A Brief History of the Pender Islands

In the 1970’s an archeloghical team from Simon Fraser University, digging by the canal, found evidence of First Nations peoples on the Penders at least 7,000 years ago. Shell middens appear on several beachs around the islands and evidence of encampments has been found at higher elevations, where the sea washed ashore in earlier times.

When Europeans first arrived on the Penders the natives had no permanent residence here; they travelled from what is now East Saanich, on Vancouver Island, to hunt, fish, and gather shellfish. Despite one incident at Shark Cove in 1863 when two white men were fired upon (one later died) by natives, the natives generally accepted the presence of the white people.

The Spanish arrived in 1791 with Juan Pantoja and Jose Maria Narvaez charting the islands. The Spanish names Saturna, Valdez and Galiano commemorate their presence. Daniel Pender, aboard H.M.S. Plumper (and later H.M.S. Hecate) surveyed the coast from 1857 – 1870.

Permanent white settlers arrived in the 1870s. Predominantly from the British Isles some were “remittance men”, the sons of wealthy families who could no longer support them at home. Others arrived via Australia or from Eastern Canada. Wharves were not built on the Penders until the early part of the 20th century; early settlers rowed or sailed to Mayne Island for mail and sometimes to Ganges or Vancouver Island for supplies. Oxen and sheep frequently swam ashore from the ships. The rocky land supported little but fruit trees and grazing for sheep and a few cattle. Small industries survived for short periods of time on Pender: a fish plant at Shingle Bay burned down, was rebuilt and burned again; poles for propping mine shafts were cut and shipped from the island; Japanese fishermen operated a saltery at Hope Bay and a number of small mills cut lumber, an industry continuing today.

Descendents of many of the original families continue to live on the Penders, testimony to Pender’s beauty and lifestyle. In recent years the islands’ population has increased with the influx of people attracted by one of the best climates in Canada and the rural ambience.

A number of excellent books have been written about local history:

* A Gulf Islands Patchwork – B.C. Historical Association – 1961

* More Tales from the Outer Gulf Islands – Gulf Islands Branch of the B.C. Historical Federation – 1993

* Snug Harbours and Homesteads – Peter Murray – 1991

* The Gulf Islanders – B.C. Provincial Archives – 1976

* Winifred Grey – ed. Marie Elliot – 1994

These books can be found in local stores and also at bookstores in Vancouver and Victoria.