Hedgerow House is recommended as a place to stay in Journey Magazine’s May-June 2017 feature on Salt Spring Island, written by Eric Lucas.
“It’s a quite morning on the placid inlet leading to Ganges, the only town on British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island,” begins Lucas in his summertime feature story. “The group I’m with on a guided tour has kayaked a few miles down the bay, spotting eagles, otters, oystercatchers, dolphins and seals along the way. Now we beach our boats at tiny Russell Island to tour a historic Hawaiian homestead, part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, and the setting is so sublime that I wade out from the sand and plunge into the emerald water.
OK, it’s a little colder than Hawai‘i. “Refreshing,” I wryly announce to my fellow paddlers.
Balmy climate, curving beaches of white sand, dolphins and whales in the distance—Salt Spring must have seemed a bit like home to the Hawaiians who settled here in the 19th century. Called Kanakas, they established homesteads in the pastoral landscape, joining African- Americans who had previously left the U.S., and others, to form a community that remains diverse, distinctive and wholly dedicated to a bucolic lifestyle.
Back out in the sun I warm up quickly, and the summer sunshine epitomizes the atmosphere of a place so warmly welcoming that I bet half its visitors vow they’ll move here and join the existing 10,000 residents on this 17-mile-long island paradise.
Matters of Taste
Contemporary Northwest cuisine—it’s called “West Coast cuisine” in British Columbia—featuring local seafood and produce shines in Ganges, most elegantly at Hastings House Dining Room (a AAA Four Diamond restaurant), House Piccolo and Rock Salt Restaurant. But quality dining also prevails in less-formal settings. Tree House Cafe, in Ganges, is a small eatery built around a spreading plum tree; on summer nights, B.C.-based musicians serenade appreciative crowds in the courtyard. Several pubs around the island provide the traditional !sh and chips so intrinsic to former British colonies; Moby’s Pub is the best known. Mornings bring the quintessential island experience: gathering at local bakeshops for fresh muffins and breads. Barb’s Bakery is the biggest and most popular; Morningside Organic Bakery Café & Bookstore is a vegan alternative. And the date squares at Café Talia are deliciously addictive.
Writer Daniel Otis mingles with artists, drifters, dreamers and urban escapees in the Southern Gulf Islands. Toronto Star, June 3 2017
“Over the time since I moved here, it switched from being a hideout to a mecca for artistic people,” says Ron Crawford, who’s been painting and sculpting on Salt Spring for more than 30 years.
“I think the island is a contrast between an isolated community and an open community,” he says. “Like a lot of artists, I need to talk to people … But I also need that time that I take along the ocean and in the studio to find myself and work it out through what I do.”
With a little more than 10,000 people, Salt Spring is the largest and most populous of British Columbia’s Southern Gulf Islands, which sit nestled between Victoria and Vancouver in the Strait of Georgia. For decades, they’ve attracted a steady stream of drifters, dreamers and urban escapees.
Ganges, Salt Spring’s largest town, is peppered with colourful restaurants, shops, galleries and cafés. There are almost no big chains here. The town is a nexus for the island’s greying hippies, agro-millennial parents and raucous young eco-punks, who seem united by a grow-your-own ethos and a New Age-y glow. The island, I’m told, even lies directly on a ley line — the metaphysical pathways that spiritually align the earth.
Follow any street out of Ganges, and it’s almost all rugged coastline, low mountains and winding roads that lead to hidden farms, homes, parkland and coves.
At one, Xwaaqw’um, a pair of carved wooden welcome poles stand at the head of a lushly forested bay that forms part of Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park.
“They’re … facing the sea here and welcoming Quw’utsun, Hul’qumi’num and other visitors to this ancestral land,” says community organizer Joe Akerman, who was part of a group that helped raise these poles in 2016 to honour his people, the Quw’utsun First Nation.
Capt. George Grams of Gulf Islands Boat Tours takes us from Salt Spring to nearby Mayne Island aboard the 20-foot Meg.
“Every time I get to travel to one of the other islands, it stokes my gratitude for what we have here,” he says.
The son of a fisherman in northern England, Grams has always felt the pull of the sea. Yet it was the islands’ culture that prompted him to sell his architectural firm and move here a dozen years ago. He’s now even an elected official in the islands’ municipal government.
“I was just given the right signals about the beautiful people I met when I came here,” he says as we near Mayne Island. “My wife, for example.”
