For the past few years, I’ve been asked by other boaters, “Have you visited Montague and taken the bus to the Hummingbird Pub?”
This year, we were able to answer, “Yes.”
Nestled in Galiano Island, Montague Harbor offers pleasant anchorage that abuts a campground, and is a short walk from several small shops and establishments to rent scooters, kayaks and canoes. There are also hiking trails in the area, meandering through forests and overlooking the beaches below.
We arrived in the early afternoon, and tied up to a mooring ball. After taking our dinghy ashore, we surveyed the area, bought ice cream in the small grocery store, ate blackberries along the side of the roads, and determined when the Hummingbird Pub bus runs, picking up campers and boaters, and bringing them into town.
We returned to Tug Time, to catch up on reading and change clothes. As scheduled, the bus arrived to much fanfare, with the driver, Tom Tompkins (a.k.a. Tommy Transit) in a black beret, his tousled, long white hair escaping out the sides, and a smile stretched from ear-to-ear welcoming us into the bus.
If you’d glanced away, you could have heard the bus coming from quarter mile away. Rock ‘n roll blasting out of the speakers, punctuated by Tommy beating on a small drum in the center of the steering wheel, tambourine mounted above the windshield, and other percussion paraphernalia (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them instruments) within arm’s reach.
Adding to the cacophony was the maracas, castanets, and other music instruments Tommy handed out to passengers, enabling them to join the fun, singing, dancing, and joking during the ride to-and-from the Hummingbird Inn. Here’s a clip from a fan.
What makes Tommy Transit so special is that he’s made a huge difference in the lives of over 150,000 people per year who stepped onto the transit buses he drove for 21 years in Vancouver, British Columbia. Tommy became a “bus driver on a mission,” acknowledging people for who they are, and the unique contributions they make.
Following his retirement, he wrote the book, “Bus Tales: How to Change the World from 9 to 5,” which offers insights on how to connect with people and find joy and fulfillment in their work. Watch a news report on how passengers helped him celebrate his 60th birthday.
Along with his musical antics, Tommy pointed out places-of-interest, including the Galiano Island Soapworks, which makes a variety of artisan soaps, candles, skin care products, and even a pet shampoo bar. There was a large farm with many beautiful horses frolicking in grassy pastures. The owner evidentially rescues race horses, which are destined for slaughterhouses.
Within walking distance of the Hummingbird Pub were several quirky stores. One was a clothing resale shop, housed in a brightly painted travel trailer. Another sold artwork and collectibles; the outside of the stop lavishly decorated with knick-knacks. Check out the pictures in the gallery to the right.
The pub is located in what was once a large rustic house. A covered patio was added on one side, and a screened sunroom in the front. Inside was a jumble of rooms, eclectically decorated with a hodge-podge of tables and chairs. We chose a small table near the bar where we could observe people coming-and-going, many of whom seemed like locals rather than tourists.
Not overly hungry, we ordered a small veggie pizza, which turned out to be one of the most TASTY pizzas I’ve ever eaten! It was a combination of what I suspect was locally grown produce, including tomatoes, sweet onions, peppers, spinach, mushrooms, zesty sauce, and mozzarella cheese on a very thin, crispy crust. We savored every bite in-between sipping strong coffee (me) and a local beer (Rich) that had a slight apricot taste.
The bus ride back to the marina was equally entertaining with people picking up an instrument as they boarded the bus, supplementing the frivolity lead by Tommy, now wearing a different hat, and more exuberant with many people waiting to be picked up, and brought to the Hummingbird Pub for good food and camaraderie.
The Gulf Islands: Blooming with Art
The next morning, we visited one of my favorite placed on Vancouver Island, Chemanius. The town works hard to attract and please tourist. The hospitality started the moment we approached the public docks with the affable harbor master grabbing our lines and helping me tie off Tug Time. The pleasure boat-friendly marina is a fairly new addition because much of the town’s waterfront is dedicated to logging and inter-island ferries.
For much of the town’s history the key industries were mining, fishing, and forestry, the latter providing work to Chinese who labored in “bull gangs,” moving huge lumber planks to ships in the late 1800’s. When the land’s natural resources dwindled, the isolated town — snuggled between a mountain range and the ocean — came up with a plan to attract visitor, and eventually, worldwide fame.
It started with a couple of mural in 1982, which today comprise over three dozen, turning the town of Chemanius into an outdoor art gallery. Click through the murals, some of which span several buildings, and are two stories in height.
Adding to the murals are outdoors sculptures, blocks of charming shops, a dramatic art center, numerous art galleries, and a large park with a view of the water and sizable amphitheater. There are also numerous bed & breakfasts, and other amenities, such as bakeries, that beacon visitors as they stroll through the town. It can take several hours to find and see all of the murals, some of which are down narrow streets and painted in unexpected places. One of my favorites is a steam train painted on the side of house.
Of course, Rich and I were drawn into a bakery, purchasing two bags of day-old pastries. Minutes later, Rich spotted what looking like a vagrant in the city park, lying down with a long-straggly, gray beard, and baggy clothes. Rich offered him his bag of pastries, which he initially declined, and then accepted.
I scolded Rich for giving away his pastries, saying I wasn’t going to share mine. Naturally, five minutes later, I gave him half a tasty coconut, chocolate yummy.
After spending a few hours in Chemanius, including visiting the charming Hansel & Gretel’s Candy Company where Rich bought a bag of tangy licorice, we headed back to Tug Time, waited for the small inter-island ferry to depart, and then cast-off for a short trip over to Telegraph Harbor on Thetis Island.
Named in 1851 after HMS Thetis, a 36-gun Royal Navy frigate, Thetis Island has a population of 350 people, with the few settlers arriving in 1874. The key industry seems to be tourism with between 1,000 and 2,000 people flocking to the island during the warmer months, for the day or overnight, at one or the many bed & breakfasts or the two pleasure boat marinas. We chose to stay at Telegraph Harbor Marina because it offered free Wi-Fi so we could use Sputnik (our netbook) and my Windows Phone.
All of the community services on the islands, except the school, are provided by volunteers. It being early in the afternoon, we had plenty of time to explore the lightly popular populated island. One of my favorite aspects of boating is the anticipation of the unexpected. Thetis was exceptional: From the cobbled-together buildings, which comprise Thetis Harbor Marina and Pub, to the sites on our walk to-and-from Telegraph Harbor Marina.
Because we prefer showering ashore, rather than using up the water on our boat, our first stop was to check-out the bathrooms and showers. We walked up a short, nicely landscaped pathway to a door, which lead to a covered, wooden, outdoor staircase. As we climbed the stairs, we could see the rooftops of the other marina buildings. The stairs came to another door, inside was a narrow hallway with three showers to the right, and two small bathrooms to the left. It was clean and tidy, and latter provided plenty of hot water!
Next, we ventured to the small marine store and post office, on the opposite side of the marina complex, and also up a set of somewhat rickety wooden stairs. Rich and I are always on a quest for ice cream. We found none in the store, but I was intrigued by the breath of generic canned goods. Shelves of cans and boxes with white labels, stating what’s inside and the ingredients. No brands. Simply rows of cans and boxes of fruits, vegetables, meats, spaghetti sauce, pastas, and other staples.
There was also a liquor store, located inside the marina restaurant. Everything a boater, or local resident, could need was in an odd assemblage of buildings, half extended over the water on pilings, half on the terra firm or up flights of stairs. According to one website, the first building at the marina was an old chicken coop that had been floated up the bay in 1940.
A short walk from the marina was the inter-island ferry landing. It had just pulled up, and was unloading passengers, including the raggedy old man who Rich gave his pastries to in Chemanius. He was carrying several bags of groceries. I have a feeling he wasn’t poor and homeless, simply a recluse who lived on Thetis Island and visited Chemanius to get his groceries… or maybe to enjoy the ambiance of the larger town.
Within walking distance of the ferry was probably the largest enterprise on the island, the Capenwray Harbour Bible School. The evangelical Christian post-secondary institution hosts with up to 140 full-time students during the year, and over 4,000 participants in Christian-oriented course offered during the non-school year. The campus was immaculate with Tudor-style buildings, acres of mowed lawns, outdoor amphitheater, pens of happy animals, and many dormitory and support buildings.
Around a couple of bends, we came to a farm store. In front was an elderly man, stooped over a long piece of wood, thick goggles covering his eyes with a magnifying glass in one hand, held over one spot on the wood. Intrigued, I dashed across the road.
The artist was Bud Hnetka, a self-taught Canadian artist who using a technique called solar pyrography, which focuses the strength of the sun through a lens to burn images onto wood. The process is slow, deliberate, and as Hnetka wrote on his blog, “I generally work in public and the spectators think that I’m either the most patient person in the word or just plain bonkers!!”
To create deep layers, he might pass over a spot on the wood 40 times. The result is extraordinary. The pieces took my breath away, especially the ones with the multiple trees and foliage on pieces of wood with distinct grains. To add depth, he adds a little color to the etchings. See the photo gallery below for a sample of one of these pieces, and read more about the amazing art of Solarbud
As we walked to the Telegraph Marina, we passed by many blackberry bushes, the berries satiated my thirst, and stained my fingers purple. Because the Gulf Islands are so far north, blackberries that start ripening in Oregon in July, don’t turn purple in Washington until August, and are finally sweet in Canada in September.
There’s a night and day difference between Telegraph and Thetis Marina. The former is pristine with swathes of groomed lawns, flower-lined paths, tidy store with a soda fountain, offering milk shakes, sundaes, fresh baked pies, and other goodies, including cups of Thetis Island Pot of Gold Coffee. You can eat in the bistro or have them deliver food to your boat.
Like Rosario Marina on Orcas Island, Telegraph Marina is park-like with covered areas, comfortable chairs, picnic tables, swings, volleyball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, and other amenities. We stayed for a few minutes, warming ourselves in the sun, and looking over the beautiful expanse of the bay.
On our walk back, we stop at Pot of Gold Coffee Roasting Company, located in what may have been a house, decades earlier. The family-owned business has been roasting coffee in Canada for over 30 years, using Gertrude, a Gothot brand coffee roaster from Germany, built in 1953, and Ferdinand, a bigger roaster purchased in 2011.
We got to see both machines, along with the bags of green coffee beans, waiting to be ground and shipped out the following day. We purchased a bag of Mexican Organic Oaxaco Ky-Chee coffee, which had been roasted a few days earlier.
The company offers 25 varieties of coffee, which is only available through mail order… or if you happen to visit Thetis Island. As I write this article, I’m drinking a cup of their coffee!
Having explored a small slice of the island, we returned to Tug Time to read, nibble on cheese, and drink wine. While lounging, we heard a noise in the background, which aroused us from our stupor. We watched as a float plane whizzed over the water within 30-40 feet of our boat, touched down, glided to the dock, dropped off a passenger, and was then back in the air within ten minutes. Cool!
It was the perfect ending to a glorious day.