan Swift
I couldn’t believe it. I took a quick break from my computer and stepped out onto the
balcony where I was greeted with a blast of damp December air and a breathtaking view of Howe
Sound. The mist-shrouded mountain tops in the distance looked as if they were brushed in pale,
watery ink, like a Japanese painting. The sky was moving slowly, flooding the cove and low-lying
hills with rolling waves and wisps of fog.
As I inhaled the unexpected peace and beauty, my ears were filled with melancholy sounds – it
was a cello, I realized, sending deep notes wafting down the hill from above. A passing bird
chimed in. Time seemed to pause and hold its breath, embracing us all at once: me and the bird,
music and the mountains, the mist and this single moment.
Okay, this hasn’t actually happened – yet. But, it’s one of my visions of living at Belterra,
a place where surprising moments of beauty and creativity will take place daily. I am not just
fantasizing (although I am prone to poetic imaginings); Belterra cohousing members have talents
and skills worthy of an artists’ colony.
We have at least one Morris Dancer in our midst (Tess), the aforementioned cellist (Matthew),
and an exceedingly accomplished painter (Mike) whose painting “The Rower” graces this article.
Among the art professionals, we count videographers (Kat & Cam), graphic designer (Diana), and
art therapist (Jane) who has volunteered her face painting skills at Belterra family events.
The most musical couple has to be Brandie and Doug. Brandie plays old time and bluegrass
banjo and acoustic guitar and some piano. Doug plays bass guitar, drums, keyboards, electric and
acoustic guitars, and sings. He is currently in a band called "Ginger 66" that performs mostly
country, rock, and bluegrass.
There are at least four more guitarists including Mike, Matthew, Cam, and Cindy (pictured) who
plays folk music and sings with North Shore Unitarian Church choir. We have a few music makers who
combine spiritual practice with sacred music. Soorya and Jack facilitate music, meditation and
chant with Jack on the D'Jembe drum and the dotar (a two stringed instrument from India). Matthew
leads singing services at his local synagogue and trained with wife Rebecca in Hebrew Sacred Chant.
Joyce, who lives in cohousing at Cranberry Commons (CC) wrote, “...your fantasizing about the
cello isn't far off, except that the music I hear at CC is the piano, or my neighbour's harp, or
sometimes on sunny days the guitar being played in the courtyard with a group of kids singing
I haven’t unveiled all the poets, singers, and other artistic types among us (we have yoga and
t’ai chi instructors – don’t they count?). But, we can add to the list: several better-than-amateur
photographers, aspiring and would-be ceramicists, accomplished wood-workers, people who love to
dance, and delicious cooks (their food is good, too).
For every artist or musician I mentioned, there is a lapsed creative being who is looking
forward to living at Belterra where they can “get back to playing piano” or “painting, like I used
to.” Some of my new neighbors are planning to convert their second bedrooms to art studios. Others
are hoping to move their collage (or canning) supplies into the Common House’s multi-purpose room.
The wood-workers already have a design team planning how to organize the wood shop. Potters (and
wannabe potters) are hoping to make some studio space available on site.
More than one person mentioned that the work they do enables others to express themselves. I am
thinking in particular of Chris, a ski instructor who teaches disabled children, and Stephen, a
counselor who helps people access their core emotions and “co-create moments that can transform
their perceptions.” I believe that the therapeutic process is itself creative and artful.
Which reminds me that art isn’t always something tangible but is, rather, conscious and
intentional self- expression. I have the feeling that living at Belterra will keep this idea in
focus, reminding me to live creatively by bringing my heart into group projects as well as solitary
Mike put it all into perspective, when he wrote,
“I'm really looking forward to what I suspect will be many a spontaneous jam session in the
Common House with my fellow aspiring and accomplished musicians. At the other pole, I'm hoping that
the tranquility and beauty of Bowen Island and the enlivening quality of the Belterra community will
inspire me to produce more in the way of painting. For this I will take advantage of the other
aspect that Belterra offers - privacy! Indeed, it is cohousing's recognition and embracing of the
human need for both community and solitude that makes me optimistic about the journey we are
Communities Celebrating Community
By Tess Taylor & Soorya Ray Resels.
com•mu•ni•ty [kuh-myoo-ni-tee] noun, plural: com•mu•ni•ties.
The term community has two distinct meanings. It can refer to a social unit of any
size that shares common values, including a national or international community.
The second meaning appears in biology where "community" describes a group of interacting
living organisms sharing a populated environment.
