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Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island is a 45 minute ferry ride away from Swartz Bay (itself only a 30 minute drive from Victoria up the Saanich Peninsula via the Pat Bay Hwy).  The Island gets its name from the cold salt-water springs on the north end of the island, and is the most densely populated, largest in surface area, and most frequently visited of all the Southern Gulf Islands. Whether you arrive at Salt Spring Island by ferry in Fulford Harbour, moor you kayak or personal craft in Long Harbour or land in a bi-plane by Ganges, Salt Spring Island presents stunning views of the Salish Sea and it’s many aquatic inhabitants, a rolling, rugged landscape with stunning hilltop vistas, and a friendly, vibrant community of artists, artisans, farmers, eccentrics, visitors and locals.  Salt Spring Island is the perfect get away for a relaxing weekend in a cabin oasis, an ocean kayaking, whale watching or paddle board adventure, a camping  trip at the edge of the sea in Ruckle Provincial Park or a visit to the many galleries, stores, restaurants, farms, and businesses across the island!

Fast Facts

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Population

The island is home to roughly 12,000 people. Ganges is the largest, most populated city on Salt Spring Island.

Salt Spring Island

is an easy spot to get around, whether you bring your own vehicle, use public transit, rely on your thumb or bike (but expect a long and hilly walk, so plan to have some form of transportation and know your terrain). There is a public transit system that provides bus routes along the major roads across the island, as well as taxi, car, motorbike, scooter and bicycle rentals available. While biking is a popular option on the island, the roads are very narrow and the landscape has some elevation, so be careful and come prepared.  Additionally, there is the Ganges Faerie Mini-Shuttle service, which connects the Fulford, Long Harbour and Vesuvius ferry terminals, as well as Ganges, Ruckle Park and Fernwood.

Size

the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring is 185 square kilometres, and has a length of 27 km and a 14 km width, including 133 km of shoreline.


Location

Salt Spring is the most accessible of the Southern Gulf Islands. With frequent ferry sailings to all three of the Salt Spring Island ferry terminals that connect the island to Victoria (via Swartz Bay), Vancouver (via Tsawwassen) and Cowichan Valley (via Crofton), Salt Spring Island is connected to the BC mainland, and Southern and Central Vancouver Island.

Farms

The over 200 farms on Salt Spring Island drive the local economy of the self-declared Organic Gardening Capital of Canada. These farms grow and tend a wide variety of produce and livestock, including sheep, lamb, poultry, llamas, cheese, fruit orchards, and certified organic growers, which are then sold at the farmers market, through local vendors or on the farm itself.  Salt Spring Island Ales, for example, is brewed in a barn and partner with local farmers to produce almost all of their own hops for brewing.  For both First Nations and early settlers, Salt Spring Island has long been the “bread-basket” of the region.

What’s in a Name?

So, is Salt Spring Island or Saltspring Island?  The short answer is that both are accepted and used on the island. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Canadian Place Names, the Hudson’s Bay Company first referred to the island as Salt Spring Island at the beginning of the 19th Century. By 1910, the name was fused into Saltspring by the Geographic Board of Canada. So, Saltspring is still officially one word, but Salt Spring is more commonly (though not exclusively) used by the local community. Following opposition from both sides, Canada Post now recognizes either spelling of the name. Ultimately, either one should work just fine for you.

History & Early Settlement

Salt Spring Island has been a traditional territory of the Coast Salish First Nations, the Wsanec of the Saanich Peninsula, the Chemainus First Nations and the Cowichan First Nations for over 5000 years and continues to be a source of valuable natural resources.

The island was continuously populated by Tsawout First Nations until the 1920’s; however, much of the population was decimated by an epidemic in the 1780’s and subsequent wars that moved populations to Vancouver Island.

Early settlers, despite exploration dating back to the 1700’s, began to arrive in increasing numbers in the 1850’s.  In 1859, Captain Richards attempted to named the island Admiral Island, but the residents never adopted this name and, instead, continued using Salt Spring Island.  Salt Spring Island became the official name of the island in 1905.  Beginning as a farming settlement, Salt Spring Island has always by an agricultural centre but has also developed into a vibrant community of artists, healers, business owners and crafts people, as well.

Island Villages

Ganges is the central hub of Salt Spring Island and home to most of the shops, services, gas stations, grocery stores, rental shops, restaurants, and art galleries that are present on the island.  Named for the HMS Ganges, the village has an active harbour with marinas and docks, as well as the occasional pod of passing orcas.  The Saturday Market, where local vendors sell their goods on the main street of Centennial Park, is not to be missed if you are visiting in the summer.

