During the pioneer days, community halls in the southern Gulf Islands were the vibrant centres of island life. Today, they remain important heritage icons and, in spite of inroads by television and wifi, continue to be where islanders gather and socialize.

Saturna Island, for example, has recently built a large recreation centre with a gymnasium, kitchen, medical clinic and a large firehall/emergency-services building. The Old Hall, built in 1933, however, continues to be popular, particularly for cultural presentations, which benefit from the building’s excellent acoustics, its cozier size and its unique historical ambiance. Currently, renovation work is underway to significantly improve the old building.

A post-and-beam, two-storey community hall, opened in 2000, is Pender Island’s heart and soul. It hosts the Saturday Farmers Market; the annual Fall Fair; concerts; movie nights; art exhibitions; seminars; dances; weddings; yoga, Taoist Tai Chi and fitness classes; summer camp for youngsters; card games; carpet bowling; meetings of island organizations; a weekly social with soup and music; and much more. But there’s another proud story. At the entrance you are greeted by three imposing First Nations welcome poles consisting of female bears. They were carved by island women, directed by Victor Reece, an indigenous master carver.

Mayne Island has two community halls. The new Community Centre, topped by solar panels, offers a variety of programs for fitness, health and well-being, arts, crafts and education. It also hosts meetings, community events, concerts, weddings and banquets. Out back is a thriving community garden, and on the side are tennis courts. More than a century old (1900), the much smaller Agricultural Hall hosts community events such as presentations, meetings, workshops, movies, theater productions and small special events.

Galiano Island also has two community halls, one at each end of the long island. The one at the south end opened May 1929 with the BC Lt. Governor present. It is operated by the Galiano Club, and is a hub of the community with many local events such as concerts, dances, weddings, plays, exhibitions, lectures, etc. held there. The quaint North Hall, a renovated 1930s school house with a new commercial kitchen, is a hub of north Galiano community events including the Canada Day Jamboree, the Robbie Burn’s Supper, the Great Chilli Cook-off, weddings, receptions, workshops, weekly Scottish Country dancing and a monthly Luncheon Games. It is also the reception centre for the Emergency Preparedness program, and is the home of the Galiano Garden Club and it’s library.The hall at the north end is also a social hub and features soup-and-bread Mondays.

With their many social events, community halls are invaluable in uniting our island communities. They are also a bridge into the past.

 

 

 

 

Credits: Thanks to Richard Blagborne, Saturna; Allan Forget, Judith Hamilton, Galiano; and Facebook pages for photos and information.

 

When we first moved to Pender Island my wife and I wondered how we would get around as nothing was within walking distance. Our worries were soon allayed by two factors. First, Car Stops, and second, the overwhelming friendliness of islanders.

Car Stops are strategically located spots, marked by signs, where people who need rides wait for willing drivers. They seldom wait long and no money changes hands.I quickly found Car Stops are terrific and now I use them frequently. I seldom wait more than three cars, and saving gas, reducing road congestion and limiting green-house-gas emissions makes me feel good.

And Car Stops are a wonderful way to meet people. I’ve hitched rides with construction workers, lawyers, artists and young and old. Their vehicles have ranged from a luxurious Mercedes SUV to jalopies held together by duct tape.

The driver and I chat about the approaching fall fair, water shortages and, of course, we gossip. I rode with a local politician and vented about an irksome zoning by-law. Another time, I hung on for dear life as a teenager careened around corners with tires squealing. He was, however, kind and drove out of his way to drop me at the library.

Car Stops began on Pender Island in 2008, and since then 46 Car Stops have been installed by volunteers. Retiree Barry Matthias, the driving force, says, “The stops not only provide a valuable service, but also build community spirit.”

The green Car Stop signs lay out the rules:

Drivers don’t have to take the first in line.

You’re not obliged to accept a ride, that’s fine.

You accept a ride at your own risk.

But the ride is free so consider it a gift.

Similar systems soon followed on Mayne Island, which now has 22 stops, and on Saturna Island, which has about 10 stops. Galiano Island has none at present.

A similar mode of travel is hitchhiking, which is highly encouraged on the Gulf Islands. Paul Brent, Island Trustee for Saturna, summed it up well, “You can’t go for a walk without people stopping their cars, wanting to give you a lift.”

