Guest Post by Jocie Brooks
On one of the last of the warm, summery weekends of September, my mother and I visited Pender Island. Having spent part of my childhood on South Pender, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Southern Gulf Islands. The tranquil ambiance of rolling farmland, rocky arbutus bluffs, and secluded beaches makes these islands special. That sunny weekend, the island seemed bathed in a golden light, and sweetened by the taste of sun-ripened blackberries and farm-stand apples.
Situated in the Salish Sea between Vancouver and Victoria, Pender is one of a cluster of islands that include Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and Salt Spring. The Penders, North and South, are divided by a narrow canal with a one-lane bridge. The canal was dredged in 1903, to provide a quicker access for boats to the outer Gulf Islands. Prior to the dredging, the islands were connected by an isthmus that was a rich site for Coast Salish First Nations.
Pender is named for Captain Daniel Pender, who surveyed the coast of BC from 1857-1870. The first European settlers, mostly from England and Scotland arrived on Pender in the 1870’s. Today Pender has a permanent population of 2400, which triples in the summer months.
Pender has many fine parks, and some of these are part of the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, which was established in 2003. The reserve includes a smattering of lands and waters throughout the southern Gulf Islands archipelago and protects some of the most rare and ecologically at risk regions in Canada.
We spent most of our weekend on South Pender, which is less populous than the north island. On the south island, Beaumont Marine Park, Mt. Norman and Greenburn Lake are part of the National Park Reserve. We took a walk up to Greenburn Lake, which is accessed by an old road that leads up beside the fire hall on Gowlland Point Road. The lake, part of over 100 hectares of parkland, encompasses a large wetland and Garry oak ecosystem. The lake is a beautiful spot, and we paused to admire the expanse of lily pads along the lake’s edge while watching a kingfisher dive into the water.
Of Pender’s parks, one of my personal favourites is Brooks Point Regional Park. The park entrance (there’s no signage) is near the end of Gowlland Point Road on the right side, just before Kloshe road. A narrow boardwalk meanders through a patch of alders and into a forest of old-growth firs. The trail then goes down a grassy slope to an open, seaside meadow. At the tip of the point, one can stand on the orange-lichen encrusted rocks and watch the kelp beds sway in the currents or look beyond to the dreamy, Mt. Fuji-like peak of Mt. Baker. A sheltered, pebbly beach is a good spot to have a picnic, while looking over to Green Hill, a mound of purple rock studded with bonsai-like firs along its top. At the rocky base of the hill a lighthouse marks the tip of Gowlland Point.
The 4.8-hectare park, which includes a forested area and the open headland of Brooks Point as well as a separate parcel of land comprised of the Green Hill and Gowlland Point, were acquired from private owners in the year 2000. Former landowner Allan Brooks, for whom the park is named, generously donated part of this land.
Today efforts are underway to link Brooks Point and Gowlland Point by purchasing the 1.17-hectare section of land that lies between. The Capital Regional District (CRD) has purchased the property from the Buchanan family, and will be paying off the loan over the next five years. The Land Conservancy (TLC) and the Pender Island Conservancy Association (PICA) have been working hard to raise enough funds to pay the interest on the loan. One of the highlights of our stay was to attend a fundraising banquet and silent auction put on by PICA.
The weekend was over all too soon and it was time board the ferry and say farewell to Pender. I feel lucky to have spent part of my childhood on this idyllic island, and I look forward to introducing the island to my own children on our next visit.