Yup. It’s another cow.
And no, this hasn’t turned into a Bovine Blog.
I took these photos a couple of weeks ago at the Salt Spring Island Fall Fair. My friend had been urging me to come over for the island’s annual fair, which, she claims, is the social event of the year for Salt Spring Island.
“Will there be cows?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’m there,” I said.
Salt Spring Island has a long history of farming ― the island was first known for its fruit harvests, then the dairy and poultry farmers arrived. These days, Salt Spring is famous for its lamb …
… and for its cheese made from goats’ milk.
In keeping with that history, the Salt Spring Island Fall Fair has been an island institution since 1896. This year’s theme was Celebrating Family Farming to coincide with the United Nations declaring 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. (I so wish I had made it to last year’s fair: its theme was Pirates of the Carrots and Beans.)
It seems like everyone on the island has something to exhibit at the Fall Fair ― from livestock to produce to baked goods to flowers to handcrafts.
Although the sheepdog demonstration was fascinating and the zucchini races were, um, unlike any race involving green vegetables I’ve ever seen, my favourite event was the sheep shearing.
The shearer showed us how shearing used to be done ― with a big, shiny pair of blade shears …
… and then he showed us how it’s done today ― with powered machine shears.
The Salt Spring Island Fall Fair takes place every September. If I’m feeling in a year that my blog needs more cow photos, I now know where to go.
Although this is technically not a long weekend, many Canadians are taking Monday off work to bridge the gap between the weekend and Canada Day to make it a four-day weekend.
I’m off to do some island hopping. And so, here is a photo I took a while back of the lighthouse on Mayne Island from the deck of a BC ferry. That’s Mount Baker in the hazy distance.
Last month, I told you all about the beginnings of my life-long love affair with cheese.
This month, I’m going to tell you about a stop I make whenever I visit Salt Spring Island — a place that’s perfect for cheese addicts (like me) looking for their next fix.
It’s the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company.
I’ve long been a fan of this cheesemaker’s dairy products ― they specialize in handmade goat and sheep cheeses that are available in grocery stores and at cheesemongers all across Greater Vancouver. What I did not know is how incredibly fresh the chèvres taste if you buy them straight from the source instead of waiting for them to be shipped to Vancouver. Who knew the difference a few days could make in the flavour and texture of fresh goat cheese?
Salt Spring Island Cheese Company offers a self-guided tour of the cheese-making process from start to finish ― beginning with a walk through the barn where the goats are kept all the way to the final wrapping and display of the many varieties of cheese for sale in the shop.
If you’re as addicted to cheese as I am (is that even possible?), be sure to check out the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company the next time you’re on Salt Spring Island.
I can’t leave off my tour of the Gulf Islands without posting a photo taken on a BC ferry. That’s because, for me, half the fun of a Gulf Island getaway is getting there.
The Queen of Nanaimo is the workhorse of the Gulf Islands. The ship is almost 50 years old, but it’s the one that does the daily milk run from Tsawwassen to Galiano to Mayne to Pender to Salt Spring and back again.
Almost a month ago, during this season’s first wind storm, the Queen of Nanaimo was blown off course and ran aground near Mayne Island. It sustained enough damage to be put in dry dock for two weeks, which meant that Gulf Island residents wanting to travel to Vancouver had a six-hour detour over Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island.
BC Ferries are the Gulf Islands’ highway and it’s easy to take them for granted ― until sailings are cancelled and you want to get from here to there.
The last island on my tour of BC’s Gulf Islands ― until I have a chance to explore some more, that is ― is Hornby Island.
Hornby is part of a group of islands known as the Northern Gulf Islands (as opposed to the Southern Gulf Islands that Pender, Salt Spring, and Galiano are grouped with). It’s a bit of a hike to get to Hornby from Vancouver: you first take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, then drive up island for about an hour, hop on another ferry at Bulkley Bay that takes you to Denman Island, drive across Denman, and then, finally, take yet another ferry to get to Hornby. (Denmanites refer to their island as the “bridge” to Hornby because most tourists and campers whiz across it without stopping.)
All told, it’s a good half-day trek. My friends and I went to Hornby on a long weekend, but, even with three days, the trip still felt rushed. If you are coming from Vancouver, I highly recommend going to Hornby only if you have at least four or five days, ideally a week, to make the travel time and ferry expense worth your while.
Hornby Island has a year-round population of 1000 and its size of 30 square kilometres makes it one of the smallest of the Gulf Islands. It’s named after Rear Admiral Phipps Hornby, a Brit, who was the Commander of the Pacific Station in the 1850s. The island’s Mount Geoffrey is named after his son.
