Salt Spring Island, BC’s Paradise
c/r Richard Mason

On our table at Moby’s Pub, two Caesar cocktails and a large plate of a half dozen sweet up-island oysters on cracked ice tasting of the salty blue beautiful sea and through the window a view of the small craft harbor, and between the ‘V’ of the evergreen covered hills, the strait beyond. All under an umbrella of huge white clouds with gray accents and shadows, and in the foreground water the buzz of a pontoon float sea plane as it lifts into the broad blue sky passing the boats small and large.

Salt Spring Island

This is Ganges harbor in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, named after the HMS Ganges, an English Navy ship that sailed into this pristine spot two hundred years ago. Home to ten thousand people, the island is seventy square miles and mostly only four miles wide. There are many coves and beaches and all are framed by deep green conifers. Spotted with a handful of beautiful lakes as well as having a two thousand foot High Mountain plunked down near its south end, it also has a very long harbor that further adds to its coastline. Red and white maple leaf flags flutter everywhere reminding you that you are in Canada.

Salt Spring Island

Placed in the San Juan straits, near the huge Vancouver Island between it and the British Columbian mainland and the City of Vancouver, Salt Spring Island is a perfect place to relax and enjoy a slower pace and the beautiful setting of forest and sea. A walk through the trees is greeted with the crunch of your steps on the forest floor and the fresh smell of clean air that comes to you from the nearby sea and through the moist lacy tree branches. It is a rich green aroma that you will not forget. Writer wife Yvonne, has visited here before and wanted to share the island with me.

Once we drive off the ferry from Victoria on to the narrow roads, we become islanders. We joined the locals at the small supermarket, sampling the tasty smoked salmon at their fish counter. We enjoyed tastes of organic produce on sale at the Saturday farmers market. It is a large venue with lots of local produce and handicrafts and a place to islanders to gather and catch up on Island happenings. Goat cheese of many flavors is for sale , even available with truffle flavor. Cow’s cheese from the local herds is also produced on the island. There are wineries and brewers on the island.

In fact about the only commodity that needs to be ferried in is gasoline.
Salt Spring Island

The Caesar cocktail is an import. First mixed in Calgary, 600 miles east, in Canada’s cattle country, this "meal in a glass", vodka mixed into Clamato Juice, with three speared pimento olives, resting on the rim that’s coated with celery salt, a dash or two of hot sauce and a peporoncinne afloat, the drink has become a tradition in BC and a local favorite.

It goes perfectly with shell fish or Salmon or even a Caesar salad. Local wines are also great, with three wineries on Salt Spring. There are a dozen or so restaurants in the village of Ganges and even fancy full service resort spa hotels on the island.

In every conversation with locals, we were welcomed and listening to them, I often laughed silently to myself, as I was reminded of the lady at the airport tourist booth, who answered my question, "oh we never say eh here…". Then she explained that only those from over the mountains in Saskatchewan or Manitoba are prone to that speech habit. Well, we found that many of the locals do say "eh", at the end of sentences and it is a charming habit and one that for a while you find yourself listening for when you return home.

Our own digs were at the Harbour House, a view room with a large porch overlooking the harbor and the "best sunrise in Canada" as the desk people told us. What they said was true. We also dined in the Harbour House restaurant and enjoyed their chowder of local fish and sampled their Caesar salad and home baked bread. The hotel has its own organic farm on the property and the produce is served in the restaurant. The sky was beautiful, the rooms were comfortable and service was attentive in both restaurant and Hotel.

We took another meal at Moby’s on the harbor side of the street, taking in the harbor view and enjoying succulent local mussels in a broth that was full of fresh flavor. Moby’s and the Harbor House both offer entertainment after dark and there are more places to eat and drink within walking distance. Ganges village has a couple of banks, and bakeries, coffee shops, book stores, and art galleries. Perfect for the visitor, it is the main destination for residents.

And in BC, park the car if partying. Walking or taking a cab is a great idea if you have more than one drink. There is "zero tolerance" in BC and impairment is measured at half the level of California’s laws. Another note on parking, look for the brambles near the side of the road wherever you park, they usually come with the local sweet small Marion berries, a delicate sweet treat if you are lucky and the small cute loud chirping birds haven’t beat you to them. There are many events on the Island and the weekend we visited was that of the Fall Fair, and what an event it was, with livestock and farm products on display, all competing for ribbons, and several giant pumpkins were there for judging, art, handicraft, and all the other things that you would find at a county fair were abundant. Along with those, a beer and cider garden, foods and entertainment. Local bands appeared and there were drawings for prizes.

Near the Smart Car sized champion pumpkin, a colorfully dressed woman was selling, "my life’s work", she confided, and when I ask, she answered my question with her own, in her very distinct French-Canadian accent, "How did you know I was from Quebec?

We must have fitted in, as we were asked several times where we lived on the island, and it could have been the fact that within a few hours in this paradise we felt as though we belonged and everyone so welcoming with their interested conversations with us. The Fair brought out people from all parts of the Island and we heard many times, "I haven’t seen you for the longest time" among those attending.

Youth filled the Fair grounds, chatting and laughing and as it had rained the night before, straw had been spread on the ground to lessen the mud and everyone was wearing ‘gums’ (rubber boots) in every color, pattern and style. The kids, especially the young boys, were seen heading for any muddy spot or puddle to test their gum’s sea worthiness. On another day, we drove to visit several of the local art studios, visiting sculptors, potters and painters in their studios and looking at their work and discussing techniques and their ideas and inspirations. Many of the studios were housed in architectural gems that fitted the forest like some story book illustrations. Huge stumps and logs were turned into sculptures or framed fences. As we drove through the beautiful forests, every turn in the road found new picture perfect vistas and once a small deer sprinted across our path.

Driving along the lanes and winding roads. We found signs near roadside, advertising art or weaving or farm stands, with their produce often stacked on a bench with an honor box to leave payment and sacks for you to bag the colorful fruit or the bright healthy looking vegetables.

When we left on the ferry with the car we had rented in Victoria, we made a quick stop at the local small general store and small bookstore-coffee shop across from the ferry dock and when the ferry left, gliding away from the quay, we were already planning our next visit. The island, the people, the air, the vistas and the meals all combined to make it a paradise for the visitor and the stay soothed the mind, body and spirit. And what more can you want from a travel destination.

Salt Spring Island is reached by ferry from Vancouver Island, Swarz Bay or Crofton or by small float plane from Vancouver or Victoria, BC

Last update Mon February 18, 2013 2:10 PM