Bowen Island does not have a stand-alone community centre. Instead, we're lucky to
have the Bowen Island Community School (BICS), a shared-use facility and the only
community school in the West Vancouver School District. Sarah Haxby (friend of author
Tess) is the Community-School Coordinator. She works hard to ensure that our island
community has a place to host a variety of events in which to share knowledge, activity,
This year, BICS is celebrating its 40th year as a designated community school. At the
same time, Belterra cohousing is celebrating its long-awaited groundbreaking and the start
of construction. Our 30-unit housing development happens to be just a 5-minute walk from
Bowen Island Community School.
Unlike any other development on Bowen, Belterra is a cohousing community. That means it
is planned, owned and managed by its residents. Belterra is also providing the first ever
affordable housing under the Bowen Island Municipality’s guidelines. So, there is much to
celebrate in November! Many people have worked for many years to create affordable housing
on Bowen Island, and Tess is thrilled to be able to purchase one of these homes.
Sarah and Tess, in a celebratory mood, wanted to honour these events and share them
with the rest of the Bowen Island community. Since both friends are Black Sheep Morris
dancers and love dancing, they thought "what better way to celebrate the old and the new
than with a traditional, family-friendly, all-ages dance party?"
On Friday, November 8th, you are invited to join in a celebration of community at a
Ceilidh (kay-lee) sponsored by Belterra cohousing and BICS. Our Bowen Island Ceilidh is a
social event full of music, movement, celebration and fun. It will be a time to build
memories and a sense of belonging, while learning dances in a multi-generational setting.
Musicians Neil and Keona Hammond are donating their performance time. They're bringing
a professional Ceilidh caller and musicians who specialize in Ceilidh dances. What's it
like? Think Irish/Scottish line dances, with a caller who teaches each of the dances and
then encourages everyone to join in. We're also making sure there will be time for free
style dancing. The focus is on creating a family friendly event and “Fun Raising,” not
“Fund Raising.” Any dollars raised over cost will be reinvested in future community events.
We’ll see you at the Ceilidh!
Fri. Nov 8th at BICS
1041 Mount Gardner Road
Gym doors open at 5:30 pm
$5 per person, $10 per family
Light snacks for purchase
Wrap up around 8:30 pm
Belterra: For the Birds?
By Paul Tennant
Belterra will be an ideal home for bird-watchers. Surrounded by varied forest habitat,
our neighbourhood is home to most of the Island’s land-bird species. Three of them will
be especially welcoming to their new neighbours — provided we welcome them.
The Anna’s Hummingbird resides year-round on Bowen. Insects are its main food, but it
comes readily to feeders. On cold winter nights, like its High Andes cousins, it tucks
itself into a tiny sphere, fluffs-up its feathers, and, quite literally, hibernates. In
my front yard, at least three pairs nest in the small grove of young conifers, at times
perching on a rope I’ve placed for them. On gaining possession of my Belterra unit (or
even before, if I can sweet-talk the contractor), my very first act will be to put up
Chickadees and swallows will quickly take possession of nest boxes under the eaves of
Belterra’s buildings. For the past ten summers, Violet-Green Swallows have occupied the
nest box near my back door. Curious, or suspicious, the parents often perch on my
clothesline, riding the upper line toward me as I load the lower line. A few feet from me,
they fly out on another return trip. On leaving the nest, the young swallow uses the line
as its first perch.
In favouring their first born, swallows outdo even English nobility. The first chick to
hatch soon monopolizes the entry hole, giving way to its next oldest sibling only when
stuffed with food. Within days of the chick’s leaving the nest, the parents depart with it
for Mexico. Only in bumper insect years is the second chick mature enough to depart with
them. Disposing of dead babies is thus part of my annual nest box maintenance. That first
chick, returning with its parents the following year, does follow the payback principle —
by assisting in feeding the new hatchling.
Crows are more often despised than admired. Yet crows are the most engaging of birds.
Here I have a confession. As a teenager, growing up east of Kamloops, I would kidnap a crow
hatchling from a nest directly across the river, giving it a new “nest” atop the kitchen
refrigerator. To avoid fouling their own nest, baby crows practice “projectile defecating”
— a fact that was highly amusing to me and my friends, less so to my mother.
Having had a few days to imprint on their parents, “my” crows knew they were crows. As
soon as I had them outdoors, their parents would locate them — and thereafter be in regular
communication. While content to remain with me over the summer, by late September my crows
would choose full-time crowdom and depart with their parents.
