For many envious people, the dream west coast lifestyle is led by residents of postcard-perfect Salt Spring Island.
The best-known of British Columbia's Gulf Islands is inhabited by easygoing, green-oriented freespirits and everyday folk of all ages who share one thing in common: they've opted out of the fast lane for life in a largely unspoilt paradise rich in community spirit and brimming with forested trails, lovely beaches and see-forever vistas.
Salt Spring's natural beauty and mild climate encourages outdoor pursuits like hiking, kayaking, golf, cycling, swimming, birding and beachcombing. A high per-capita assortment of dining options, specialty food producers, bakeries, coffeeshops and farmers selling fresh-picked organic produce reflect the island's passion for creature comforts. Factor in plentiful accommodations, spas, world-class arts, and a lively music and performing arts scene, and it's no wonder the island is a mecca for visitors.
"Coolest Island in Canada"
Artists and young neo-hippies, retired millionaires and restaurateurs, trades people and boot-clad farmers, writers and musicians all happily co-exist on what the Washington Post once called "the coolest island in Canada."
It remains that way thanks in part to the vigilance of the Islands Trust, a land-use authority that has kept residential growth in check. The island's population of 10,000 is just five times the headcount at the turn of the 20th century. Many people here are dedicated to smart, sustainable and slow growth. The Salt Spring Island Conservancy and the Institute for Sustainability Education & Action are both at the forefront of local environmental efforts.
Notable residents include artist Robert Bateman, rock legend Randy Bachman, broadcaster Arthur Black, authors Nick Bantock and Pearl Luke, and poets Brian Brett and Phyllis Webb.
Busy Summers, Quiet Winters
Salt Spring swells each summer with weekenders, boaters and seasonal residents. The central harbour town of Ganges is home to most of the island's funky, independent retailers, its restaurants and two grocery stores. On high-season Saturdays, the island's legendary open-air market commandeers the town centre with its unique selection of crafts, artwork and produce.
Those seeking peace can find ample measures of it elsewhere on the island – behind the "granola curtain" in the southend, on one the island's half-dozen mountainsides or while walking, cycling and beachcombing around Salt Spring's quiet northern extremes.
Getting to Salt Spring
BC Ferries terminals are at the mid-west, mid-east and southern points of the island. Learn more about Salt Spring Island transportation.
Getting Around Salt Spring
Get oriented with a map, available at the Salt Spring Visitor Centre. Encompassing 185sq km/74sq mi, the island is relatively easy to navigate once a few basic coordinates are learned.
Fanciful residents have long remarked that Salt Spring is shaped like a pterosaur (the flying dinosaur last seen in Jurassic Park). The base of the creature's throat is Ganges Harbour. Seaplanes, kayaks, yachts and powerboats float off-shore from a pretty and bustling town centre that is the island's lone business and retail hub. Salt Spring's one and only stoplight has been installed here to help schoolchildren cross the busy Lower Ganges Road.
Tour part, or all, of the island by following scenic Salt Spring Island driving routes. The main arteries (which are quaint and rambling enough to qualify as country roads in most settings) have names that reveal clearly enough where they're headed (i.e., the Fulford-Ganges Road, Long Harbour Road and Vesuvius Bay Road).
The picturesque North End loop takes in ocean vistas, discreet million-dollar getaway homes and rolling farm fields dotted with Salt Spring sheep and llamas. Take the South End loop to visit to oceanfront Ruckle Provincial Park.
Read more about Salt Spring Island, through the eyes of renowned author Nick Bantock, in British Columbia Magazine.