Salt Spring Island is the largest, most populated, and most visited of the Southern Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia in British Columbia, Canada. The setting is West Coast Canadian; forested islands, wide meadows and beautiful landscapes surrounded by emerald ocean and wonderful vistas.
Named by officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company for the cold and briny saltwater springs on the north end of the island, Salt Spring Island was traditionally inhabited by various Coast Salish First Nation peoples before the arrival of European pioneer settlers in 1859. At that time the island was officially called Admiral Island until it was renamed in 1910.
Is the island named Saltspring or Salt Spring? The Oxford Dictionary of Canadian Place Names indicates it was called Salt Spring Island by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1800s. In 1910 the name was changed to Saltspring by the Geographic Board of Canada (now the Geographical Names Board of Canada), which often fused multiple-word place names. So, officially it is one word, but local usage tends to prefer two words, although it is not unanimous. Canada Post accepts both spellings of the name.
The year-round residents of Salt Spring Island (population 12,000) include an eclectic mix of artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs. Many vacationers come to Salt Spring simply to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and soak in the quiet island lifestyle and spirit. If you raise an issue or express an opinion, expect a lively debate from the locals.
Salt Spring Island is the most densely populated of the Gulf Islands and is also home to the biggest Gulf Island provincial campground, Ruckle Provincial Park. The island’s shoreline is varied and beautiful, offering rocky shores, tidal pools to explore, shell beaches for beachcombing, and a wide variety of sandy beaches. Of the 22 ocean beaches, 4 are designated for swimming.
The island has over 200 farms and is known for its sheep-raising; be sure to tour the rolling pastures on the north end (visit in the spring, and you’ll never order rack of lamb again). Salt Spring is also known as a centre for arts and crafts, and has an impressive selection of shops, restaurants and tourist accommodations. While a few of Salt Spring’s attractions can be seen in a whirlwind two-hour drive, a thorough exploration of Salt Spring could take weeks. Allow at least a full day, or more … the serene island offers a tranquil respite for solace-seeking travellers.
Salt Spring Island was engaged in one of BC’s most high-profile environmental wars between local residents and the Texada Land Corporation. In late 1999 the private logging company purchased 10 percent of Salt Spring Island and promptly proceeded to log it. Efforts to raise funds and support included the publication of Preserve & Protect 2001, a tasteful best-selling calendar featuring nude photographs of 35 island woman.
The rugged and mountainous southern end of the island is dominated by Mount Tuam and Mount Bruce, separated from the equally mountainous mid-island region by the Fulford Valley, located between Fulford Harbour and Burgoyne Bay. The north end of the island has a lower elevation, with rolling pastures, deciduous forests and the majority of residential developments, mainly around the village of Ganges.
The local economy is service-oriented and heavily reliant upon the tourist industry, with a high level of services on the island, concentrated mostly in Ganges. Salt Spring offers hotels and motels, a large number of resorts, and many bed & breakfasts and self-contained cottages and suites. There may well be more B&Bs per capita on Salt Spring than anywhere else in Canada.
Farming is important on the island, which bills itself as the Organic Gardening Capital of Canada, and local farmers and growers form the backbone of the popular Salt Spring Market. Farming includes sheep and lamb products, poultry, llamas, cheese, fruit orchards, and certified organic growers.
Salt Spring is 17 miles (27 km) long and 9 miles (14 km) wide, with 83 miles (133 km) of shoreline (182 square kilometres). The island attracts visitors and prospective residents with its mild climate and annual sunshine in excess of 2,000 hours.
Today, the cost of property on Salt Spring Island is amongst the highest in Canada, an indication of the popularity of this lovely, trippy, safe and secluded island. Vast tracts of protected land and strict building restrictions have also increased property prices, with limits imposed on development and population density. Land use on the island is governed by the Islands Trust, which aims to preserve and protect the unique qualities of the Gulf Islands. Popular with retirees who like the openness and sense of community on the island, the median age of Salt Spring is more than 9 years older than the BC average.
Salt Spring Island Dollars: Salt Spring Island even has its own currency! Salt Spring Island Dollars: are available on a one-to-one exchange with the Canadian Dollar and accepted on Salt Spring on the same basis as the national currency. The goal of the local currency, which was introduced to the Island in September 2001, is to raise funds for worthwhile community projects while promoting local commerce and goodwill. Limited editions of Salt Spring Island art are featured on the back of the notes, which help to make the bills collectible after the two-year expiry date. The not-for-profit Salt Spring Island Monetary Foundation facilitates the process of returning the proceeds of the venture back to the community. Legally considered gift certificates, the Salt Spring Island Dollar is Canada’s only local legal-tender currency in circulation.