Bowen Park is located just north of downtown Nanaimo, BC. The 36-hectare parcel of land is minutes away from downtown and could be called the heart of the city. The land was a gift to Nanaimo back in 1855. It was officially registered as a park in 1931, but development of amenities in the park didn't really begin until the early 50s. Throughout its history, Bowen Park has had the support of local citizens. It was the Nanaimo Rotary Club that dedicated itself to improving the park in the early days. Members raised funds, in-kind donations of supplies, equipment, and manpower to clear roadways and build picnic shelters. It was the site of many civic events in what was back then the 4th largest city in BC.
Much of the land remains undeveloped. The Bowen Park Complex was raised in the 60s and provided residents a place to hold events, meetings, and dances as a community hall. Before other parks had been built, many events were staged in the park. Today it continues to be used as a multi-use facility. Rooms are available to rent for meetings, classes, or even dinners and dances. The park is truly a jewel of which its residents can be proud and it is enjoyed year round by locals and visitors to this island community. Residents can enjoy activities such as disc golf, tennis, horseshoes, lawn bowling, summer swimming in an outdoor pool, lacrosse, picnics, playtime, and summer concerts in the outdoor amphitheatre. An interpretive walking trail meanders along the Millstone River, which passes through the park and alongside a manufactured side channel.
In addition to all of the recreation facilities in the park, the Millstone River runs through Bowen Park. The river is a great source of pride for Nanaimo, and it presents opportunities not often found in an urban setting. The Millstone River side channel, built in 2007, again demonstrates the level of community support this park has. The project strengthened partnerships between almost 40 groups including all levels of government, non-profit organizations, industry, and individuals who came together to help the Millstone River support a self-sustaining Coho salmon run. The river and side channel serve as an outdoor education classroom for kindergarten to university students studying the life cycle of salmon. The ecosystem supports salmon, trout, and myriad other wildlife that live in the undeveloped surroundings. One of the most recent additions to the park is an outdoor amphitheatre that hosts summer concerts in the park and is becoming a popular place for couples to get married.
Nanaimo Rotary Club began improving the public space prior to 1953. The city has invested greatly in building the complex and the outdoor sporting activity facilities that are free to use. Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Mel Sheng (Nanaimo) with support from the Pacific Salmon Foundation, Living Rivers - Georgia Basin/ Vancouver Island, Island Waters Fly Fishers, Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo Fish and Game, Nanaimo Hatchery, Nanaimo Stewardship Society, Nanaimo Parks and Recreation, Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, Timberwest Forest Corp, pacific Salmon Commission Southern Endowment Fund, BC Hydro and a number of individuals built the side channel in 2007. Charles Thirkill regularly volunteers to improve the side channel and lead tours through the park educating the public about the flora and fauna. Presently, the Nanaimo Science and Sustainability Society is working with a number of agencies and the City of Nanaimo on an idea to build a Science Centre in the park.
The City of Nanaimo should be commended for accepting this gift 82 years ago and their continued foresight into developing amenities and opportunities for the residents to use this public space.