The Pender Canal

by Lynn Salmon 2014

Pender Canal

The Pender Canal from Port Browning and the road bridge that must be approached at low water by vessels with a mast. Shallow water below and the bridge overhead can make this a dicey proposition. Photo from the MacFarlane collection.

The survey vessel HMS Plumper first charted this area in 1857. Although a shallow isthmus joined the north and south islands the potential as a sea route was identified. In 1901, after a successful petitioning of the provincial government, the sand and gravel was dredged from the gap making it deep enough for passenger vessels to pass through. This permitted the steamer S.S. Iroquois to transit the canal more quickly and avoid the rough seas at the south end of South Pender Island. Iroquois had begun a service from Sidney to Hope Bay on North Pender in 1900. It also shortened the route from Sidney to Mayne Island and the other Gulf Islands.

With the increase of shipping traffic, the natural erosion process was accelerated and in 1984 the decision to mitigate the archaeological site situated on the shores of the canal was made. A partnership between Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the Heritage Conservation Branch (HCB) spread over three years and yielded a wealth of material for study. The site was dated to 4500 years before present and had been continuously occupied until 3000 years ago by ancestors from the East Saanich band of Coast Salish people. In the early part of the last century descendants of the East Saanich and Cowichan bands visited this area though no permanent residence was established.

Small-scale Chart

Chart showing the canal between North and South Pender Islands (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection.)

Large-scale Chart

Chart inset showing details of the canal. (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection. )

Pender Canal

One–lane wooden bridge over canal joining North and South Pender Islands. Drivers must judge who has the right–of–way before proceeding onto the bridge deck. (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection. )

A single–lane bridge was built across the canal by the province in 1955. Most of the permanent population was settled on the north island but the connector made it possible to develop commercial ventures on the south island especially after 1960 when the British Columbia Ferries began regular service to Otter Bay. Weekenders and tourists alike could now access both islands.

Pender Canal

The transit of the Pender Canal is an enjoyable undertaking but careful attention must be paid to the tides. There is not a lot of room under the bridge to share with opposing traffic and the visibility is not far-reaching. But it’s a charming passage and well worth the time to check out. (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection. )

Pender Monument

Plaque erected on North Pender Island beside bridge in 1993 by the Pender Island Museum Society – it explains that the isthmus was known to the native people as ‘Xelisen’ meaning ‘lying between’. (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection. )

To quote from this article please cite:

Salmon, Lynn (2014) The Pender Canal. 2014.


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