Musings On the Pursuit Of Island Pizza… Over the River and Through the Woods

To start with, we do have access to quality pizza at the pub at the head of our dock, and they have great craft beers on tap to wash it down with.  Fat tug or Dark Matter come to mind.  We’ve sampled the pizza a couple of times and it is quite tasty, not to mention the fact that all one has to do is walk up our dock, go up the gangway, trundle around the Warfinger’s office (that’s marina managers office to non-Canadians) and walk right into the pub.  Then it is a simple matter of sitting down, ordering a beer, perusing the menu, ordering a pizza, (or sandwich, salad, fish, steak, poutine etc.) and sip beer while waiting for the pizza to be delivered to the table. It doesn’t get simpler than that.

And of course writing all that down made me nostalgic and harken back to the lyrics of a really old song by The Rooftop Singers that hit the top 100 when I was a young-un:

“Walk right in and sit right down, daddy, let your mind roll on.
You’d better walk right in and stay a little while, daddy, you can’t stay too long.
Now everybody’s talkin’ ’bout your new way of walkin’,
Do you want to lose your mind?
Lord, walk right in and sit right down, daddy, let your mind roll on.”

That was the 60’s and I was 9 years old (or so…) when it hit the airwaves.  But I really digress.  Bound to happen when it’s blowing 30 knots outside and the boat is a bit rolly even at the dock on an otherwise nice late fall day.  And… it is important that a thing of value that is needed is close at hand and available if the family car is not on North Pender Island, but two ferry rides, two airplane flights and approximately 1100 miles away in Spring Valley, California.  We have bikes of course, but when you understand that most islands are merely submerged mountains with only their peaks above water you get a better idea about the value of a bike on an island with zero bike lanes and lots of hills that hard to climb up and brake burners go get down.  E-bike anyone? So really, we have our big boat which takes us from anchorage to anchorage, marina to marina, marina to anchorage, anchorage to marina, or from Portland to Victoria etc., and, our dinghy which is good for local wandering about within anchorages and short trips less than 3-4 miles.  Lastly we have our lowly but well broken in feet.  Good walking shoes are a must. To that end, Les and I just walked up to the Driftwood Centre to pick up the turkey we ordered on Monday for American Thanksgiving.  Canadian Thanksgiving which is on the second Monday in October, was actually started to celebrate certain things like the end of the Lower Canada Rebellion (1837-1838), and other significant events.  In 1879 it was changed to an annual event and became associated with harvest, and in 1957, declared to be “A day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed”.  Not my words certainly, but the apparently pompous Governor General of Canada at the time, Vincent Massey. Pilgrims were not involved, but First Nations people have always had fall harvest celebrations and have sort of been incorporated into the Canadian version.

Well, we certainly have had our BS propagandists who have come up will all sorts of fairy tales about the original American Thanksgiving feast that started in 1621.  From the website: “The first feast wasn’t repeated, so it wasn’t the beginning of a “tradition.  In fact, the colonists didn’t even call the day Thanksgiving. To them, a thanksgiving was a religious holiday in which they would go to church and thank God for a specific event, such as the winning of a battle. On such a religious day, the types of recreational activities that the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians participated in during the 1621 harvest feast–dancing, singing secular songs, playing games–wouldn’t have been allowed.  Myth: The pilgrims wore only black and white clothing. They had buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.

Fact: Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the seventeenth century and black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions. Women typically dressed in red, earthy green, brown, blue, violet, and gray, while men wore clothing in white, beige, black, earthy green, and brown.

And… according to the narrative on, “Thanksgiving” did not begin as a peaceful, friendly relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people.  In fact, in October of 1621 (one year before Tisquantum a.k.a. ‘Squanto’ died) when the ‘pilgrim’ (they were actually puritans) survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial ‘Thanksgiving’ meal, the Indians who were there were not invited.  There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie.  A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of ‘pilgrims’ led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out.  Officially, the holiday we know as ‘Thanksgiving’ actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony’s men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut.  They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of ‘thanksgiving’ complete with a feast to ‘give thanks’ for their great ‘victory’.  This thanksgiving celebration became a custom that was observed every year.”  Well if you read the documentation of historians, corroboration of this depiction does emerge.  So much for the “fake news” displayed in all of the annual thanksgiving plays that grade schoolers deign to present.  It does explain why Indigenous Americans are not particularly happy with the sanitized version of Americanized Thanksgiving.