On Mayne, we stroll the island’s tranquil Japanese garden before trekking through the mossy rainforests of Mount Parke Regional Park to a precipitous ridge that overlooks the Southern Gulf Islands and the Salish Sea. Later, we launch kayaks with a guide from Bennett Bay Kayaking to a chain of low, rocky islets covered with rooking seabirds and languid seals. Kelp sways below. A bald eagle glides overhead. Barking seals bob in the swell, inspecting us floating intruders. In the distance, across the Strait of Georgia, you can just see the towers of metro Vancouver and the snow-capped Coast Mountains.
Mayne Island, which has a population of about 1,000 people, is dotted with little studios, workshops and boutiques. Jennifer O’Shaughnessy, who sells everything from “faerie glamour” to art supplies at her Dragonfly Gallery, has called Mayne Island home for 17 years.
“I just fell in love with the island,” she says, smiling in her colourful, cluttered shop. “There’s a lot of history on this island. It was called Hell’s Island … People would boat over to party! So, that captured my heart.”
I ask if that spirit lives on and she tells me I’m lucky to be here on a Thursday, when The Groove, the island’s pub, hosts its weekly open mic jam.
Pounding local brews in the packed pub to the sweet sounds of the island’s rockers, I look at the smiling, drinking dancers and can’t help but think that Mayne is like a wonderful never-ending summer camp for hippie retirees.
The next morning, we catch a quick water taxi to Saturna Island.
With about 350 permanent residents, Saturna is the least populous of the Southern Gulf Islands. Nearly half of its mountainous 31 square kilometres form part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, drawing hikers, kayakers and whale watchers to its winding trails and quiet coves. Culturally, Saturna is more salt-of-the-earth plaid than the flower power paisley of much of the other Southern Gulf Islands.
“When we get dressed up, we shine our gumboots with WD-40,” a longtime resident says later over sunset pints at the island’s only pub. “You can shine ’em up so good, you can see yourself!”
We board a boat to cruise along the island’s wild, rocky shore. Larry Peck, a vagabond sailor with a snow-white beard, heads Saturna’s SIMRES (Saturna Island Marine Research and Education Society) marine research centre, which is laying hydrophones in the ocean to study the effect of ever-increasing vessel noise on whales.
“The sea is something that demands respect,” Peck says. “But it’s also something you need to understand.”
We get off the boat near the lighthouse at craggy East Point, which forms part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Sometimes, we’re told, you can see transient orcas stalking the seals that lounge on the rocks below. Eating only salmon, the Salish Sea’s resident orca pods leave marine mammals alone.
Peck, who once ran a treatment centre for troubled kids, had spent much of his life sailing around North America and the Caribbean before settling on Saturna 17 years ago.
“Sailing teaches you a lot about life,” he says, turning philosophical. “Like, when you have a strong wind coming at you, you never take a straight line — you tack left and right.”
When you go
Get there: Fly to Victoria or Vancouver and then take a ferry or float plane. BC Ferries(bcferries.com) regularly services the islands from both cities, though connections from Victoria are shorter and more frequent.
Get around: A rental car is useful but not essential. Salt Spring has taxis and buses. Mayne and Saturna Islands have donation-based, volunteer-run bus services. Hitchhiking is common and each island has a “Car Stop” program, where locals will pick you up from designated hitchhiking posts. If you rent a car in Victoria or Vancouver, arrive early or make a reservation to secure a spot for your vehicle on the ferry. Island hop by ferry, water taxi or private tour operator. Bike and kayak rentals are easy to find on all the islands.
- The recently renovated http://www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria/ Fairmont Empress (fairmont.com/empress-victoria ) combines class with comfort and views of the city’s lovely harbour.
Salt Spring Island:
- http://www.lakeshoreonsaltspring.com/ Lakeshore on Salt Spring (lakeshoreonsaltspring.com) offers cottages on picturesque St. Mary Lake.
- For art lovers, http://gallerybb.blogspot.ca/ Gallery B & B (gallerybb.blogspot.ca) has rooms and cabins next to the Duthie Gallery and an atmospheric sculpture park.
- http://hedgerowhouse.ca/ Hedgerow House (hedgerowhouse.ca), on the edge of Ganges, is a bed and breakfast with three comfortable rooms and a yoga studio.
- The http://www.mayneislandresort.com/ Mayne Island Resort (mayneislandresort.com) has bright and modern cottages and suites overlooking tranquil Bennett Bay.
- Further inland, http://fernhillbandb.com/ Fernhill Bed & Breakfast(fernhillbandb.com) has three comfy rooms on a forested property.
- http://sunsetbeachestates.ca/ Sunset Beach Estate (sunsetbeachestates.ca) has a pair of waterfront cottages overlooking tranquil Sunset Beach.
