The Hope Bay Phoenix

April 22nd, 2009  |  Published in Hot off the press

– Aqua Magazine
          text by Cherie Thiessen, photography by Kevin Oke

In the early hours of February 23, 1998, many North Pender Island residents awoke to sirens. Those who lived near Hope Bay and looked out at the rosy glow tinting the night had further cause for alarm.

The historic Hope Bay store was ablaze and while the volunteer firefighters were able to contain it, they couldn’t save the venerable structure. Rising from the ashes, however, was in its future. 

The first store at Hope Bay, built in 1905 by Robert Corbett to serve as post office and general store, had a short life. In 1912 it was replaced by a building that stood the test of time and quickly became the social hub of North Pender, continuing to be operated by the Corbett family for forty-two more years before finally being sold in 1956. 

After this, a series of owners tried their hand at the enterprise with varying levels of success. It flourished and floundered as commerce and freight shifted away from Hope Bay with the ferries and mail service. You can’t keep a good store down, however, and it continued to survive into the sixties and seventies, frequently operating as an arts and crafts outlet until finally, in the 1990s, it was again finding its place at the heart of the island. Poets, musicians and performers entertained outdoor audiences, locals added the store to their visitor ‘to do’ list and people started taking the time to drop by for an espresso, a visit by the old pot bellied stove and a look at the latest gifts and crafts. The fire changed all that.

History went up in flame, the edifice’s charred remains moldering for the next five years while the fire was investigated, the owner attempted to rebuild and ran out of funds, and the property was put up for sale. Rumours of pending deals came and went, but the heroes in this Phoenix story were not far away, mustering their resources and about to forge a unique partnership, the Hope Bay Rising Holdings Ltd.

In April 2003, 27 local Pender Islanders purchased the burnt out stores. One of them was one of the
Penders’ most popular artists, long time resident, Peter Binner, a goldsmith with Pender priorities – always available for coffee and a chat unless he has ‘gone sailing’. He was one of the first locals to recognize what could happen and to push for group ownership. To lose public access to this historic and scenic waterfront, with its old government docks, boat shed and views over to Mayne and Saturna Islands would have been tragic. Project Manager, Brent
Marsden, another of the original group, remembers well how it all came together:

“Initially there were only eight or nine of us,” explains Marsden, “but then another sale loomed, and we only had two weeks to get the rest of the people on board. We didn’t want to see it just become a private home. There is no commercial waterfront space that the public can access on these islands, other than marinas.” 

Pender Islanders were delighted to hear that their beloved Hope Bay Store and the magical site it sat on were being rescued and even better, by locals they knew.

The group, Hope Bay Rising Holdings Ltd., took on a million dollar project, with equal shares for each of the partners. They formed a Board of Directors, purchased the property and then the fun started. The property was never going to be an easy one to keep commercial. It took a year to go through the legal process, the most onerous part of the process. A parade of engineers and other experts started its march through Hope Bay shortly after the sale; more engineering specialists than Marsden even dreamt existed:

“Because the property straddles the water, basically jutting out over the view, it meant that departments like Fisheries and the Dept of Transport were all required to be involved as well as all the rest. There were structural engineers, environmental engineers, marine biologists, septic and sewer experts, traffic engineers, and all with stiff fees, of course.” 

Finally, though, July 3, 2005, dawned, the official opening of the Hope Bay store. It brought out hundreds of locals and visitors to celebrate the Hope Bay Phoenix and its important place once again in Pender Islanders’ lives. In December, as if to endorse its importance, Santa Claus himself decided to bring his Santa Ship to Hope Bay instead of to Port Washington.

These days the 17 commercial outlets are ninety per cent occupied, from a busy café hanging over the ocean and forced to serve delectable home made baking, seafood, and favourites in an effort to drag your eyes away from the stunning views, to an artisan’s co-op, a home décor boutique, a quality consignment store, the goldsmith, a real estate office, and a recent arrival, Hope Bay Hair Salon. Stylist Nicole Payer hails from Edmonton. She and her partner bought a home on the Penders and their canny realtor asked her what she did for living. When she commented she was a stylist, the realtor nudged her in the right direction, pointing out that the Hope Bay Store was looking for a stylist. “The setting is incredible.” enthuses Payer. It was a done deal. She moved in and loves it there.

Incredibly, the 27 original shareholders who make up this unique partnership are still together, working diligently to ensure the enterprise’s success. They’re rewarded by the loyalty of locals, who happily patronage the site once again and keep the cozy café buzzing even in the ‘off season’. After all, everyone loves homegrown.

You can read a little about their history and merchants at www.hopebayrising.com 

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