Here on Bowen, I have another confession. Starting in June 2007, I had a three-year
relationship with a female crow. It began innocently. If she landed on one end of my
front-deck rail, I would place food for her at the other end. Reluctantly at first, she
consented to advance a slight distance toward me each time. I would advance about the same
distance toward her with the food. If she flew off she got no food. Having had most previous
relationships go off the rails, I kept careful track of this one.
Over the next two years we became ever closer — by an average of 0.356143 inches per day.
By June 2009, we were a mere 18 inches apart. That was her limit. There would be no touching.
Fickle female to the end, it was only now that she began bringing me gifts — first it was red
cherries from a neighbour’s tree. I was incredulous. But, as John Marzluff amply demonstrates
in Gifts of the Crow, crows do indeed give gifts to humans.
Sadly for me, crows will visit Belterra infrequently. Like our previous municipal council,
they prefer spacious single-family neighbourhoods. For our part, besides our hummers, swallows,
and chickadees, we’ll enjoy our larger avian visitors, such as the eagles, hawks, and vultures
soaring silently overhead on their hunt for prey. Most magnificent of all, the pileated
woodpecker (North America’s largest) will raucously hunt carpenter ants up and down our Douglas
Paul’s Crow painted by artist Susy Baranszky-Job of Ladner, British Columbia..
Recipe for Holz Hausen
By Roger McGillvray
Holz Hausen: "traditional, German firewood curing/stacking design."
Servings: 2 to 3 cords per holz haus (9 ft. diameter)
Prep. time: One day to several months, depending on how well the pleasure and satisfaction
of building holz hausen is communicated to your potential fellow workers. Make it sound fun and
creative "and they will come."
Five strong, enthusiastic, good looking, intelligent and smartly dressed workers
should be able to complete 1.5 holz hausen per eight-hour day, assuming other similar
people drop by occasionally to encourage and nourish the workers.
(The above assumes one has access to a powerful log splitter that can reduce a gnarly, twisted,
knotty and obese hemlock round into a skinny, whimpering piece of kindling with little effort) ...
The same feat with the same logs, using wedges, axes and mauls, could take as long as rezoning
property on Bowen Island.
- logs (use logs that are not very good for anything but firewood)
- regular fuel for log splitter
- high octane fuel for workers
- cut logs into firewood length rounds
- pick a convenient work site and pile all the rounds there (if you make this close
to the holz hausen location you will need fewer friends later)
- in the middle of a level site, drive a spike into the ground and loosely tie a string
around the spike. Cut the string to the length of the desired radius of your holz haus
(give this number to a mathematician for later volume calculations)
- place log splitter between the log pile and the holz hausen site
- pour fuel into log splitter (smoking not recommended)
- pour fuel into workers (smoking may seem like a good idea depending on fuel type)
- turn on splitter and pull to start (might need to choke it)
- turn on workers (optional) and push to start (choke only as a last resort)
- the splitter crew should discuss who will need their fingers the most and take
appropriate positions. Ideally, splitter operator and the log lifter/holder will
communicate telepathically. If they cannot, then nods, winks, grimaces and smirks will
have to do.
- the split pieces are next handled by the wood chucker also affectionately known as the
“tosser.” The wood chucker is the link between the splitter and the stackers and needs to
understand both jobs, be proficient in first aid and have the timing and grace of a ballerina.
During work hours, the “woodchuck could chuck” tongue twister can be an efficient
The “stackers” receive the wood from the “chuckers” and are sometimes informally called
“chuckees” with the leader often referred to as the “chuckee cheese.” The stackers are artists
who are ultimately responsible for creating the holz hausen.
Using the radius sized string, the stackers build a circle of firewood pieces, then another
slightly smaller circle on top of the first, then another and another, filling the hollow
created in the middle with the more irregular pieces simply tossed in. The round column of
firewood gradually gets narrower as it gets higher. (Getting wider as it gets higher is not a
good idea and may test the chucker’s first aid skills.) The holz hausen height is determined by
the height of the stacker who will dome the top with wood pieces and pronounce the structure
At this point a “relaxing beverage” should be added to all workers fuel supply and a
traditional shout of HOLZ HAUSEN! in mock German accents will end the day.
There are Foxglove in my Basement
By Diana Thompson
Belterra means “beautiful earth” -— And each time I visit Belterra, I like to go and
stand in the location where my home will be built and imagine... What will it really be like to be
living here, watching a super-moon come up over the mountains of the mainland — or a sunrise —
while seated comfortably on my deck? This past July 1st weekend, as I stood in this spot, I found
myself surrounded by foxglove.
