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The Pie Lady of Vic West

The Pie Lady of Vic West

She loves the colour hot pink and makes delicious pies. Meet Victoria’s inimitable “Pie Lady,” Dawn Morgan.

Illustrations by Carina Nilsson.

Dawn Morgan wears hot pink eyeglasses with lipstick to match. In her mid-fifties, she dresses more like a teenager: a purple tank top covered in flowers and feathers, with the word “Hope” emblazoned across the front, loosely draped above intentionally ripped jeans. And despite life’s struggles, Dawn’s eyes still sparkle.

To locals, Dawn is more commonly known as “The Pie Lady.” She can be found most weekends, and some week days, selling her homemade pies on the sidewalk of the 700 block of Craigflower Road in Vic West. Those pies, she says, “win at the Saanich Fair every year!”

Pies have been a Morgan family tradition for generations. Dawn’s grandmother immigrated from Wales to Canada to be a camp cook for cowboys. Then Dawn’s older sister picked up the tradition, teaching Dawn how to make the pastry when Dawn was just 10 years old. Dawn perfected her trade over the decades. Once her son came along, she taught him how to make pies. Like his mother, his pies garner ribbons in pie competitions as well. 

One Saturday, I have a hankering for one of Dawn’s first-place pies and I drive down Craigflower at noon. But she’s nowhere to be seen. I try later, then the next day, and again the following weekend. I finally see Dawn out with her pies on a little table covered with a red and white checkered cloth. While I’m making casual conversation with her, Dawn’s eyes fill with tears. She’s having trouble with her lungs and has been on the wait list for treatment at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria.

“My dad died of lung cancer,” Dawn says. “I’m so scared I’m going to die. I’m a single mom. My son is attached to me at the hip. If something happens to me, he’ll have nobody.” She distracts herself by rearranging her pies on the table. “The hospital called me this morning and wanted me to come in today. Today! But I can’t just drop everything. I need to sell my pies!”

When I next hear from Dawn, she’s in the hospital. I make plans to join her for a day of selling pies after she’s been discharged. But after days in hospital and several more spent recuperating at home, she’s just not feeling well enough. Due to her health issues, our pie-selling plans get postponed. Each day of lost sales cuts deep into Dawn’s modest budget. And soon enough, it doesn’t matter whether she feels up to it or not.

“This is my sole income,” she tells me as she waves her “Hot Pies” sign on the side of Craigflower Road. “I’m on disability. I get $1500 a month, and my rent is $1550.” This is unlikely to improve anytime soon. Each year, the bipartisan committee of the B.C. Legislative Assembly responsible for finance and government services produces a list of recommendations for the next government budget. This year, the committee did not include an increase in disability payments, although those payments fall well below the poverty line.

“This is it,” she says, motioning towards the pies on the table. “What I do is—from the money I get—I take a little bit for grocery money and I buy fruit and I turn it over. And that’s how we eat. That’s not clothes or bills though.”

Michael Bouris, a fit gray-haired man, rides up on his bicycle and asks which pies are available

“Blueberry, Apple, or Strawberry Rhubarb. Have you ever had them before?” Dawn asks him.

“No, but I’ve heard you’re famous over here!”

Dawn pipes in: “Good!” Pointing at me, she tells Michael, “That’s what she needs to hear! She’s doing an interview!”

“Oh, so you’re interviewing local characters?” he asks.

Before I can answer, Dawn says, “I’m definitely a character!” She throws back her bleached blond curls and laughs. Her laughter is infectious.

Cars honk as they pass Dawn on the street. Children wave from the backseats of vehicles and she waves back. When a formidable police officer cruises slowly down the street, Dawn jokingly directs him to pull over to get pies. From behind slick sunglasses, the cop smiles at Dawn, shaking his head and laughing. From cops to kids, Dawn and her pies bring joy to just about everyone who crosses her path, whether she sells them a pie or not.

Dawn’s small enterprise began seven years ago when her brother offered a slice of her pie to a construction worker outside Dawn’s home. The man took one bite and said he had to take it home to his wife who ran the old flea market on Bay Street. At the woman’s request, Dawn delivered 17 pies.

“I got there at 8:30 to set up and by 9 o’clock, when the doors opened, I was sold out,” Dawn recalls. “All the people [working at the market] bought the pies, before it even started!” 

Dawn’s brother would give her a ride to the market each weekend. However, one day, Dawn says, “I had twenty pies and I didn’t know where he was, so I brought my pies out here and put ‘em down and they sold, just like that,” she snaps her fingers.

It’s hard for Dawn to do it alone. Sometimes her mother, who is 87 years old now, sits outside holding the sign while Dawn bakes inside. Apparently, pies sell best when Dawn’s elderly mother runs the sale because everyone wants to buy a homemade pie from a woman that looks like their grandmother. Other times, Dawn’s teenaged son helps her out.

The economics of being The Pie Lady are this: if Dawn sells eight pies, she might earn enough to buy a gallon of milk, a box of cereal for her son, and enough ingredients to make more pies; if she sells twenty pies, she can make 80 to 90 dollars of profit, more if she receives tips. She can only bake four pies at a time and she can’t make more than 24 pies in a day.

“I had a hard life,” Dawn says. “My whole life is a blur up until I got pregnant [at 39]. I was basically alone, so my mom pumped me full of vegetables and fish and everything worked out! I remember at Vic General, when they said, ‘Today’s the day you’re taking your baby home!’ I walked out of the hospital and I thought, ‘Oh no! I had this baby! What am I going to do?!’” Dawn says, laughing. “If I didn’t have my mom, I wouldn’t know what to do. But I just went over to her place and we started from there. Life truly begins at 40 and since I turned 50, I say, ‘At 50, it’s taken shape.’”

Family is everything to Dawn, but so is community. She knows all of her neighbours by name and they know her. She calls out, “Hi Mike!” as one man walks by. A little later, she says “Hi John!” to another. She leans in conspiratorially and whispers, “John’s never had pie before.” A family car pulls up in front of the pie table. Disha Garcha, one of Dawn’s regular customers, gets out of the passenger side and runs over, her hand outstretched. She says, “I owe you $2 from the last time we bought a pie, because we were short!”

“Isn’t that sweet!” Dawn says, after Disha leaves. It’s not uncommon for customers to be short sometimes. When they come back to pay her later, Dawn has already forgotten about the debt. 

Maybe it’s just a pie, or maybe it’s something more. Maybe it’s about family, community, and gathering together to share nourishment.

If you’d like to make a donation to help cover Dawn’s medical expenses and lost income during her illness, please check out the fundraising efforts on her behalf.

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