The owner of a service station in Bowser, destroyed by a fire Dec. 6, said she and her family are thankful for the overwhelming community support they have received.
Carla Flegel has owned Bowser Automotive on the Island Highway, for approximately 30 years. She and her late husband Ted moved to the area when their son Thomas was a newborn.
Thomas took over as operating manager when his father died in 2020. He and his fiancée Grace recently welcomed a new baby on Dec. 9.
“She is a happy, healthy wee soul. There’s the bright light,” Flegel said. She added the couple named the baby Poppy Jane Phoenix Flegel.
“He worked so hard to get everything ready, so that when the baby came he’d have some time to spend,” Flegel said.
When the fire destroyed the service station, it also destroyed the family’s livelihood and the livelihood of its six-person staff, plus a VIU apprentice mechanic.
The community has already begun to support the family, including plenty of baby things. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $10,000 as of Dec. 11. A bank account was set up at First Credit Union in Bowser, under Thomas’s name, for people who want to help. Donations can also be made via e-transfer to ThomasRFlegel@gmail.com.
Personal belongings, shop inventory, bookkeeping records and one of the service station’s three tow trucks were unrecoverable. Flegel said she believes the two tow trucks in the back are OK, but she has not been able to access them yet because of the rubble left from the fire.
“We still can provide towing services,” she said. “Which is at least a bit of income for the guys that we can continue on with that until we sort things out.”
The loss of the town’s only service station is being felt by many Bowser residents. People living in the nearby trailer parks depended on being able to regularly fill up propane tanks, but will need to further, to places like Qualicum Beach, for that service, Flegel said.
“You don’t realize until it’s gone,” she added. “And if you lock your keys out of the car, get a flat tire or something, you don’t want them coming from Courtenay to get you.”
The Esso was also one of the few remaining full-service stations in the area. The business took pride in pumping gas, washing windows and checking the oil.
“My husband, who ran it for decades, was determined that this was going to be an old-fashioned service station,” Flegel said. “I think that’s what lots of the folks in the community, especially some of the older folks, appreciate — that they can come up there and someone comes out. I can’t tell you how many engines we’ve saved.”
It’s too early to start looking at the process of rebuilding and the huge amount of work and expense that will be involved, but the family is determined to make it work. Flegel said Esso has told them it is on board, and agencies the service station served, such as the RCMP and BCAA, are also supportive.
“Thomas is eager, willing, and just like, ‘whatever it takes, I want to raise my little girl here in Bowser like I was raised’,” Flegel said.
She added the family is grateful for the outpouring of support of the community and the service station’s staff.
“You go about your business and do your day and then all of a sudden something like this happens,” Flegel said. “And then you realize how many people are there and are in your corner.”