Like the rest of the Gulf Islands, Hornby offers hiking, wine-tasting, and studio tours. It is also popular with cyclists and mountain bikers. The beach at Tribune Bay is beautiful and I added it to my list of favourite beaches as soon as I set eyes on it. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time on that beach when I return to Hornby Island.
Next up on my tour of BC’s Gulf Islands is Galiano Island. Galiano is named after the Spanish explorer Dionisio Alcalá Galiano, who sailed and mapped the Gulf and San Juan Islands in 1792. It is a long island (27 km tip to tip) and a narrow one (6 km across at its widest point, but only 1.6 km across at its narrowest). As the most northeastern of the Southern Gulf Islands, it is the island most easily accessed from Vancouver, but it is less developed and has fewer services than the others. That’s due to its rocky geography ― it hasn’t the farming history that the other islands have. In fact, until 20 years ago, the northeastern half of Galiano was a tree farm, which is why most of its 1200 year-round residents live at the south end.
I’ve been to Galiano a handful of times. The campground at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park is one of my favourite campgrounds anywhere because of its beautiful white-shell beaches. Kayaks can be rented at Montague Harbour Marina, and there is nothing better than a cold beer on the marina’s waterfront deck after a day of paddling around Galiano’s rocky shores. If you prefer to keep your feet on terra firma, there’s plenty of hiking to be found ― even a mountain (Mount Galiano) to climb ― and plenty more cold beverages available afterwards at the Hummingbird Pub.
But my favourite Galiano pastime, which I try to do every time I’m on the island (rain or shine) is to hike up to The Bluffs. These cliffs, covered in arbutus and Garry Oak trees, overlook Active Pass, making them a prime venue for ferryspotting. If you have time for only one activity while on Galiano, make it this one. The views are spectacular.
The absolute best way to explore the Gulf Islands is to latch onto a local. I’m fortunate that one of my oldest friends lives on Salt Spring Island, and that I am welcome whenever I need an “island fix.” I call her up, we settle on a weekend, and off I go. Hers is the best B&B I’ve ever stayed at, no contest.
Thanks to my friend’s hospitality, I’ve visited Salt Spring Island in every season and it’s the Gulf Island I know best.
Salt Spring Island is named after the salt springs at its north end. It was long spelled Salt Spring (two words) until 1905, when the Geographic Board of Canada stuck its oar in and decided that it should be Saltspring (one word). Locals are divided on the issue, although the two-word version tends to be preferred. One federal department (Geographical Names Board of Canada ― the committee of Natural Resources Canada responsible for all place names in this country) spells the island’s name as Saltspring, while another federal department (Canada Post ― responsible for … uh … well … we’re not too sure anymore) spells the island’s name as Salt Spring.
Salt Spring has some great place names. My friend walks her dog at Duck Creek Park, and we have hiked Channel Ridge. I once made her drive past a house for sale on North End Road simply because I could imagine myself with a mailing address that read “North End Road, Salt Spring Island.” (Seriously, don’t these names sound like they come right out of Anne of Green Gables?)
Located between Galiano Island and Pender Island (to the east) and Vancouver Island (to the south and west), Salt Spring Island is the largest (180 square kilometres) and the most populated (10,500 residents) of the Gulf Islands. It is the only island with its own hospital and it has the Gulf Islands’ only high school. (Students commute from the smaller islands by boat.)
Salt Spring Island has long been known for its eclectic population. It is Coast Salish territory and home to the Tsawout First Nation. The African-Americans came around 1860, looking for a new life free from the racial restrictions of their native California. The first Hawaiians arrived around the same time. They were in BC to work as contract fur traders for the Hudson’s Bay Company and ended up on Salt Spring after their contracts ended. Their descendents still live on the island. The first Japanese settlers arrived in 1890, but only one family (the only one to return after the Japanese-Canadians were interned by the Canadian government in 1942) remains.
The tourists started coming in the 1930s … and they’re still coming. The artists (and more Americans) started coming in the 1960s … and they’re still coming. Salt Spring boasts a large arts community and has been called the best small arts town in Canada and one of the top ten arts communities in North America.
So … what to do when you’re on a Salt Spring Island mini-break?
There’s some terrific hiking on Salt Spring Island.
There’s also peeking into the windows of old churches and wandering through old cemeteries and taking scenic drives past old farmhouses.
There’s the Salt Spring Island Saturday market. Be careful ― the cash just flies out of your wallet at this place, which I can attest to from personal experience. This outdoor market runs from Easter to the end of October and features 140 vendors, all of whom must “make it, bake it, or grow it” themselves. Many of the island’s artists and artisans sell their wares at this market, as well as the farmers with their fruit and vegetables, eggs and poultry, and lamb. (A dozen different breeds of sheep are raised on the island.) And then there are the bakers, the cheesemakers, and the soapmakers. I am sure there must even be a candlestick-maker.