All the islands also provide bus services, they only run on some days or need to be booked in advance. On Pender, virtually all the Car Stops have recently also become Bus Stops. Please Google for details.

To move around the islands reliably, to help the environment and to meet interesting people, nothing beats using Car Stops or sticking out your thumb. Give it a try, it works and it’s fun.

 

What better way to enjoy a libation than watching the setting sun transform the horizon into fiery mauves and oranges in the beautiful southern Gulf Islands. To prepare for the summer sundowner season, I tackled a tough mission: sampling all the craft wineries, cideries and breweries in the archipelago.

I started on Pender Island at the Twin Islands Cidery sippping a Baldwin & the 3 Pippins 2018, which combines four heirloom American and English apple varieties. The server explained they harvest from over thirty heritage orchards on Pender, Saturna & Mayne Islands to make traditional cider and perry (from pears).

Farther up the road I entered Sea Star Estate Farm & Vineyards where an eclectic art show was in progress. Not only does Sea Star produce sought-after wines using local grapes, it has become the art centre of Pender with a busy slate of weekend shows. I gazed at abstract watercolours, listened to live fiddle music and savoured a crisp Ortega.

Beer is not made on Pender, however Hope Bay Hop Farm contributes to Hoyne Brewery in Victoria. The hops are picked in one day by a crowd of volunteers and ferried the same day to Hoyne, where they are immediately made into Wolf Vine Ale, hoppy, delicious and, of course, very fresh.

A short ferry ride carried me to the Mayne Island Brewing Co. It’s small — two 140-litre batches weekly — but the beer is tantalizingly good, every batch is unique and many of the ingredients are foraged locally. I sipped a Belle Chain Ale, admiring the craftsmanship.

Later, I kayaked to Saturna Island and strolled among the 44 acres of vines at the former Saturna Vineyard, which stopped production in 2012. The winery has recently been purchased by the owner of Pender’s Sea Star Winery, and I was pleased the long rows of unkept vines would soon be revived. I can’t wait for the first vintage.

The Galiano Wine & Beer Tasting Festival, the only such event in the southern Gulf Islands, will take place on Saturday, August 10. Live music will play and many dozens of quality BC wines and ales will be available for sampling. I’m getting thirsty just thinking about it.

Cheers!

Kayaking in the Gulf Islands archipelago with the wind and tide at your back is like being in heaven. I love to view the gentle Salish Sea from wave level, feel the warm sun on my back and savour the silent solitude. It’s a spiritual experience.

I often paddle from Pender to Saturna Island with one stroke rhythmically, almost hypnotically, following another as my kayak slowly crosses Plumper Sound. Occasionally a snort sounds and a smooth seal’s head pops out of the water, a curious companion monitoring my progress. At Taylor Point I beach the kayak and explore the ruins of the old Taylor home and the remains of the quarry that supplied stone for many buildings in Victoria a century ago.

Because the Java Islets, on the southeast side of Saturna, are uninhabited and part of the Gulf Islands National Park they are like a wildlife refuge. Drifting silently with the current I see dozens of seals watching me with sad liquid eyes, cormorants stretching their black wings like preachers blessing their flock and great blue herons with their beaks poised to spear a fish.

At Portland, a trail leads around the island, passing coves lined with bleached driftwood logs and meadows dotted with purple wildflowers. An old apple orchard is a reminder that Portland was settled in the 1880s by Kanaka (Hawaiian) immigrants. Best is a dazzling white beach formed by broken clam shells, the remains of millennia of habitation by Coast Salish First Nations.

Once a year I paddle to Rum Island, aka Isle de Lis, and camp overnight. There’s an edgy feeling for I’m like Crusoe, alone, an entire island to myself. At dusk, fading light shimmers on the water as seals frolic in the darkening bay. A little later, a million stars twinkle in the sky.

When paddling, I know the ocean below the kayak teems with life, yet it remains bafflingly invisible. And the currents are ever-changing for the islands and tides interact in complex ways. Sometimes the water is dead still. Other times the current is fast with little whirlpools dotting the water. And sometimes on calm water, a train of seven or eight huge waves will suddenly roll past.