These bell-shaped flowers open from bottom to top and can grow four to six feet tall. Foxglove
cover Belterra’s slope from June through July, attracting bees and hummingbirds as well as humans.
When large numbers of this tall flower are in bloom, it makes a dramatic, colourful display. For
many years, students from Island Pacific School, a neighbour to the Belterra property, have
collected huge bouquets of foxglove from this hillside for use at their graduation celebrations.
Foxglove folklore is rich with fairies, witches, foxes and hobgoblins. The plant has long been
known as both poisonous and medicinal. Check out
this link for a sampling of the foxglove story.
Diana standing approximately where her home will be built
I’ve come to think of foxglove as Belterra’s flower. With construction soon to commence this fall,
Belterrans are planning to collect foxglove seeds from the site to re-seed the hillside once
construction concludes. This is one plant we can count on that will not be consumed by Bowen Island’s
After lingering for pictures in the foxglove, Roger, Stephanie, their two little dogs (Lola and
Barley) and I headed out for a hike from Belterra to Grafton Lake. We enjoyed our picnic lunch on the
cliff side overlooking the lake — a stunningly beautiful spot. It was one of those moments when I
felt like I needed someone to pinch me and wake me from a dream — but the reality is that I will
soon be living here, with all this natural beauty both in my backyard and out my front windows.
There is a good network of trails on Bowen Island — many that Belterrans will easily access from
home without jumping in a vehicle. This is one of the many things I am very excited about and looking
forward to in living here. It won’t be long now. And the bonus is that I will have a wonderful
community of neighbours with whom to share all of this.
An Evening with Diana Leafe Christian
By Susan Swift
Have you ever wondered about the prospects for world peace if you and your best friend can't
even communicate sometimes? I do. And, I wonder if living in a cohousing community with lots of
other people in close proximity is going to turn out to be really frustrating or really rewarding.
Since most of us do not have a lot of experience or faith in group dynamics, the concept of
cohousing raises all kinds of doubts. The very idea that a group can make decisions for the whole
community and that we will get our individual needs met at the same time is a bit, well, vague
Let me introduce you to Diana Leafe Christian, an author, speaker and workshop facilitator who
distills decades of experience with groups into funny and illuminating workshops, books and
presentations. She is also a resident of Earthhaven Ecovillage in North Carolina and the publisher
of Ecovillages, an online newsletter.
Diana is coming to Bowen Island with a trunk full of anecdotes and a toolbox loaded with
practical methods for creating and sustaining healthy communities. Belterra Cohousing is
sponsoring her talk at Cates Hill Chapel on Friday, August 9th.
Living together is a challenge. Whether you are a family of two or community of 100, we all
could use some real life wisdom delivered by a bona fide professional.
That’s why when Belterra’s project manager Ronaye Matthew told us that the author of “Creating
a Life Together” (the book that Belterra has adopted to help navigate the unfamiliar territory of
cohousing and group decision-making) was coming to British Columbia, we decided to ask if she had
time to visit Bowen Island too.
Belterra Cohousing members have been grappling for some time with how best to apply the
principles of consensus decision-making at various meetings. The group is very much aligned with
the underlying values of consensus: active listening, inclusivity, and reaching mutually supportive
solutions. However, sometimes it feels like the pressure to make a decision quickly forces us to
end a discussion prematurely.
But, beyond our own questions about how to make good decisions, we wanted to share Diana’s
expertise with a wider audience, especially our Bowen Island and mainland neighbors who are
interested in sustainability, community development, power struggles, and other nitty-gritty
Diana will get to the heart of the matter: group dynamics, communication and decision-making.
As her biography states, “From her deep and broad understanding of group dynamics, she teaches
effective and harmonious ways to resolve … challenges that can arise in any community.”
I am curious about what Diana will share at her public presentation on Bowen. The testimonials
on her website laud her work, and I’ve heard that she’s got some new tricks and tools up her
“I love the way you interspersed information with stories,
humour, and even ‘street theatre’
“…your teaching style was marvelous; crystal-clear,
entertaining, consciousness-raising, brilliant, and memorable.”
Tickets are reasonably priced at a suggested donation of $10 for anyone 12 or older. The
presentation with an informal gathering and refreshments in Cates Hill Chapel, a few steps from
the Belterra Cohousing site.