Dang and double dang!

Back to our quest, after Just a brief additional side note, one of many obvious diversions… On the walk to the Driftwood Center to pick up our turkey (yes, we did celebrate Thanksgiving with a bird, mashed potatoes with gravy and a fabulous green been casserole make from scratch) there were many small tree branches scattered about Oak Lane, the road to the Center, and guess what… there was a whole bunch of lichen on the road as well.  Enough!

Let’s see… I had a story line here somewhere that has been ambushed.  Retirement is like that. One flits here, there, thither, yon and even yonder which is actually just up Oak Lane… Which all fits in, because it really doesn’t’ really matter for the most part. Waylaid again I say! 

So there we were on beautiful late Autumn day, sunny skies, 50 degrees, light wind, which stimulated us to take a short dinghy ride, about a kilometer, over to a park located on a lovely sand spit named Mortimer Spit (which is actually misspelled on the Navionics chart you see below.  Split… I mean really.  I suppose you could say it is accurate as it is where North Pender Island and South Pender Island are split apart from each other by the Pender Canal.  Freudian on the part of the cartographer I’m sure. Anyway, I’ll have to let the Navionics peeps know as I am an “Active Captain” and need to expose chart inconsistencies to their Active Captain group so others won’t blunder into the odd rock that is misplaced on the chart.  Anyway, we walked along the splitting spit to the main 2 lane road that serves South Pender Island so Kai could stretch his little legs.  It wasn’t far. He has little legs being a Chihuahua after all. We walked up and back and ended up sitting on a driftwood log right in front of where we beached the dinghy.  The spit is on the East opening of the Pender Canal split which was dredged wider and deeper sometime around 1906 so the Pender ferry didn’t have to go all the way around the end of South Pender Island to get to Port Browning or Hope Bay.  You can see that on the following Navionics chart:    

So there we were sitting in the late November sun, wrapped up in Northwest garb to ward off the 50 degree temperature and light wind, wondering about dinner which was still a few hours away.  An important topic between us.  I cook and she cleans.  Which means that I need to come up with a menu.  Hmmm… we’d heard from other cruisers that there was a small pizza / Italian restaurant somewhere through the Pender canal and up at the end of Bedwell Harbor behind a nature preserve called Medicine Beach.  It was maybe another 1.5 kilometers away by dinghy, well within our range.  Easy peasy for our dink when coupled with our amazing navigation skill set.  (Read here simply that I had my trusty smart phone nav app that showed us the way…)  Fabulous pizza they had all said.  So… we hopped back in the dinghy, made our way through the canal and motored to the end of Brentwood Bay.  The gravelly Medicine Beach fronting the Nature Preserve was covered in driftwood and was backed by an extensive marsh.  Since there was no wind and the bay was glassy calm, we just nosed the dinghy to the gravel beach, climbed out, tied off the bowline to a log and scrabbled through the driftwood and down the beach 100 meters to a dirt access road and small interpretive center.  Several interpretive signs noted the history of the area and that the site we were visiting had been inhabited on and off for five thousand years or so by several different First Nation tribes.  It was a summer location with a wealth of clams, oysters, crabs, fish, seaweed, and edible and medicinal plants, thus the name, that they gathered in the summer and fall and used throughout the winter.  In 1995 the Pender islanders purchased and placed the land around Medicine Beach into a nature preserve to be left and kept in its natural state in perpetuity.  Hopefully “in perpetuity” means a longer time than it means in California.  It probably does.

