Years of settlement have contributed to Gabriola Island's layered history, but its character today is largely defined by its deeply concentrated artistic community.
Snuneymuxw First Nation
The earliest inhabitants of Gabriola Island were the Snuneymuxw First Nation, a Coast Salish people who arrived to hunt and fish an estimated 5,000 years ago. More than 50 petroglyphs carved by this ancient people in cliffs and rocks are easily seen today. The most powerful image is a killer whale carved near Degnen Bay. It's best seen at low tide.
Next came the Spanish, looking for gold. They left behind names from Descanso Bay to Malaspina Inlet. In fact, Gabriola derives from the word "gaviota" which means seagull in Spanish. Scots, Irish and English followed. Settlers and farmers stayed, farmed and cut timber for Nanaimo across the strait. This history of settlement and the island's First Nations legacy can be explored in depth at the Gabriola Museum.
Gabriola Arts Community
The most recent wave of settlement is Gabriola's arts community, a contender for highest concentrated colony of its kind in Canada. Painters, sculptors, potters, glassmakers, photographers, musicians, actors and composers weave the fabric of contemporary culture.
It's no surprise that an island celebrated for its arts community should get around to theatre. At the Gabriola Theatre Festival in August, look for a theatrical range from comedy and satire to drama and fantasy. Supporting events include StreetArt, with 50 Gabriola artists present to display and discuss their art.
For more than a dozen years, Gabriola's seminal event has been the Thanksgiving Weekend Studio Tour produced by the Gabriola Arts Council. It runs through the long weekend and involves about 100 island artists. A map brochure guides visitors to more than 60 studios. Artists display masterworks in clay and metal sculpture, jewellery, acrylics, batiks, oils and water colors, photography and stained glass. The route circles the island, but few find time to complete it. Which is the best excuse for coming back next year.