Fulford Village is located at the southern end of the island.  Fulford’s relaxed atmosphere enables visitors to explore and discover the area, including the historic Fulford Inn and the native artefacts museum (which is housed in a log building).

Tiny Vesuvius Bay is on the north west side of Salt Spring Island and connects Salt Spring Island to Crofton on Vancouver Island. The first European settlers on Salt Spring Island arrived at Vesuvius Bay in 1857.

Fulford Harbour, named after the commanding officer of the HMS Ganges, Captain John Fulford, offers temporary anchorage for the many cruising boats that come over to Salt Spring Island.

Fernwood is on the north east coast of Salt Spring Island, facing towards Galiano Island.  Fernwood provides an excellent launching point for boaters and kayakers looking to explore the stunning Wallace Island Marine Provincial Park in Trincomali Channel.

Salt Spring Island Dollars

Salt Spring Island Dollars are the island’s own currency and are available on a one-to-one exchange with the Canadian Dollar. The Salt Spring Island Dollar is accepted across the island.  Every Salt Spring Island note comes with a limited edition work by a local artist on the back, which makes the bill collectible (if it is not spent before it expires after 2 years). The goal of the local currency is to raise funds for worthwhile community projects through the Salt Spring Island Monetary Foundation, which enables the cycling of money back into the local economy.

Salt Springs

The salt springs that give the island its name are located on private property on the north end of the island. There are 14 salt springs on the property that range from one meter to 25 meters in size.  These are the only salt springs on the island.

St. Paul’s Church

Paul’s Church is notable for is elaborate, coloured stonework. This Roman Catholic Church was founded in 1878 by Father Donckele, the first Catholic missionary on Salt Spring, and erected between 1880 and 1885. The church is a stunning landmark that is visible from the ferry when arriving at Fulford Harbor.

Markets

The Saturday Market

takes place on main street in Centennial Park at the centre of Ganges and runs from April to October. This vibrant market place has over 140 vendors composed of local artists and artisans (from painters to woodworkers), farmers and food producers, and island businesses (from body care to whale watching tours).  The Saturday Market requires that every vendor operating to “make it, bake it, or grow it” and sell it themselves.

The Tuesday Farmer’s Market

is a smaller market that, as it’s name says, takes place every Tuesday from June to October on the scenic oceanside of Centennial Park in central Ganges.  Here, you can find access to fresh, locally produced fruits, veggies and foods (but not any craft vendors).

Winter Markets:

Wintercraft, Fulford Hall Christmas Craft Fair and Beaver Point Hall Christmas Craft Fair offer the market experience for winter, Christmas and Holiday Season visitors

Art / Museums

Spring Island is home to many artists and artisans, including painters, photographers, spinners, weavers, sculptors and potters, who show and sell their work on the island.

ArtCraft: A gallery run by the Salt Spring Arts Council out of the historic Mahon Hall features a wide range of the best art from across Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands. The Salt Spring Arts Council features and partners with many local artisans as well. 

Festival of the Arts:

Every July, theSalt Spring Festival of the Arts opens up the island to a wide array of talented performing artists who transform Salt Spring into living performance art.

Akerman Museum: A private museum that is open to the public and home to thousands of artefacts that provide insight into the native cultures and lives of the pioneers that have developed on Salt Spring Island over hundreds of years.

ArtSpring Theatre:The ArtSpring Theatre in Mahon Hall in Ganges functions as a venue for concerts, stage productions and art exhibitions. 

Annual Events:The Fall Fair is held on the third weekend of September on the outside of Ganges. This fair brings in thousands of visitors who attend the event for the award-winning displays of fruits and vegetables, prize-winning livestock and riding exhibitions by local equestrian riders.  Other noteworthy annual events include Fulford Days, the Apple Festival, the Guilds of Christmas, Salt Spring Singers and Santa Ship in December.  The Lavender Festival is another fantastic summer event that fuses farming and education with music, performance, baking and dance.

The Visitor Centre: Located in Ganges, the Visitor Centre provides free Studio Tour Maps. These maps offer a self-guided tour that highlights stunning works of 30 artists and artisans from across the island to showcase and promote their art.

Outdoor Activities

Golf: The Salt Spring Island Golf Club, locatedon Lower Ganges Road, is a long, challenging 9-hole course with Par 3, 4 and 5 holes.  The course welcomes the public and requires that you now reserve a tee time in advance.

