The terrific cities of Victoria and Vancouver BC bookended our trip to the Gulf Islands. They are a series of about 225 Canadian islands off the coast of Vancouver Island northwest of the United States’ land masses known as the San Juans. They stretch northwest almost to the city of Nanaimo. The largest Gulf Island is Salt Spring. It contains the only real town, Ganges, and many of the Gulf Islands are not inhabited. The ones Ruth & I visited, Salt Spring and The Penders, can be accessed from the ferry terminal near the Vancouver Island town of Sidney.
We needed advice to visit these lonely islands in what most of the locals choose to call the Salish Sea. We waited until off-season because we were told that ferries to them can be ridiculously busy in the summer. We were exceedingly lucky with the weather and had glorious sunshine every day. Getting from one island to another via ferry often cannot be pre-booked, and we heard horror stories of waiting all day for a chance to board one or to get to a destination. We were only able to pre-book a ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria and from The Penders to the Canadian mainland, and we had to land on long and skinny Galiano and small Mayne Island to get to Tsawwassen south of Vancouver. Galiano has a population of slightly more than 1,000 and Mayne has even fewer permanent residents. The Penders, 2 relatively small and hilly islands connected by a one-land bridge, are home to only 2,500 people. We were told to go there and it was a great destination, but there is no real town on either island. The hub of activity is a shopping area on North Pender, and most of the resorts and B & Bs around were either closed for the season or getting ready to shut down.
Salt Spring has a population of almost 11,000, and I suspect that most of its residents are artisans. Ganges is mostly galleries, shops, restaurants, and coffee stops. There is only one grocery store named Thrifty, and it does sell some local products like wonderful Salt Spring Island goat cheese. Farming was once a big enterprise here, but not so much now. Tourism, water sports, beach time, and hiking seem to have replaced it. The only museum on this island, a farmers’ institute, was closed for the season. A weekly outdoor market is popular, and we got to attend the last one of the 2019 season. It was pretty tame with fewer than a dozen booths that didn’t start selling until 2 pm. Nevertheless, we had fun in Ganges.
Before retirees and affluent Canadians came to the Gulf Islands, they were inhabited by First Nations people. Captain George Vancouver was the first European to explore them in 1792, and he claimed them for the British Crown. They are not in a gulf so their name, The Gulf Islands, is a misnomer. Pioneers were a diverse lot including African Americans, the Portuguese, and even some Hawaiians.