As the saying goes, it takes a community to raise a child. In the case of the recently released Women of Pender Harbour -Their Voices, Their History, it has taken the support of many people in the Pender area to nurture the growth of this book.
Last weekend at the official book launch in Madeira Park, it seemed as if half the community crowded in to the music school to hear the authors describe how the idea grew from a spark in February 2001 presented at a Women's Connection gathering, into the 257-page, hard cover, comprehensively illustrated book of today.
Janet Thomas welcomed the book's contributors to the launch -many of whom are elderly now - and their adult children who grew up in the neighbourhood. One of the book's authors, Dorothy Faulkner, recalled how the interviewing process began with a small grant-in-aid from the Sunshine Coast Regional District to pay for tape recorders and transcription. (Many other organizations: the Sunshine Coast Credit Union, Lions Club, Legion and Rotary, would chip in later).
By 2007, 29 women had been interviewed and the women's group had partnered with the Pender Harbour Living Heritage Society. At one point momentum was lost, Faulkner later told Coast Reporter. Volunteers returned to their busy lives. She was about to give up and submit the work to the museum when fresh faces offered to help.
Patricia Anderson provided editorial assistance and reported that, yes, there were some nuggets among the material. Harbour Publishing's Mary and Howard White contributed: Mary with page design work and Howard with memorabilia from his own mother's collection. As the momentum grew again, others stepped forward. Newcomer Elaine Park offered her skills and became the group's lead writer while Cathy Jenks became graphics editor. Local authors, Edith Iglauer Daly wrote a charming foreword and Theresa Kishkan wrote a moving acknowledgement to the women of the community. Garden Bay artist Motoko donated one of her paintings for the cover depicting the Lady Cecilia arriving at Irvine's Landing in the '40s, while historian Jean Barman, wrote cover notes.
But the true imperative was within the stories themselves.
"It reads like a novel," said Faulkner, and she was right.
As Margaret Skelly said before she read excerpts aloud, many of the place names and dates would shift in the interviewees' memories, but their stories remained strong -and they were told from a uniquely woman's point of view. What lives they led!
Tales of isolation and hardship abound, as do warm recollections of the good times. One of the hardships for women who lived surrounded by the sea was the lack of fresh water. One mother recalls how she washed her baby's diapers in salt water, and when all the other kids had a bath, she would be the last one in the tub. When a salesman visited to sell a gas powered washing machine (no hydro available) he told her that there were three good reasons why she needed it and he pointed to her three kids.
Memories of the beloved events are described in glowing detail: the school play, the annual Fishermen's Homecoming party and the May Day celebrations that still take place. The bad memories -the fires that tore through homes and the boat accidents -always turned into a testimony for how the community rallied to help the victims.
If the women of Pender Harbour weren't teaching and living in primitive conditions at the "teacherage," then they were nursing at the hospital in Garden Bay.
Some picked salal for a living, styled hair, ran the thrift store or played in the dance band. Many of the wives learned their husband's trades to keep the businesses running when times were tough. Pixie Daly learned boat building, while Gloria Fritz turned from nurse to log salvor. Others learned to operate a "kicker" for the first time in their lives so they could shop at the only store across the bay or take the kids to school.
The appendices contain brief biographies of the contributors, an index and an account of Sakinaw Lake's summer history by Maureen Wright. The book is available for $45 from Bluewaters Books, John Henry's and Talewind Books. Funds go toward expenses and to support an ongoing archive in Pender Harbour.
A performance fundraiser is planned for June 27 at 2 p.m. in Madeira Park featuring the acclaimed singer and opera diva Rose-Ellen Nichols who was born and raised in Pender Harbour. Tickets are available locally for $15.