You can always do a studio tour. Maps for this year-round self-guided, self-drive tour are available on any BC ferry and in various places on the island. Some studios offer tours or a demonstration ― and there’s always plenty of opportunity to sample, look, and buy. (Be sure to stop at the cheesemakers.)
And then there’s wine-tasting at Salt Spring Island’s three wineries. My friend has taken me to two of these, and the only reason we didn’t stop at the third was because we couldn’t find a parking spot ― it was that popular.
My favourite is Garry Oaks Winery. I overdid it though when I bought three bottles of its Pinot Gris, which is not too smart when you are schlepping your way home as a foot passenger on the ferry with your luggage on your back.
At Mistaken Identity Vineyards, we encountered a Tasmanian cheesemaker who wanted to purchase a glass of rosé ― just one ― to enjoy with his picnic lunch. The woman pouring the wine tastings seemed puzzled that he didn’t want an entire bottle, explaining to him that the bottles were screw-top so the wine was safe to take away, but she gladly poured him a glass, and off he went to eat his cheese and sausage and drink his wine at one of their picnic tables.
It was an idyllic setting for a picnic, to be sure. But the Tasmanian cheesemaker assured the woman behind the counter that he wouldn’t be able to finish off a bottle in the one remaining evening he had left on the island. This declaration prompted a bit of discreet chuckling among my friend, myself, and the woman behind the counter (who recognized my friend as a local, which led to an interesting conversation about how and where they knew each other). All three of us marvelled at a Tasmanian who didn’t think he could finish off a bottle of wine between lunch and breakfast.
If you need a caffeine fix, I recommend Café Talia in Ganges or the Fernwood Cafe located at a beautiful spot overlooking Trincomali Channel. For the best fish and chips on the island, check out the Seaside Restaurant in Vesuvius. Dinner at the Salt Spring Inn is especially fun when your friend knows everyone in the dining room, and if you find yourself waiting for a ferry at Fulford Harbour, stop in for some sustenance at the
Tree House Cafe Rock Salt Restaurant and Café.
As for where to stay, accommodation ranges from pitching your tent at Ruckle Provincial Park‘s waterfront campground, renting a self-catering cottage by the week, enjoying the hospitality at a B&B, or pampering yourself at the Salt Spring Spa Resort. But I’m keeping the name and location of my favourite B&B (my friend’s home) a secret.
Because I don’t want to lose my guaranteed reservation status.
The other week, while discussing our mutual plans for the upcoming long weekend, I learned that one of my co-workers has a place on Pender Island.
In Western Canada, weekend places are most often called “cabins.” I point this out because for a while I lived in Ontario, where weekend places are always referred to as “cottages.” People in Toronto talk about their “cottage weekends” and there is a mass exodus from the city every Friday afternoon between the May Long Weekend and Labour Day. (You haven’t experienced traffic if you haven’t driven Highway 11 on a summer weekend.)
Cabin, cottage, tomato, tomahto …You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about this.
It’s because when I hear the word “cottage,” I have in mind a small dwelling right out of the English Cotswolds, complete with thatched roof. But when I hear the word “cabin,” I always picture the log cabin Laura Ingalls Wilder described in Little House in the Big Woods. I used to entertain myself in school by sketching log cabins, complete with smoking chimney made out of stone, in the margins of my notebooks. I dreamed of one day living in such a cabin.
Imagine my surprise when I visited Pender Island a couple of summers ago, and came across my dream cabin. I had no idea it existed outside of my head. But ― there it was. I had already fallen in love with Pender Island on this visit (my first); coming across the cabin only cinched the love I was feeling.
Pender Island is one of BC’s Southern Gulf Islands and is sandwiched between Saturna to the east, Mayne to the north, and Salt Spring to the west. Even though they lie within spitting distance of each other, each island has its own unique character, which is why a couple of my friends and I are weekending our way through the Gulf Islands. We try to explore a different island every summer.
Pender Island is actually two islands: in 1902, a canal was dredged through the isthmus between North and South Pender Islands. The islands were later reunited with a single-lane wooden bridge.
The island is named after Daniel Pender, a British Royal Navy captain who surveyed the coastal areas of British Columbia between 1857 and 1870.
Pender Island is about 35 square kilometres in size and has a year-round population of 2500, most of whom live on North Pender Island. That population triples in the summer; I hope to be joining the throng of visitors again soon.