From the porch
When Chris Bowles sank his teeth into a challenge he could not, would not, leave it alone until it lay in tatters in weary defeat. Fearless and tireless, he pursued his objective with the same tenacity whether it was through anonymous federal bureaucrats or equally narrow-focused rodents.
Chris was harbourmaster in Wellington for much of the decade and a half. He spearheaded a major expansion of the docking facilities in Wellington harbour, to the enrichment of the municipality and village economy.
He was appalled by the gap in protection services for boaters sailing around Prince Edward County, so he agitated for a Wellington Rescue team and badgered the community for resources to fund the acquisition and outfitting of a water rescue boat. Now a vital service between Brighton and Kingston, Wellington Rescue would not have happened if not for the single-minded determination of Chris Bowles.
There is so much he did for this community— facilitating the fish-stocking and salmon fingerling program as well as initiating and promoting a wide variety of fishing activities for the young and the advanced. Then, there was the perennial challenge of keeping the channel clear for boats of all kind—and persuading municipal politicians it was as important a link as any bridge into the County. He was the policeman of the docks—he understood how to make visitors welcome, while maximizing the return on the available slips.
Chris and Herb Cooper pioneered a short-lived boat tour enterprise that wandered around West Lake offering a lively and colourful account of the history of the lakes and the people who lived on it. Perhaps just a bit ahead of their time.
I fondly remember many a late afternoon sitting on his deck at the Reel Thing fishing shop overlooking the harbour. We talked politics, the village economy or his latest project. Chris had come to Wellington with a diverse background. Raised in England, he had travelled the world representing a resins and polymer maker, before settling in quasi-retirement in Wellington— with winters in Portugal. He was enamoured by the law and order of Singapore and wished for a bit of that city/state’s brutal efficiency to be imported to Canada or his native England, which he had come to consider flabby and unresponsive.
Then a boat would pull up and he would switch into fisher-speak with astonishing ease.
“Have you tried the Husky Jerk, the XRap, or Erie Dearie?” Chris would inquire of the empty-handed fishers. “How about the three-quarter ounce Wonderbread casting spoon?”
It was a language I could not decipher. I recognized words, but they had no meaning in this context. Chris could speak to anyone. Cheerful but firm, he patrolled the docks and the Rotary Beach across the bay as if they were his own, but mindful that the purpose of these facilities were for public enjoyment.
My favourite Chris Bowles story was his fight with the beavers that lived in Wellington Harbour. Chris noted with alarm that the resident beavers had been systematically clear-cutting the sandbar west of the channel. One fall, he counted 70 trees felled by these industrious beasts. But the beavers had several allies in this fight—they included residents who insisted that nature would find its own equilibrium, that the beavers were likely better stewards of this patch of land than humans were. He also had to push municipal bureaucrats who were unsure about what to do or whether their agreement with the province permitted any action at all.
Chris managed to navigate these concerns, raising enough money to buy about 300 feet of galvanized chicken wire to surround and protect the trees. He cajoled municipal officials into erecting the fencing around the tastiest, most vulnerable trees.
“We are trying to find a balance,” said Chris in a Times account in 2012. “They are clever little animals. They can destroy a lot of trees in a short amount of time. We have to learn to co-exist with them in the harbour.”
The morning after the wire was erected around the trees on the beach sandbar, Chris awoke to find the apple tree on his lawn between the shop and the waterside— resplendent with sweet, ripe fruit—had been toppled. Chewed down by beavers. No other trees. Just his favourite apple tree. They hadn’t dragged it off— it was too big and cumbersome to be used to fortify their lodge—it just lay there. A message. The beavers had exacted their revenge.
He was pissed. But almost immediately a broad smile came across his face. He understood and appreciated the irony of these rodent foes targeting him and his apple tree for retribution. These beasts, he understood, were worthy adversaries.
Chris sold the fishing shop a couple of years ago, gave up his harbourmaster’s duties. I saw him less often. We lost touch. I would see him occasionally on the street. But that was it.
I will, however, always remember our sunny afternoons fixing the world on Chris’s porch overlooking Wellington harbour.