There are so many delicious kayak destinations including Mayne Island and the Japanese Garden; Salt Spring Island and Ruckle Provincial Park; and Prevost Island with its long, narrow inlets like mini-fiords.

Paddling on the Salish Sea brings peace to the soul.

One day in April, I peered from a cliff down into an eagle’s nest balanced near the top of a Douglas fir tree. A bald eagle mother with a two-metre wing span and lethal talons and beak was ever so gently placing food into the tiny beak of her three-day-old chick. A touching scene.

We’re fortunate, for eagles are an iconic sight in the Gulf Islands. Their nests are near the tops of tall Douglas fir trees and usually within 100 metres of the sea. Over four months I watched as the eagle mom incubated two eggs and then lovingly nurtured the single chick (the other egg never hatched).

For four years I studied this eagle pair and bonded with them. I learned that eagles mate in February and usually lay two eggs around the end of March. The female incubates the eggs for about 35 days, with occasional help from the male. Once hatched, eaglets are fed by both parents; at six to seven weeks they start feeding themselves.

By the end of June chicks are as large as their parents but still have not left the nest. They are dark brown in colour, and do not develop the

distinctive white head and tail feathers until they reach adulthood at about four to six years.

Finally, in early July, eaglets are ready to fledge although it takes some coaxing by the parents to get them to take that first flight.  Surprisingly, they are bigger than the parents because the initial, temporary feathers are larger to help them fly.

In September, most eagles leave their territories to catch salmon and socialize in spawning areas, returning later in the fall. Then the young eagles find their own territories and start the life cycle once more.

 

I lace up my hiking boots, but where to go? Should I ramble in the still, sombre forest surrounded by moss, ferns and giant trees? Or should I walk along rocky beaches communing with sea stars and barnacle encrusted rocks? Or should I climb to a viewpoint and gaze upon a panorama of islands sprinkled on the waters as though by the hand of God? I decide to set out on a quest and seek out the very best hiking trail in this gaggle of islands.

On my island of Pender, walking trails are abundant and I know them well. My favourite is George Hill where I’m soon labouring uphill, through moist forest and then a meadow and onto the summit. I sit next to a spindly Garry oak, watching ferries and the distant snow-capped mountains on the mainland. Ah, wonderful.

At Galiano Island, the choices are many, but the Bodega Ridge trail draws me. I stroll along humming and happy passing ramrod-straight Douglas firs, which are like battalions of tall, slim soldiers standing at attention. But interspersed here and there in their ranks, mockingly, are gangling arbutus trees, chaotic like hippies. What a blessing to be alone, immersed in nature.

My quest continues. Disembarking from the ferry at Mayne Island, I check the trail map and head for the Halliday Ridge hike in Mount Parke Regional Park. The deep forest and views from the top are wonderful, but best is hearing a loud rat-atat-atat and then seeing a pileated woodpecker, its red head a blur as it attacks an old log, sending wood chips flying.

Saturna Island is next, and soon I am at the top of Mount Warburton Pike. Gazing at the isle-dotted Salish Sea, I can’t argue with those who judge the Pike the finest lookout in the Gulf Islands. I meander south-east along the Brown Ridge trail wrapped in sunshine and peaceful solitude. The walk is special for the trail was made not by humans but, most unusually, by resident feral goats, whom I can see grazing here and there farther down the hillside.

Another ferry carries me to Salt Spring Island where I seek out the Chris Hatfield trail in the northern edge of Ruckle Park. I sit beside a pond, where reflections of towering trees and a split-rail fence glisten in the water. I continue deeper into the lush rain forest, passing trees whose branches are festooned with beards of bright green moss. Under a tree are a shovel, several buckets and a sign inviting hikers to dig up gravel, fix part of the trail farther along and return the empty pail on return. What a clever idea! At Yeo Point I sat with my back against a sun-warmed boulder gazing at passing boats and ferries. Following a creek upstream, the gurgling of water grows louder until I see rapids swirling and tumbling down moss encrusted rocks, surrounded by ferns and tall trees.

I return home having hiked many great trails. But I think I’ll have to do it all over again, for I can’t decide which one is best.