Salt Spring Island is a hot destination for 2016 – but that’s not likely to change the magic of its vintage chilled-out ways
Story by Tara Henley, January 2016. The Globe and Mail
“I spent several years on Salt Spring Island as a small child, living with my hippie parents in a ramshackle farmhouse on the south end of the island,” begins this charming story by Tara Henley. She continues, “My mother painted large canvases and dried herbs she sold at the Saturday farmers market; my father wrote poetry and picked fruit. Images of steep, craggy bluffs, white-capped waves and dense rain forests have never left me; it’s as if the landscape imprinted upon my imagination.
I have memories of walking the cliffs of Ruckle Provincial Park with my father, kicking the moss off the rocks with my red gumboots and searching the horizon for whales. In the fall, I recall playing Snakes & Ladders in the community centre, Beaver Point Hall, as the rain lashed down on the 100-year-old ceiling, and eating homemade blackberry pies fresh from the oven every summer. And I remember racing through the idyllic orchards that surrounded our home, stopping to pick a single, perfectly tart apple.
So it was with some trepidation that I returned to the island of my youth. In recent years, the Southern Gulf Islands – once a sleepy outpost for vacationing Vancouverites – has become a hot international tourist destination. So much so, in fact, that The New York Times has just named it one of the world’s 52 places to see in 2016.
Would Salt Spring still hold the same magic it had three decades earlier? If it was the new “it” destination, could it ever be the same?
From the moment that the plodding BC Ferry backed out of Tsawwassen Harbour near Vancouver, the experience was vintage Gulf Islands. The views were as spectacular as ever. A vast expanse of ocean surrounded the ship, each inlet decorated with rust-coloured arbutus trees, seagulls circling overhead. The atmosphere onboard was laid-back; toddlers raced around gleefully and old friends lingered over coffee, enjoying a good gossip after bumping into each other in the cafeteria line.
When we docked, I lined up for the public bus that arrived to take a crowd of greying seniors, yuppie hikers and bearded hipsters the 15-minute drive into downtown Ganges, where the farmers market was in full swing.
In the market, a fresh-faced busker strummed her guitar and sang a mournful folk song, as if no time at all had passed since the 1960s. I wandered the stalls, feasting my eyes on the buffet: homemade ice cream and brownies and cookies and cake. For lunch, I bought Vietnamese rice rolls filled with three varieties of locally grown sprouts. Delicious.
Salt Spring is an island with a long and storied history. It’s Coast Salish territory – there’s a 17-hectare reserve near Fulford Harbour that dates back to 1877 – and was originally called Klaathem (“salt”) by the Cowichan and Cuan (“mountains at each end”) by the Saanich. In 1905, it became known as Salt Spring, for the salt springs in the island’s north end.
Settlers arrived in 1859. Many were African-Americans fleeing racism in California, but there were also Hawaiians who had worked in the whaling industry and fur trade, and Japanese labourers. In the 1930s, the island became a tourist haven. And in the 1960s, a wave of artists and American draft dodgers arrived. Many never left.
Salt Spring is known for prioritizing lifestyle. With its mild climate and relaxed vibe, people pass their days beachcombing, doing yoga, making artisan food products, soaking up the thriving arts and music scenes, and eating very, very well.
The Islanders’ passion for locally grown food dates back to the hippie era – decades before it became a bona fide trend – and as a result there are more than enough good eats here to keep foodie travellers satiated.
The first night of my visit, I enjoyed an exquisite halibut dish, with new potatoes, zucchini, beets, carrots and wild bitter greens at a local bistro, Auntie Pesto’s. Its patio looked out over the picture-perfect boardwalk of Ganges Harbour. Sipping a strong Americano after dinner, I watched the dusk settle and sighed contentedly. It was nothing short of lovely.
Ask locals where to eat, and you’re sure to hear mention of Embe Bakery, at the foot of Ganges Hill. It’s another must-visit, especially for its home-baked bread. It opens at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m., and houses the island’s hitchhiking station – complete with pre-made signs to indicate which area you’re hoping to get a lift to. Bus service only came to the island in 2008; for young people and seniors on fixed incomes who can’t afford cars, hitchhiking had always been an accepted mode of transportation, and remains so today.
Since I didn’t want to pay sky-high ferry rates to bring a rental car to the island, I decided to partake – nerves be damned.
One of my main goals for the three-day getaway was to get out into nature. I’d been living in the concrete jungle of Toronto for a decade, and felt starved for the West Coast landscape. I wanted to head to Ruckle Provincial Park, at the far southeast corner of the island, but it was a half-hour drive from Ganges along Beaver Point Road.
