When a Community Rallies Around a Dream

The Story Behind the Dick van Aelst Memorial Welcome Gazebo

When the doors were open on the Bowen branch of First Credit Union in June of 2007, it was a move that flew in the face of expensive market research done by another much larger credit union. The findings of this research were that the island could not sustain a branch of a financial institution (FI). First Credit Union CEO Dave Craigen was not one to be deterred by such things. Instead of throwing up his hands and saying ‘oh well’’ like all the other FI’s that rejected the idea of opening a branch on Bowen Island, he came up with a partnership model that had been used once before. It would be a partnership with the community and would allow the credit union an out if things did not go well and the branch proved to be unsustainable. It involved forming a new set of shares unique to members on Bowen and having a separate board to represent the start up branch. The board was to be a group of islanders that had either been involved in trying to get a branch on the island or was passionate about making the idea work. Dick van Aelst was the only banker on this original board, recently retired from a 40 year career as a VP with one of the big chartered banks.

That was 2007 and in June of that year the branch was opened with second hand furniture in a small 900 square foot office with zero members and zero dollars in assets. There were many growing pains in those formative years but the community rallied behind the dream, spurred along by the positive energy and guidance of its own First Credit Union Bowen Board. In two years the branch hit positive net income for the month for the first time. It never went back to losing money again. In three and a half years the branch broke even, and by the middle of 2011 it was clear to all that the partnership model was no longer needed. The branch was a self sustainable viable economic entity that could carry on without any need of a back out plan.

At what would prove to be the final Bowen AGM in April of 2012, members voted unanimously to retire the unique class of Bowen shares and eliminate the partnership model and become a regular branch of First Credit Union. The Bowen Board would stay on, but with less regulatory requirements, as an Advisory Committee (AC). As a thank you to them, and to the community at large for supporting the branch, CEO Craigen pledged a one time gift of $5000 to be used in a manner that the new AC decided. A healthy Dick van Aelst was among those on the AC that accepted this gift on behalf of the community. They settled on the idea of a permanent multi-use structure to be built on the municipal wharf by the ferry, but sadly, by the time that they did, Dick had passed after a sudden and deadly return of a cancer battle he had waged earlier in his life. By the end of June he was gone and soon after the AC decided to name the structure in his memory.Dick van Aelst 9480 9769 9562 IMG_20150418_111402 IMG_20150418_142740

This was the birth of the Dick van Aelst Memorial Welcome Gazebo that now sits on the pier by the ferry. It was built over the summer of 2015 and true to the spirit of the man whose name it was built in, this was a community barn raising that had volunteerism and positivity at its heart. Thousands of hours of volunteer work are in that structure. It houses a large map of the island he loved, pamphlets and information for visitors, and a place for businesses to advertise. It is a shelter from the elements for all who must wait for the next ferry, a ticket booth for our annual dock dance and a welcome to all once they arrive. There will be music inside at our festivals and there is even talk of it housing a community piano for the summer seasons. Fundraising for that element has already begun with an independent grassroots movement; proof that the community has already adopted it as their own. Like the credit union, it is an island amenity brought about by the island rallying together around a dream, an idea that we can have something even though so many say it is not possible. In short, it is a small and nearly perfect embodiment of what Dick himself was. He would have been proud.