How could I have missed this podcast?
This latest find, “The Stories That Brought You Here,” is a podcast made on Pender Island and all about Pender Island. It’s been active for four years, and I hadn’t heard of it until recently when two people independently mentioned it.
Forgive me if this is old news! You may have heard every episode, but I’ve just discovered it, and I’m impressed! I don’t hang out on Facebook, where it’s probably been discussed endlessly.
The voices and stories of people who call Pender home
I’m slowly making my way through all 47 episodes; each features the voices and stories of people who call this place home. Chances are you’ll recognize several of the people featured in these interviews. They may be your next-door neighbour, a familiar face at the ferry terminal, or a habitué at the Port Browning Pub.
If you’ve been on Pender any time, you’ve probably crossed paths with someone who’s appeared in an episode. They may be a writer you’ve seen at the Speakeasy, an artist whose work you’ve admired at a gallery show. They may be a former teacher or a famous broadcaster. Or Davy Rippner, maybe, the friendly leathersmith at the Pender Farmer’s market.
The Stories That Brought You Here is a labour of love by Pender’s Chris Wakaluk, which he started in March 2018. He received financial support from the Ptarmigan Arts Society for a time to help defray his costs.
A labour of love
I don’t know Chris, but I know he’s got a knack for drawing exciting stories out of his subjects. Apart from learning more about our fellow Penderites, the net result is a stronger sense of the community on this island.
The idea of community has changed over the past two years. There are neighbours on South Pender who I’ve seen very little of since COVID forced us apart. Some good friends on North Pender practically feel like strangers now. Waiting for these rifts to heal may take some time now that the strictures of masking and distancing are beginning to relax.
But listening to the voices on this podcast refreshes my sense of the community we knew before COVID and perhaps took for granted. You hear familiar voices again and even learn many new things about your neighbours.
Wakaluk knows his audience well
Chris follows an established structure for each interview. He knows his audience well, and he’ll introduce a guest as if everyone already knows them. He’s also a great listener with an instinct for when to dive in and ask for more detail or clarification.
“Now, if you know Brent Marsden like I know Brent Marsden,” he says in episode 14, “you’ll know him as that caring, genuine, older gentleman you run into at the coffee shop from time to time and have great conversations with …”
He starts with “What brought you to Pender?” a question that invites stories about who the person was before they arrived on the island.
The answers are wide-ranging, from people who left careers in the big city to people who drifted here in their youth and never left. Some had long-time connections with Pender, like grandparents who owned property here. Others came in the late 1960s and purchased a land package in the brand new Magic Lake Estates subdivision.
Gravel roads and big personalities
They arrived to find gravel roads and small communities that had been here since the early 1900s or earlier. They found old-time characters and big personalities, families that were early homesteaders.
Some spent summers on Pender and knew they would always be back in their hearts. Others arrived to build their dream homes and shape a new community.
The interviews paint a rich portrait of Pender Island, its history and its citizens.
The second part of Chris’ interview takes a different tack. He asks, “Who helped you on Pender?” It’s an invitation for the interviewees to move beyond themselves and bring in the broader community.
At first, it’s difficult for interviewees to know where to start, but with a bit of prodding, many don’t know how to stop naming people.
Feels like home
“It has really been fascinating to hear that this island is a really supportive place,” Chris told the Gulf Islands Driftwood in an article a few years back.
Listening to the stories of the people in this podcast, it’s easy to discern that Pender has fulfilled some kind of need for its inhabitants. It may be the ability to live comfortably in a natural setting, its beauty and simplicity. Maybe it’s the freedom to express their essential selves through art or music or building beautiful homes. It could be a place where they can escape sadness or complications from the past. Maybe it’s all these things.
Or maybe you’ve always wanted to be a baker and call yourself the Happy Monk!
Not for everyone
Pender (or island life in general) isn’t for everyone. I’ve told the story here of the fellow I met several years ago who moved his young family to Pender after spending one glorious summer holiday by the ocean. But he discovered within a few months that he couldn’t stand the rain and winter darkness. It was a terrible mistake, he said. He felt trapped by the trees and the “whims of the ferry schedule” and had to leave. And I saw him on his last day at the Driftwood gas station, filling his tanks to start the long drive back to Sudbury, Ontario.
Some old friends envy our life in the Gulf Islands. Others wonder what the hell Jennifer and I are doing here.
The Stories That Brought You Here suggests that people arrive and stay for good reason. They find a part of themselves. And they stay as long as it takes until it’s time to move on.
Reflecting the larger community
Some episodes depart from the one-on-one format, moving into the whimsical. A small series of episodes feature different “grandfathers” telling stories as if to children sitting around the campfire. In another episode, Chris sits down with an Arbutus Tree at Greenburn Lake and tries to conduct one of his usual interviews.
A remarkable episode is a field recording of the sounds of nature awakening around Roe Lake. At 4 a.m., June 21, 2020, Chris turns on his recorder on the year’s longest day. Over one hour, you hear the rise of birdsong from a faint trickle to a tumultuous chorus.
When I began posting blogs for the Happy Monk Baking website, I assumed that no one writes about Pender. Apart from short dispatches in the Pender Post, there seemed to be little perspective reflecting the larger community of Pender Island.
The Stories That Brought You Here podcast was doing a remarkable job well before there was a Happy Monk! And I doff my cap and bow in gratitude for what Chris has achieved.
Focusing on a new community
Chris is taking a break from the format for The Stories That Brought You Here and turning his focus on the newer residents of Pender Island, specifically those who arrived in the past two years.
“So many new people [arrived on the island], and due to the circumstances of the past two years, many of us do not know who these people are, and vice versa,” he told me via email.
“I would like to help build connections between the new and old island residents through some shorter interviews with newcomers.”
I think this is an excellent idea. With Chris’ insight into what makes Pender Island special to live in, it will be a worthy follow-up to the current format of The Stories that Brought You Here.
Chris has developed an intriguing business project out of The Stories That Brought You Here: a service that records the voices and memoirs of people for private distribution to family members and friends — those who might treasure your life stories as told in your own voice. With the expertise he’s gained interviewing and editing audio recordings, he’s hoping to produce professional recordings that can act as living memoirs for loved ones through the ages. He calls the service: My Audio Memoir. You can email Chris to inquire further at email@example.com.