I took a deep breath, hoisted the Beaver Point sign over my head, and thrust out my thumb. I lucked out with friendly rides: a woman in her 50s who owns a B&B (“once you’ve experienced the wilderness here, you never forget it,” she said knowingly) and then a male retiree from Victoria, who took me the rest of the way.
Ruckle park was just as majestic as I remembered it. I hiked to the point and sat on a bench as a light rain fell, watching a ferry chug slowly through the Pacific. Then I set off on the shoreline trail, taking a wrong turn that landed me deep in the forest and questioning the intelligence of hiking alone.
But this trail eventually brought me back to a road that led to the park entrance, and past one of British Columbia’s oldest family farms, settled by Irish immigrant Henry Ruckle in the 1870s. I was invigorated by the exercise and miles of lush green, and infinitely glad I’d come.
I didn’t have to hitch home, BC Transit was trying out a summer bus service to Ruckle, so it was an easy trip back to Ganges and my B&B.
I’d discovered Hedgerow House online, and it was a fortunate find. The owners, Peter and Jayne Lloyd-Jones, happen to also work in public relations, and they were a storehouse of information about Salt Spring, not to mention discounts for area businesses.
And the food at Hedgerow was spectacular. Upon arrival, I was served a gorgeous platter of garlic and herb goat cheese from Salt Spring Island Cheese and Beddis blue from Moonstruck Organic Cheese, paired with sausage, olives and crackers.
Each morning, the three-course meal was a sight to behold. Farm-fresh eggs with asparagus and smoked salmon. Thick, hearty bread and preserves that exploded with flavour. Yogurt, garden berries and house granola, drizzled with the sweetest of honey. And, of course, lots of locally roasted coffee.
On my final day, I was determined to get out on the ocean, and so, on the couple’s recommendation, I hired a private guide at Island Escapades to kayak with me to Goat Island, several nautical miles from shore.
As we paddled along, battling rocky waves, Nathan, my twentysomething guide, pointed out intertidal wildlife (sea stars!) and shared history of the area. He was a kinesiology student from Simon Fraser University on the mainland and he’d come to enjoy Salt Spring’s outdoorsy lifestyle. We stopped at Goat Island – owned by a family who were happy to let a couple of kayakers enjoy its scenic beach – and took a serene break. Nathan poured us herbal tea from his thermos and served cookies from Embe Bakery.
Unfortunately, my city slicker ways ran a little deeper than I had hoped. I was so exhausted from two hours of paddling against the wind that he ended up offering to tow me in. (Though he thoughtfully unhooked me before we got to shore. Nobody needed to know, he winked.)
I passed my last hour on Salt Spring on the patio of TJ Beans, a favourite local coffee shop, drinking a latte and entertaining myself eavesdropping on the free-spirited locals. One thing was certain: I wouldn’t let another few decades go by before I returned to drink in the magic again.
IF YOU GO
It’s quicker to reach Salt Spring by float plane (flight time is 35 minutes) via Harbour Air ( harbourair.com) or Salt Spring Air (saltspring- air.com). Both cost $262 round trip.
More time? The BC Ferries trip from Vancouver takes three hours, but you can cut down that travel time by about 45 minutes by taking a ferry to Vancouver Island and transferring at Swartz Bay ( bcferries.com) – a “through fare” trip. This smaller, open-air boat delivers you to Fulford Harbour on the south end of the island, an utterly charming little village. An adult walk-on ticket on the Vancouver-Salt Spring boat is $19.45, one way; a standard vehicle is $61.55 off peak (plus passenger fares) or $71.45 peak (plus passenger fares) one way. “Through fare” is the same total price. The island has its own bus service andschedules are posted at bctransit.com.
WHERE TO STAY
The ecoconscious Hedgerow House is perfectly located on bus routes if you don’t plan to bring a car. And, indeed, the “pedal power” discount of $20 per booking encourages you not to. Rooms from $140, breakfast included. 238 Park Dr., hedgerowhouse.ca
WHERE TO EAT
The family owned bistro Auntie Pesto’s serves innovative, local, seasonal West Coast cuisine from Chef Shawn Walton. 2104-115 Fulford-Ganges Rd.,auntiepestos.com
A favourite of locals, the Tree House Café is an ideal place to kick back and relax with a wholesome gourmet burger, a beer and some live music. 106 Purvis Lane, treehousecafe.ca
For a fancier night out, House Piccolo offers upscale Scandinavian-inspired cuisine, in a charming cottage setting. 108 Hereford Ave., housepiccolo.com
For scenic group and guided kayak trips, try Island Escapades. Day tours start from $60 a person. 163 Fulford-Ganges Rd., islandescapades.com