Our gastronomic desires were geared more towards immediate gratification versus hunting / gathering for our meal, so we strode off through the preserve on the access road in search of the above-mentioned restaurant.  The marsh gave way to a healthy cedar, fir, madrone, and alder forest suffused with several small cricks that bubbled and wandered through the forest of moss filled trees and boulders. I know that crick is slang for creek, but in my mind a crick is something that is smaller.  Small enough to step over.  A creek is bigger, but not as big as a stream… then there’s the brook… whatev.  These were cricks and their collective voices suffused the forest with a pleasurable counterpoint to the chirps of dark eyed juncos feeding along their banks.  Up ahead we could hear soft road noise and after 500 meters or so we came out of the preserve access road where we came upon a paved road.  There were a few signs up the road on the left.  They looked like the kind of signs you see on islands that have commercial endeavors somewhat off the beaten track.  They could signify that something was there or that something had been there.  You can’t tell until you see the something they represent.  We walked up to the signs and found a driveway that led to a small Italian restaurant, a liquor store and a coffee shop and a few other small unnamed buildings.  There were lights.  The lights were on.  The buildings were repurposed as many island things are, but looked serviceable. Island civilization.

So, over the bay and through the canal and over the second bay and through the woods, onto a road, into a driveway… we found what we were looking for.  The home of the fabulous on-Island pizza, owned by islanders.  Of course, no dogs were allowed within either of the premises.  So Les sat in a chair outside the restaurant with Kai tucked in her jacket.  I went in the liquor store and surveyed the offerings.  I had no beer on the boat, and out of the 6 or so brands they had, I selected some Fat Tug, a nice IPA that I’ve enjoyed at the pub.  They had maybe 15 different kinds of wine and that was all, probably the beer and wine choices of those who lived close by and didn’t want to drive the 2 kilometers to the Driftwood Center.  While I was in the liquor store, this guy came in.  Mid twenties.  Hair down the middle of his back. Beard.  Hoodie under a down Jacket, jeans and work boots.  The usual.  A cute little shitz tsu accompanied him in, walked about sniffing the goods which were probably not very interesting to him because they were cans and bottles… and made its way out into what looked like a back store room.  Better smells I’m sure… The guy wandered around and did not buy anything and left, leaving the dog in the store.  He came back about 30 seconds later and asked if we’d seen his dog.  Spot on that one.  His pooch came out of the back room upon hearing his voice and they both left.  The store owner and I had a meaningful moment as the lad and his dog left.  He actually rolled his eyes, and I assume what had just happened was a common occurrence.  I bought the Fat Tug and took it out to Les.  Kai was cold, being a thin skinned chi and all, so we decided that she’d go back to the dinghy and make sure it didn’t drift away and I’d order a pizza to go.  She left.  I went into the funkified restaurant.  The smells were all right.  Garlic, meat, baking crust, tomatoes etc.  I ordered smoked chicken with feta, spinach and mushroom pizza and sat down to wait.  After about 5 minutes the twenty something year old lad came in with his little sniffing dog.  The lad played with his cell phone and talked to one of the owners.  The dog wandered into the kitchen.  About 30 seconds later, the other owner, the one putting together my pizza came out and yelled… well spoke loudly to the lad and said pointing to me, “That gentleman sitting there left his dog outside, just like the sign says.  You didn’t.  This is not a playground.  So, leave and take your dog with you”.  I didn’t say a word, being merely a prop for the owner to use at will.  The lad and his dog slithered out.  As he passed by the table I was sitting at nicely restrained by my status as a prop, he was mumbling something under his breath.  I’m not sure it was English or even Canadian for that matter.  No eye contact was forthcoming. Island life.

Anyway, 10 minutes later I had my boxed pizza in hand.  I walked back through the preserve holding my culinary prize.  Quite nice aromas emanated from the box. Scrambling back down the sloped and log strewn beach to the dinghy, I found Les, sitting in the dinghy facing the weak sun.  Kai was tucked into the front of her warm jacket, his favorite place while dinghying, or really any time for that matter.  I untied the dink and pushed it lightly off the beach and without getting my feet wet, stumbled clumsily from my perch on the bow and migrated to my position at the back of the boat. Started up the engine and we motored back to the marina.  We placed the semi-warm pizza into the oven for a bit to warm up and dove in.  It was good.  About the same as the Pub pizza, but we were proud to know that we had sampled another version of true Pender Island pizza. Neither came out of the freezer…

The next day Les and I stopped by the Driftwood Center pharmacy to get a few items and we chatted up the sales clerk a bit.  Island folk do seem to have plenty of chat time on their hands and we were the only ones in line at the time, though that probably wouldn’t have mattered.  We were talking about food and somehow got on the topic of pizza, and how we liked the pizza at the pub and had gotten a pizza over at Bedwell Harbor and liked it too.  The clerks, yes, now there were two, if you start up a good chat it does of course grow, and it became an interesting display of soft tribalism.  They knew we were Yanks, of course.  We’ve not perfected ooot for out and we’re not ending sentences in “eh?”.  We told them our tale about our pizza gathering expedition.