Hang-gliding and Paragliding: Mount Bruce, overlooking the Fulford Valley, is the highest point on Salt Spring Island at 709 meters, which makes it an ideal launching point for hang-gliders, providing one of the best views that Salt Spring has to offer.

Hiking: The rugged trails to the summit of both Bruce Peak (709 m) and Mount Tuam (602 m) are the tallest points of land on the Gulf Islands and present some of the toughest hikes available on any of the Islands. The two peaks provide stunning views out onto the Saanich Inlet and Peninsula, and across Satellite Channel to Cowichan Bay. 

Frisbee Golf: Located in Hart Memorial at Mouat Park, this is an 18-hole course, where golfers have a limited number of throws to navigate old-growth forest terrain and cover the distance to a basket that they must throw their frisbee into (like a conventional game of golf).

Kayaking: Kayaks can by rented at multiple locations and there are daily lessons available for new-comers looking to explore the stunning Salish Sea and surrounding waters.
The wharf at Fulford Harbor is ideal for kayakers and personal crafts to launch from and the Rotary Maritime Park offers a small public dock in Ganges.

Boating & Sailing: Summer sees many cruising sail boats from Vancouver Island, the BC Mainland and the US.
Salt Spring Island is a perfect stopping point for boaters travelling through the Gulf Islands and the US San Juan Islands.

Reginald Hill, while not as longas Bruce or Tuam, is a steeper hike (1.5 km) through second-growth forest that leads to exceptional vistas that overlook Fulford Harbor and Fulford Valley.
Additionally, there are other short hikes here, including Mount Erskine (2.5 km), Duck Creek (1.5 km), and Southey Point, a 4-km round trip trail.

Cycling: Bicycles are a low-cost and scenic mode of transportation for exploring the island and it’s rolling hills, bays, coves and shorelines.  Be prepared for an intermediate level ride with some elevation, reasonable distant and often narrow, winding roads.

Camping: Ruckle Provincial Park offers the only public camping on Saltspring Island with scenic campsites along the island’s North Eastern shoreline.
Cedar Beach Resort and Mowhinna Creek Campground provide additional private camping locations.

Hope Hillis a 7 kilometre area of trails that lead through forests of fir and cedar.

Diving: The Princess Margaret Marine Park (a part of the Gulf Islands National Parks Reserve) on Portland Island provides the opportunity for divers to explore shipwrecks in the channel between Salt Spring and Pender Island.

Parks/Lakes/Beaches

St. Mary Lake: Located close to the north end of Salt Spring Island, St. Mary Lake is the largest of the 8 lakes on Salt Spring Island. There are very few lakes on any of the Southern Gulf Islands; however, the majority are on Salt Spring Island and St. Mary Lake is large enough to hold the water of all the other lakes on the Southern Gulf Islands combined.

Other Lakes: Weston Lake is 3 kilometres to the north of Fulford Harbour with a beautiful sandy beach. Stowell and Cusheon Lake, as well as Weston, all provide opportunities for trout and bass fishing, and have warm, freshwater for swimming in the summer.

Ruckle Provincial Park: Located 9 km to the north east of Fulford Harbour, Ruckle Provincial Park is largest park and provides the only public camping on the islan. The park is ideal for campers who are looking for a rugged, wilderness camping experience on Salt Springs’ amazing shoreline that still has easy-vehicle access and nearby ammenities.

Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park: This park is a great launching point for many of Salt Spring Islands most beautiful outdoor adventures, whether boating, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, or kayaking and boating from the Government Dock mooring facilities.

Mount Maxwell Provincial Park: Providing access to Baynes Peak and adjacent to Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, visitors can drive up a bumpy road to enjoy the stunning vistas that look over the channel below.

Mouat Regional Park: located only a short distance out of Ganges, Mouat Regional Parks features an easy 8 km trail that connects to Hart Memorial and  the Disc Golf, which has replaced the once popular camp grounds.

Mill Farm Regional Park: Named for a now mostly vanished mill that ran on the property, this park offers paths spectacular forests of old-growth Douglas-fir, views of the Cowichan Bay and Saanich Inlet and houses many endangered species.  The most notable of these endangered species is the Phantom Orchid, so named for its almost entirely white appearance.

Drummond Park: Offering beach access, Drummond Park is perfect for beachcombing and sunbathing, watching the water for its many inhabitants, includes whales and harbour seals, picnicking or exploring the petroglyphs.