Taking It Easy 3-5-2003

Saltspring Island is an ideal getaway for exploring galleries, artisans' studios -- at your own pace

By: Joanne Blain

Saltspring Island has two things to thank for its wonderfully rustic charm sheep and hippies.

Sheep-farming has preserved the pastoral nature of Saltspring the largest of the Gulf Islands between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island while the hippie invasion of the ’60s and ’70s left behind a thriving community of artists and craftspeople.

Consequently, the island holds great appeal for visitors looking for a place where life moves at a stroll.

In the summer months, tourists swell the island’s permanent population of 11,000 residents, without disrupting the serenity of the island. Shorts and sandals are standard summer attire, just about everywhere on the island. And unless you need to catch a ferry, you seldom need a watch.

Saltspring’s largest village is Ganges, about a 20-minute drive from the largest of the island’s three ferry terminals. By all means, park your car and explore the town on foot. With its waterfront walkways linking galleries, shops and restaurants the town is designed for pedestrians. Summer weekends bring the biggest influx of day-trippers from Vancouver and the provincial capital of Victoria. Most come for the open-air market held in Ganges, every Saturday, from mid-April to mid-October. The market’s homemade or homegrown policy showcases the island’s organic produce cheeses made from goat or sheep’s milk as well as local crafts.

Another good one-stop place to see the work of dozens of artists is Mahon Hall, a heritage building that features Gulf Island artists from June to September.

The rest of the island is dotted with galleries and artisans’ studios the best way to find about three dozen of them is to stop by the visitors’ information center in Ganges and get yourself a self-guided tour map.

One place you shouldn’t miss is the Tufted Puffin gallery, tucked away on one of the finger-like peninsulas, near the terminal for the ferry to Vancouver. Along the forested drive leading to David Jackson’s studio, you might be waylaid by inquisitive deer that want to see if you have anything interesting in your pockets.

The beaches are mostly small and rocky, but the view from several points on the island are spectacular. Hiking and cycling trails abound, and sheltered inlets offer gentle waters for even novice kayakers.

You can get a taste of Saltspring Island in a day trip from Vancouver or Victoria, but to really get a feel for its easygoing charm, do what the locals do take your time.


Getting there: Ferries run regularly to Saltspring from mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island.

Reservations: www.bcferries.bc.ca prepaid reservations essential. Accommodations: Hastings House, Cusheon Lake Resort

Web: www.britishcolumbia.com search “Saltspring Island” for an overview of the island’s history, geography and attractions, with links to hotels and resorts.

www.saltspringmarket.com overview of the crafts offered at the Saturday open-air market.