When Brian Bishop and his wife Gail purchased Sea Breeze Lodge on Hornby Island 43 years ago, he questioned what he was getting his family into.
“He said ‘Gail, you don’t know the first thing about running a resort or any cooking,’” explains his wife while relaxing on the deck of their newly-built lodge prior to a celebration dinner.
“I said what the heck, I’ve been cooking for a family of five, I can cook for a family of 30 or 40. And it went from there,” she adds.
Over the course of four decades, the Bishop family has proven their resiliency many times, but it was put to the test last year – May 25, 2014 – when a massive fire ravaged the lodge, reducing the building to a charred pile of rubble.
The 16 cabins remained intact and no one was injured, but the main building, which housed the dining area, kitchen, officers and laundry facilities burned to the ground.
The fire happened 20 days before a scheduled wedding.
“A year ago, looking at the rubble that was there, it was really hard to visualize this being here. For us, it’s incredible what our family has gone through this year. It’s amazing,” says Stephen Bishop, one of Gail and Brian’s three sons, who now operates the resort.
“Back then, visualizing this right now, I didn’t think it would have happened.”
Less than two weeks after the devastating fire, the family persevered. They had a commitment to guests, long-term bookings to fill, and weddings to host. Rather than stop operations, they only saw one option.
“After the fire, we all sat back and had to make a decision what to do. There was a lot of push, saying let’s forget about it, let’s not do anything, rent the cabins for the summer, think about it later,” Stephen says.
“We chose to go ahead and do it. So we all stepped forward and jumped right into it – 20 days after the fire we had a temporary kitchen set up, a beautiful marquee tent, and we did a wedding. It was quite incredible.”
One year later, on a warm spring evening in the lodge overlooking the ocean, the Bishop family takes turns at a microphone, sharing memories and thank yous to a room full of friends, volunteers and family.
Many of those who fill the room came together during the past six months to help the family rebuild not only the lodge, but their livelihood.
The family hosted an anniversary dinner to celebrate and pass along their gratitude, and Stephen explains all credit goes to his crew.
“Everyone else who looked at this project said there’s not a chance we can do (it).We had an incredible crew who worked together, anywhere from five people, going to 20 people at a time. Six months … to construct this unbelievable resort, and we’re so, so proud of it.”
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It was in the late ’60s when Brian and Gail “fell in love with Hornby.”
The couple were living in Edmonton when they initially purchased another piece of property on the Island. When they found out Sea Breeze was for sale, Gail told Brian she wanted to buy it.
“It was 52-acres of nothing, to tell you the truth, and a little farm house,” notes Brian.
“I asked her what are you going to do? (She said) I’d like to run it. So I had another thought: 52 acres, if I chopped it up, I could sell it – real estate. That didn’t happen,” he says with a laugh.
“We ran the place.”
Gail explains in the beginning, there was very little staff, but over time, family began to show interest in helping out. Following 20 years of operating the resort themselves, they handed over the main duties to their family.
“Last year, when we had the temporary thing, we had seven Bishops working here. The three granddaughters, Stephen and Jeffery and their wives. It was very much a family concern,” notes Gail.
Both Gail and Brian were having dinner at the lodge when the fire broke out last year.
One of the kitchen staff came into the main dining room area and told everyone to clear the room, explains Brian.
He initially thought it was a kitchen fire on a stove, and it would be extinguished quickly.
“The people we were with, I ushered them out the door, and as I got out I looked at the front of the building, and there was flames about 20 feet high. I said that’s it, there’s nothing that’s going to stop it. It just swept the building within a period of half an hour.”
While she was hopeful for the future of the lodge, the stress of the fire and subsequent planning took its toll on Gail.
“I was hopeful, we did have the place insured so that it might cover part of it which it has. But it was terribly stressful; I ended up in hospital both in Comox and Victoria and I’m sure it was all related to stress, wondering how this was going to be put together in time for next year.”
Watching friends and volunteers make their way into the dining room a year later, Brian says he knew his family could tackle the rebuild in such a short period of time.
“It’s a resilient family to start with. Jeffery, Stephen and families they just pulled their weight and away they went.”
“(We’re) happy. Very happy. And very proud of the children,” adds Gail.
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Granddaughter Carlyn Bishop, who helps operate the lodge, says the past year has had a bit of everything.
“It’s been a roller-coaster to say the least. Ups and downs, happy, sad. It’s been exactly one year since the fire and I remember a year ago thinking I don’t know what I’m going to do. I didn’t know what was going to go on; I would never have expected this – this is incredible.”
The building encapsulates true west coast contemporary style – reconditioned millwork are highlights of the large dining area, which features post-and-beam construction, reclaimed sliding doors and special touches such as wood recycled from the Nalley’s potato chip factory.
Carlyn notes the building has a similar footprint to the old lodge, but has an entirely new style.
“It still has that same warm feeling, but just a little bit extra.”
For more information, visit seabreezelodge.com