Benson Flores was one of the first documented Filipino immigrants in British Columbia. He was an early settler of Bowen Island, northwest of modern-day Vancouver. According to the census records, he immigrated in 1861, a decade before BC became part of Canada. However, he may or may not be the first Filipino to arrive in Canada. In the 18th century, there were unnamed seafarers from the Philippines among the diverse crews of European and American vessels trading in the Pacific Northwest.
Flores built his homestead inland, close to Trout Lake (now Grafton Lake). Records show that on 7 April 1892, Flores and fellow Filipino William Matilda claimed District Lot 1426 on Bowen Island. The lot consisted of more than 60 acres of landlocked property south of Mount Gardner. Flores’ lot was near the land owned by Joseph Mannion, a prominent pioneer of Granville (now Vancouver).
Flores’ name appeared in the first list of Bowen Island residents in the 1899 BC city directory. The document indicates that he was a fisherman. He was also described as a trapper. At the time, trapping was a common and efficient method to catch wild fish. Among his hobbies, he liked to play concertina and sing. A photo from the Bowen Island archives shows his house with walls made up of cedar shakes mounted on logs. The boathouse floated as the water level rose up.
Flores also rented boats as a means of income. According to the Bowen Island Historians group, his business was the first boat rental operation in Snug Cove, years before steamer ships conveyed tourists to the island. Evidence shows that Flores visited William Davies’ general store in Snug Cove after its opening in 1907. The store ledger suggests he was a tobacco aficionado. For much of his lifetime, he remained on the island. He lived closely with the family of steam engineer Jacob Dorman. Flores was described by George Dorman as his “greatest friend” and was referred to as “old Ben.” In 1909, Flores became a naturalized Canadian. (See also Canadian Citizenship.)
In winter 1926, Flores’ quiet life was interrupted as he was mistaken for a traffic accident victim. According to newspaper reports, a train operator found a body of a man by a road intersection. The police then brought the body to the hospital. He had reportedly been hit by a motorist in Vancouver. The body had a fractured skull, cuts and bruises. William Matilda, an acquaintance of Flores, misidentified the victim in the Vancouver General Hospital as Benson Flores. Despite Matilda’s claim, two other men denied that it was old Ben, then in his late 70s. The testimonies led Constable James Cunningham to search for “B.Slorris (sic), the boathouse proprietor of Bowen Island.” In the end, authorities concluded the dead man never lived on the island.
Later, Benson Flores suffered from bladder and kidney diseases. He died on 11 April 1929 in Vancouver. He left several hundred dollars in the bank, a boat and an engine as part of his estate. Though Flores did not have a family of his own, his life proved to be eventful until 81 years old. He was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Mountain View Cemetery where some other early Filipino immigrants are buried.