A More Meaningful Life
By Kat Hayduk
We were your typical over-extended family in Spring 2007 when our world was suddenly turned
upside down. My partner Cam and I were both working off Bowen Island, commuting by ferry to
Vancouver and we had a young son, Sam. Many would say we were living a dream life – we owned
a beautiful home and we had a lovely nanny looking after our son while we juggled the rest of
life. Then, we bought our son a brand new bicycle for his fourth birthday and he couldn't
It wasn't because his feet couldn't reach, nor because of some flaw in the training wheels
or because he was lazy. It was because a war was being waged inside his little body. In April
2007, our perfectly healthy little boy was suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening skin and
muscle autoimmune disease called Juvenile Dermatomyositis. Over the course of the next two
years our lives changed; ultimately, for the better.
Once the shock wore off and we could see that Sam was responding remarkably well to treatments,
we gained this amazing perspective about what really matters in life. And, guess what? Here's
the shocker: life isn't about stuff and security and money. We all know this, of course. But,
it took facing the possibility of losing our only child to wake us up to changing our lives
in a dramatic way.
We rolled up our sleeves and began what we called "Operation: Meaningful Life." We quit our
jobs and started our own company producing videos for non-profits and kids. Instead of making
video games (Kat) and television commercials (Cam),we decided to produce videos that make a
positive difference in the world.
A year into our new business, we realized that it was growing, but not fast enough to support
our old lifestyle. So, we started to look around for ways to reduce our mortgage and put some of
the equity from our home into the business. Then, one fine day we ran across the Belterra
information table at the local community craft fair. We fell instantly in love--with way more
than the affordable price tag.
We had changed our careers to reflect our values, but we hadn’t actually made many changes
to our day-to-day lives. People who live on Bowen face a challenge: we live here because we
love nature, but living on an island can come with a hefty carbon footprint (driving on the
ferry, driving across the island, having long commutes to work in town).
Working on island and living in “Built Green” Belterra close to the ferry and school will
allow us to have a much smaller footprint than the typical family. And, although Bowen is a
tight knit community and we do a fair amount of volunteering, we don’t live our day-to-day
lives in a place that makes it easy to offer support to others. Creatively, we know that
Belterra will also help us. Surrounding ourselves with such a myriad of bright, supportive,
and naturally collaborative people will likely reap awesome rewards for our work.
Our company’s tagline is, “If you want to change the world, we want to tell your story.”
We realized that change begins with us. We need to “be the change” we want to see in world.
So, we joined Belterra and we haven’t looked back. I think on move-in day we’ll consider
“Operation: Meaningful Life” complete. We can’t wait.
Cohousing is the Best Bet for Today’s Families
As my husband and I embark on the journey toward having our own children and the stresses that will bring,
we have decided that living in a cohousing community makes sense for us. Given that Belterra will have
support and relationships built into its every day existence, I feel a great sense of relief in knowing I
will have people to help me when I need a break from parenting. Having shared meals in the common house
will alleviate the pressure of cooking and cleaning when I don’t have the energy or the time.
On the farm in interior BC where I was raised, we always had enough money and food yet I felt like
something was missing. I saw how hard my parents were working to make the farm and family life work. They
seemed to be walking a tight rope, never having enough time to actually relax because of all the work there
was to do. I desperately hoped they would get to a place where they could feel rested and relaxed enough to
Families are very stressed out today. Both parents are usually working and many families live far from
extended family and friends. Previously people had closer relationships with neighbors, but families today
are increasingly isolated and don't know their neighbors at all. This was my experience living in East
Vancouver for the past 16 years. It took years to get to know my neighbors, and children rarely played in
their back yards. They certainly were not encouraged to play in the park alone and parents were always wary
The Canadian Mental Health Association states that, “being a parent can be one of life’s most joyful and
rewarding experiences, but there are times in everyone’s life when the demands and hassles of daily living
cause stress. The additional stress of caring for children can, at times, make parents feel angry, anxious,
or just plain 'stressed out.' These tensions are a normal, inevitable part of family life, and parents need
to learn ways to cope so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by them.” The CMHA suggests taking a break from
caring for children, asking for childcare help from friends and relatives, seeking out community programs
that provide fun activities and adult conversation, and finding someone you can talk to and share your
I look forward to knowing that my child will be able to play with many people of all generations and that
they will always have someone to pick them up when they fall. Above all, I look forward to having people to
talk to, and with whom I can garden, eat, and share life’s ups and downs. I think it will be wonderful to
walk out my front door and see people I know and trust every day. Reducing the sense of isolation and
exhaustion from parenting will free up my energy for creativity, connection and fun. At Belterra my husband
and I will have time for playing and singing the music we love. We won’t have to drive to a community center
or a park, as the entire acreage at Belterra can be our playground. And the built-in childcare help will be