Salt Spring Island has been a seasonal home of the Coast Salish First Nations since the time of European settlement, and evidence suggests that permanent settlements existed for centuries before that on the south coast of the island where the Tsawout Band Reserve is today.
The island was explored by the Spanish and British in the 1700s, and settled in the 1850s by early pioneers who had abandoned their Fraser River gold rush hopes. A group of nine African-American slaves, who had purchased their liberty in the United States, arrived at Vesuvius on Salt Spring in 1857. Further black settlers, mainly from California, were followed by European immigrants from Portugal and Scandinavia, and British and Hawaiian (Kanakas) settlers originally recruited by the Hudson's Bay Company. As well, many Japanese settlers arrived on the island to fish. There are still descendants of all of these groups living on Salt Spring Island.
In the 1960s and 1970s many young people moved to the island attracted by the carefree artisan lifestyle and the mild climate. In 2001, Salt Spring residents decided to promote the island and issued Salt Spring Dollars on September 15 of that year. Purchased from select stores on the island at par with the Canadian Dollar, they only had value only on the island. A new .999 fine, 1/2 oz (14 g) silver coin was minted in November 2006.
Today Salt Spring Island is home to those who seek the quiet life and mild winters, and artisans who enjoy the creative environment on the island, fostered by the many galleries and artists.
Salt Spring Island is located in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland and is part of the area known as the Gulf Islands. Because of its close proximity to Vancouver Island, Salt Spring is the most accessible of the Gulf Islands, with the most frequent ferry sailings on three routes to three ferry terminals. BC Ferries links Fulford Harbour with Swartz Bay (near Sidney and Victoria), and also links Vesuvius to Crofton on Vancouver Island. There's a BC Ferries dock in nearby Long Harbour with links to both Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and Tsawwassen on the BC mainland. Float planes also link the village of Ganges to Vancouver and Seattle, WA.
The friendly village of Ganges is located in the centre of Salt Spring Island and is home to shops, art galleries, restaurants and marinas. Ganges is a popular destination for boaters from all over the Pacific North West, and there are several private marinas in Ganges Harbour, in addition to the BC Government dock.
If you arrive on Salt Spring Island from Swartz Bay/Victoria on Vancouver Island, the pretty little hamlet of Fulford Harbour located on the south of Island is the first place you see. Funky shops, restaurants, galleries, a marina, general store, and a cluster of homes surround the harbour where the ferry docks.
Tiny Vesuvius Bay on the northwest side of Salt Spring is home to studios, hiking trails, and spectacular sunsets! BC Ferries operates a ferry service from Vesuvius to Crofton on Vancouver Island. This is one of the few ferry docks where you can park your car in line and wander over to a pub (the Vesuvius Inn) and quaff a beer and enjoy the great view from the veranda while you wait for your ship to come in. A popular family beach is close to the facilities at Vesuvius Bay. Amateur geologists will find some deeply inclined rock strata to study, and warmer ocean waters make it a good spot for swimming. Vesuvius is named after the Royal Navy's paddle sloop Vesuvius, which did duty in the Black Sea during the Crimean War (1853-1856).
The community of Fernwood faces Galiano Island on the northeast coast of Salt Spring. Fernwood is a good launching spot for those wishing to cross Houston Passage to visit Wallace Island Provincial Marine Park in Trincomali Channel. Fernwood provides a government wharf at Fernwood Point off Walker Hook Road, and a boat launching ramp over tidal sand flats at Hudson Point, north of the Fernwood Dock off North Beach Road.
Wallace Island Marine Provincial Park, located in beautiful Trincomali Channel between the northern ends of Salt Spring Island and Galiano Island, is a popular destination for boaters and kayakers exploring the southern Gulf Islands. The numerous beaches, coves and offshore islets provide plenty of sheltered paddling opportunities in this picturesque park. Bald eagles, black-tailed deer and mink are common in the park, as well as harbour seals, sea lions, and river otters, which can often be spotted offshore. This park offers opportunities for swimming, fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and hiking. Walking trails will take you throughout most of the park, providing views of the folded rock formations that compose the island.
Cycling is an ideal way to explore Salt Spring Island with winding country roads and stunning scenery. Although the roads are narrow making caution and courtesy a must while cycling Salt Spring, the pastoral scenery featuring interspersed artist studios with fields of sheep make the hills worthwhile. Bicycles are available for rent including some equipped with a peddle assisted electric system that allows for easy climbing of Salt Spring's hills. Mountain biking is particularly popular on Mount Maxwell and several other locations around the island.
Salt Spring Island and the surrounding Southern Gulf Islands offer a world class kayaking destination. The waters and islands surrounding Salt Spring are teeming with wildlife, are relatively sheltered with calm waters and receive the best weather on the coast with almost year-round kayaking potential. Excellent kayaking routes abound in the surrounding Gulf Islands National Park Reserve marine park. The smaller islands and islets retain an extensive First Nations and early settlement history. Guided tours and packages can bring that extra local knowledge to the magical experience of paddling the Southern Gulf Islands. There are several take-off points and island businesses to help set you up with a kayaking adventure suitable for any experience level - including those brand new to the experience or family outings.
Situated in the Pacific Northwest, Salt Spring is located in one of the premier dive destinations in North America. Water surrounding the Southern Gulf Islands teem with marine life from eels and octopus to anemones and starfish. Known for its clear visibility and wrecks, the currents, caves and colours of the area provide diverse diving experience.
Taste hand-crafted award-winning locally grown wines in stunning natural surroundings. Enjoy wine touring on Salt Spring Island and learn about the exciting things happening in the emerging BC coastal wine world. The three Salt Spring Island wineries, Mistaken Identity in the north, Salt Spring Winery and Garry Oaks Winery on south Salt Spring, are proud to be part of the expanding BC coastal wine community. The cooler climate in this region favours the creation of crisp, clean, flavourful sparkling, white, pink, red and dessert wines that pair marvellously with foods. In addition, the island is in the forefront of developing new grape varieties that are disease resistant and which ripen early here. This area is also proving ideal for making sparkling wine-an exciting new direction for the islands.
Enjoy the island's famous self-guided Studio Tour for visitors who want a first-hand glimpse of the talented people who live here. Visit a lavender farm and sample their spa products. Watch artisans weave textile, throw pots or turn a piece Douglas fir into a beautiful wooden bowl. Run your hands over a thick sheepskin comforter or organic cotton duvet. Purchase an original piece of jewellery, sculpture or a painting. Along the way grab a snack at an artisan cheese farm, chocolate factory or home bakery and then wrap up the day with a picnic on the lawn of a picturesque winery. The free Studio Tour map outlines what each artist creates and the location of their studio so you can choose what you are most interested in.
Salt Spring Tourism & Visitor Information Centre
c/o Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia