If you’re driving up the Coast to Pender Harbour you may have a bit of trouble finding it. It’s actually a collection of small communities, who happen to share a body of water, called Pender Harbour. Still confused… this map may help.
That’s Garden Bay near the top of the map and Madeira Park directly below. But there’s much more to Pender Harbour than these two “urban centres.” Communities came to be known by their pioneer families, like Irvine’s Landing, Duncan’s Cove and Dusenbury Island Even Madeira Park was named after the homeland of Portuguese Joe, one of the major players during the early pioneering years. There’s a rich history here waiting to be told and we were looking forward to hearing some of these stories.
Our first stop is Portuguese’s Joe’s home town, Madeira Park. It was quite the busy place a hundred years ago, and still is… relatively speaking. But it’s not that big and right behind the old community hall you’ll find the best burger on the Coast, and if you time it right, you’ll be able to try one. It doesn’t look like much, but trust me, I’ve eaten there a few times myself, and always find lots of excuses to go back. Order the Sunshine Coast Burger – fried onions & mushrooms, real cheddar cheese, melted and a hand made, all-beef patty, grilled just perfectly – like burgers used to be before McDonald’s turned them into something else.
Newcomers to the Coast often joke about how slow things are on the Sunshine Coast. We actually call it coastal time… but folks from the Harbour have taken it to a new level. So get like the locals and slow down, relax and enjoy your burger.
Next stop is the Government Dock where the SloCat is moored. We recently went out on one of their tours and it was great. Captain Mark had a lot of stories to share about the area, and he’s pretty entertaining to boot. SloCat offers three scheduled tours a day – 11:00, 1:00 & 3:00, as well as a sunset tour during the summer. So pick a time and then build your burger fix around it.
Back in the day, before the roads were built, it was much easier to get where you wanted to go by boat, and that’s why Pender Harbour is often referred to as “Venice of the North.” Captain Mark shared with us the early, early history of the area, when over 5000 of the shishalh Nation occupied the area as one of their winter camps.
The Europeans didn’t arrive in numbers until about 1880, attracted by fishing and logging. The fishermen built their shelters as close to their boats as possible, often up on stilts, and hanging precariously over the water. More fishermen were drawn to the area, encouraged by the bounty of the sea and returning to port with a boat full of fish was cause for celebration. Whiskey was the choice of many and soon the area came to be known as Whiskey Slough for all of the empty bottles floating in the small bay.
Today, many of these shelters have been fixed up and converted into beautiful homes. Perched just over the water they are the ultimate waterfront home.
That’s Mount Daniel in the background and it’s a moderate hike to the top where you’ll see the most amazing view. Mount Daniel was an important location for the shishalh, who stationed lookouts on top to guard their territory. It was also a spiritual place where young maidens would be cloistered for puberty rituals and there is still evidence of moonstone circles.
There was a boardwalk over on Garden Bay, used by locals to get to the hospital which was built in 1930. Later the the Hospital was moved to Sechelt, but the original building still stands and is a gallery with one of the largest collections of Sunshine Coast artists.
Along with derelict boardwalks, there are many other images of the past… an old tug boat abandoned and washed up on the shore.
We did a complete circle around the Harbour, going right outside the entrance. We could see Texada Island as well as Vancouver Island in the distant background.
90 minutes on the water for only $35 is a real bargain, especially when you throw in the entertainment. Captain Mark has a background in radio, he’s an active musician and a great story teller. He kept us well entertained with his stories – a healthy mix of interesting information about the area, together with lots of juicy gossip about some of the personalities, both past and present.
Once back on shore, we made a final stop, turning left at the highway to the Grasshopper Pub. Perched atop a hill with an incredible view overlooking scenic Pender Harbour below, it’s patio dining at its finest. The menu is rather encompassing, offering the usual pub fare of burgers, wings and fries, as well as an enticing bruschetta baked with Brie cheese, then topped with tomatoes, red onions, garlic and balsamic vinegar. However, I went with the locals’ favourite, Bal’s Butter Chicken and I wasn’t disappointed.