VERNON - One of Vernon’s most passionate defenders of the natural world has died.
Jan Bos, 76, died suddenly in his sleep March 3, 2017. Active and able-bodied to the end, Jan recently told a group of friends, ‘I’m 29 and holding,’ his wife Rita says with a hearty laugh.
Bos is known for his work preserving a Great Blue Heron rookery on 24 Street in Vernon.
“Nature was his church,” Rita says. “He had other strong beliefs, but he just loved nature.”
Born in Essen, Holland, Jan attended technical school before immigrating to Canada at the age of 16.
“Everyone said he was a genius with mechanical stuff, and I can verify that,” Rita says. “He could fix anything.”
He spent some time working in the Alberta oil fields before making his way to the Okanagan Valley, where he met Rita’s brother. At the time, Rita was working in New Westminster. When Jan decided to check out the Lower Mainland in advance of attending university there, Rita’s match-making mother made sure the two of them met.
“She told me she was sending him and to be nice to this poor Dutch boy so far away from Holland,” Rita says. “I’m so grateful she did. We had a really exciting life together.”
They married in 1965 and set roots in Vernon, where they raised two sons, Manuel and Yuri. Jan worked as an elementary school teacher in Lumby and Vernon for many years, and was always “put with the toughest kids” Rita says.
“He always liked sharing knowledge with people,” Rita says.
Eventually, Jan started teaching only part-time and created a tow truck business, Care Towing.
“He took care of people,” Rita says. “He’d go out on all these really dangerous jobs at all hours of the night.”
In the 1980s, he bought a 1.5 acre piece of property on 24 Street where he could store vehicles and car parts. He spent many hours there tinkering on old Studebakers — his favourite car brand — and it wasn’t long before another passion established itself on the property.
One day, a couple of Great Blue Herons nested in the tall Cottonwood trees on the lot. The birds are considered an at-risk species, mostly due to habitat loss, but in Jan’s car lot, they found a home. Over the years, the number of birds grew to 100, a colony described as “a source of great interest and pride to many residents” in an academic paper. Jan became a fierce protector of the birds. In 1992, he happily signed a binding covenant with the Regional District of North Okanagan to preserve the habitat.
In a 2013 interview, when Jan was in a legal dispute with the City of Vernon and an adjacent landowner over the Cottonwood trees on the lot, he was quoted saying, “I appreciate nature and I appreciate the birds… I come here every day.”
Rita says they’ve received numerous offers from people wanting to buy the land — which is located in a busy industrial area — but they always refused to sell.
“Jan would get quite angry at them because they kept phoning and giving us these big offers, and he’d say ‘what part of no do you not understand?’ People might think we’re crazy not to subdivide and sell, but this is what we want to contribute in our lives,” Rita says.
Jan loved the birds and would often sit for hours with his camera waiting for the perfect shot. He left the gate to the property open whenever he was there and welcomed strangers to come and see the birds.
Rita says the family will hold onto the property and keep Jan’s legacy alive as long as they can.
Every year, Jan would eagerly await the spring arrival of the herons. This year, they came on March 4 — the day after he died.
“I think it’s a good sign,” Rita says. “Jan would be pleased.”
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