Rule of the Road #1 – Pender Harbour, BC

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The Sechelt Peninsula is connected to the mainland of British Columbia, but only barely. The narrow isthmus between the Sechelt Inlet and the Georgia Strait is tenuous enough without having to bear the weight of the town whose name is, appropriately, Sechelt. That word is derived from the name of the aboriginal Coast Salish Shishalh people and means “the land between two waters.” Much of this region is between at least two waters, sometimes more.

Sechelt and the Sechelt Peninsula constitute the upper half of British Columbia’s Lower Sunshine Coast, which is a narrow, broken strip of land traversed by Highway 101 and accessible by ferry only. Although it is only a few miles to the northwest of the bustling metropolis of Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast is like a distant island–there are two incorporated municipalities, and tiny villages dot the rest of the highway.

The Lower Sunshine Coast is considered by some to be the ONLY Sunshine Coast, but many accept that the northern section of the highway, which leads to the small city of Powell River and farther up to the even smaller community of Lund (ostensibly the northern terminus of the Pacific Coast Highway, the world’s longest motor route), is the “Upper Sunshine Coast”.

Pender Harbour is a naturally occurring deep water inlet opening onto the Malaspina Strait. Across the Strait is Texada Island; going west across Texada Island, you’ll find the Georgia Strait, which is bound on its far side by the gargantuan Vancouver Island. If you traverse this England-sized chunk of land, you find yourself at last at the North Pacific Ocean. Pender Harbour is well-protected, then from the ravages of the open sea. By land it’s about 25 minutes north of Sechelt, but area residents relied on the sea for transportation until the first mud road was blazed by Depression relief work camps from the government wharf in Madeira Park down to Sechelt in the 1930’s. Mercurial tides gave residents and visitors alike a reason to appreciate the new road; a body of land on the harbour’s south side is referred to interchangeably as Francis Peninsula and Beaver Island because it is a peninsula at low tide and an island at high. More than one vessel has been stranded or worse as a result!

Madeira Park is one of three or four unincorporated villages that make up “Pender Harbour”, because that term refers specifically to the body of water around which these communities are situated. Now the largest of the group, Madeira Park was the latecomer in the area. Garden Bay, the site of the former local hospital, sits across the harbour to the north, and Irvine’s Landing, where the old Union steamers used to dock and drop off mail, groceries, and passengers from Vancouver, is perched in the northwest at the harbour’s mouth. Since the decline of the area’s resource-based economy (logging, fishing, and agriculture were the original industry here), Madeira Park has become the commercial centre of Pender Harbour. It is here where the grocery store, bank, liquor store, coffee shop, Harbour Authority office, Legion Hall, hardware store, book store, and cultural centre are located. And while there were at one time as many as three schoolhouses in the harbour, the 8-room Madeira Park Elementary is the now the only option.

But the area does thrive! Many jobs still exist in various resource-based sectors, and fish are still to be had for those hardy enough to go after them. In summer, the harbour blooms with new and recurrent visitors, many of whom own property to use when the Sunshine Coast lives up to its moniker. Community events, steady through the colder months, kick into high gear in the spring with the province’s second-oldest May Day parade and celebration, then moving to a blues festival, a chamber music festival, and a jazz festival in June, August, and September, respectively. The area is also home to Canada’s longest downhill longboarding competition, The Attack of Danger Bay, now in its twelfth year.

There’s a man here who comes out the sports field in the centre of town on weekends or whenever the school kids aren’t using it and flies a variety of model airplanes from his motorized wheelchair. People crossing the field will stop by to chat with him, and it’s always a pretty good show. The grocery store will give you credit if you’ve forgotten your wallet. The local seamstress’s shop doubles as a computer repair and triples as a U-Brew. And while the logging may be gone and the fishermen are few and far between, much of what the area was founded on still stands–hard work and kindness.

One Response to “Rule of the Road #1 – Pender Harbour, BC

  • Great article! I could so see this done as a news spot… Look out Mike McCardell! 😀

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