One of them stated, “Over on Bedwell Harbor by the nature preserve?  Yeah, their pizza is way better than the Pub.  And, it is not a chain.”  My interest piqued of course, I queried, “How do you mean the Pub is a chain.”

The clerks both glanced at each other meaningfully and without missing a beat in the conversational cadence stated, “It’s owned by the marina, and they own several marinas in Canada”.

Righto thought I, and then stepped right into the soft tribal fray armed as a scientist with multiple data points to ponder:  “I can see that. But aren’t most of the people that work at the pub, Pender islanders?

“Well, most of them” the first clerk replied.  With that I could agree.  I could then have pointed out that the Marina Manager and the Pub Manager were Pender Islanders.  The wait staff were Pender Islanders.  Pender Island has very limited ferry service and working at a Pub and traveling back and forth from another Gulf island or from Vancouver Island is not easily supported staff that are reliant upon the times that the ferry comes and goes at Pender.  It’s only twice daily and not very convenient if you are working the pub late in the evening. That being stated, the investor group that owns the marina and pub do own 5 other marinas scattered around BC with one in Alaska. We’ve been to 2 of them and they are lovely.  Yes, the owners of this Pender Island marina are off site and are not Pender Islanders.  That being said, after talking to the marina manager at length and to a few others that have boats at the marina about what the marina was like before it was purchased by the off islanders.  The docks were falling apart.  The electricity at the docks was unreliable.  Many liveaboard types were in the marina on boats in various states of disrepair.  Cats were probably living with dogs.  The new marina owners kicked out all the liveaboards and the nearly derelect boats, rebuilt the docks, updated all the wiring and circuitry to support 30 amp power at all dock fingers and a few 50 amp outlets on the outer dock.  Now, people come over to the marina on weekends from Vancouver Island to spend a few days, when before they never would because it was such a backwater.  They spend money at the Pub and Bistro and at the Driftwood Center.  We are here because it is not a backwater, and because we’ve found Pender Islanders to be wonderful island people.  There is provisioning within walking distance and the on-site Pub is consistently good, and staffed well.  The other marina in the group we stayed at for a week did not have a pub, so I’m not quite sure what “chain” actually meant to the two clerks, unless it was just soft tribal speak for an outsiders, i.e. an outside investor group.   

I get the off-islander gambit though.  We lived in Valley Center, a rural burg in North San Diego County for many years and it had one gas station, a mini market, 2 small restaurants and 4 feed stores that all had hitching posts out front were you could tie up your horse if you were so inclined to ride your horse there from home and needed to hitch it to something while you went into the establishment to eat or conduct business.  We watched over the years as “outside investors” bought up orange and avocado groves and tore them down to build mini ranchettes which “city folk” moved into.  It got to the point that you couldn’t ride your horse to town. There was too much traffic. The hitching posts went away. Over a relatively short period of time, the “outsiders” transformed Valley Center into a place that no longer valued the rural life that had brought us there.  We eventually left Valley Center.

It is clear that Pender Islanders see outsiders pretty much the same way and many of the same reasons that long term Valley Centurians did, and take measures including zoning and regulation to preserve their island character.

Anyway… we never got to Grandmothers house…

The dinghy ride was just too far…


(Third revision… one of my editors Birdie, pointed out that I’d misspelled Dinghy every time in the last version… so I had to fix that… and that led to a few more changes. And as I type this there is a bald eagle sitting in the upper branches of a fir tree across the bay, a raft of harlequin ducks just paddled by, a great blue heron is sitting on the edge of a dock 15 meters away staring intently into the water, a raft of bufflehead ducks is resting at the head of our little bay, and… there are 3 boats from Victoria, and 5 boats from Sidney at the marina docks spending the weekend. Eh?)

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