For an important vacation celebrating our wedding anniversary, we studied hard, selected carefully. We wanted a memorable experience, and that's precisely what we encountered. We chose Salt Spring Island, B.C., the largest of 13 Gulf Islands scattered between the mainland and Vancouver Island on the Pacific West Coast, where island farming provides a pastoral atmosphere and sailing opportunities flourish among straits, inlets and ocean. With its nine-kilometre length, indented by deep bays and harbours and breadth varying between a half and five kilometers, everything is accessible through the island's meandering, narrow roads.
There are 100 B&Bs, several hotels and motels sprinkled across the island. Critically examining each Internet website, we opted for Terry and Bev Bolton's Beddis House Bed & Breakfast, eight kilometres south of Ganges, the island's centre, close to Long Harbour where BC Ferries dock.
The B&B brochure promised three R's - rest, romance and revitalization. This process was initiated quickly; we were welcomed by one and a quarter acres of exquisite flower gardens, pristine lawn and fruit trees. Vibrant flowers surrounded the house, in the fertile ground, in hanging and in sitting pots, on the decks and throughout the suites inside.
Yellow St. John's Wort, pink, orange and red perennials fed a hovering hummingbird, expertly refueling in mid-air. Bushy California lilacs with small, purple, aromatic flowers filled the air with a meditative scent. "Please lock the gates," asked Bev, our hostess; "the deer also enjoy the flowers!"
Our suite opened to a private deck facing the salty ocean, and included a fireplace, sitting area and ensuite bathroom, featuring a clawfoot tub and shower. The tub was deep and long - perfect for extended evening bubble baths, allowing me to feel like a decadent Roman emperor.
The joy of travel should include the actual going, so, we opted for a leisurely two-hour ferry ride from the mainland port of Tsawwassen (a 20-minute drive south of Vancouver). The B.C. Ferry wound its serpentine way to Galiano, Mayne, Pender and finally Salt Spring. Cruising at 15 knots, it was cool on deck, while white-billed gulls floating alongside, scarcely flapping a wing. In the sea below, six grey, mottled harbour seals, oblivious to our heading, lounged casually on their backs.
We encountered the ultimate in laid-back existence atop Mount Maxwell, which boasted a dramatic 600-metre drop; an impressive panoramic view of gliding eagles and the lush green spine of nearby Vancouver Island.
The Bolton's cabinetmaker, Roger Warren, from Newmarket, Ontario, fashions furniture and accessories in his shop, Chickadee Pine Products. "I've been here 15 years now after visiting a relative on Pender, an adjacent island. I can work all year long in these jeans and a shirt," he boasted.
Often, there are real estate good buys available. "Some people don't stay. They can't cope with the tranquility. They settle here from British Columbia and Alberta and last about three years."
He chuckles. "And there are no bugs here! No black flies or mosquitoes!" Sitting casually atop his wood planer, Roger laments: "After 15 years, I'm getting so mellow; I just might never leave this lovely island." This attitude flourishes. There is a self guided (of course) Studio Tour Map of the island's 35 art studios. We discovered most artists leave their shops open and unattended for tourists while they busy themselves elsewhere.
The Bolton's recommended Ruckle Park in the south for hiking, the Vesuvius Inn in the northwest for sunsets and the Bouzouki Cafe (Ganges) for Greek food on the waterfront. Ruckle, a Provincial Park, allows camping. It's close to Fulford Harbour from where the B.C. Ferries transport passengers to Vancouver Island. The Park offers the diverse experience of a working heritage farm, rugged coastal trails with views of sailboats; ferries and mountains and an internal series of paths that transport one back to the primordial, luxuriant forests of visionary artists such as Emily Carr.
The Vesuvius Inn sounded like an appropriate place for solar fireworks, located beside Vesuvius Bay, a third B.C. Ferries terminal that facilitates travel to and from Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Upon entering, our blond, blue-eyed twenty-something waitress, wearing grey shorts, white t-shirt and black running shoes was receiving an ad hoc back rub from a fellow waiter. Maintaining her therapeutic position, she suggested, "Sit wherever you want; there's a menu at each table." We sat outside for a view of nearby Crofton on Vancouver Island's East Coast, which unfortunately was marred by a pulp and paper mill spewing smoke too close to our preferred sunset view.
Nevertheless, I did enjoy my first Herman's Dark lager produced by the Vancouver Island Brewery, and the food was excellent. I savoured the chicken and prawn pasta entree in a tart, creamy sauce.
The Bouzouki Cafe featured appropriate salads and Greek cooking, enhanced by the harbour view. However; after mid-afternoon delicacies and tea provided by the B&B along with delicious and beautifully presented home cooking each morning that included such delicacies as poached pear in blueberry sauce, barbecued salmon with scrambled eggs, ricotta pancakes, and fresh bread and muffins, we skipped the tempting Greek deserts.
During the 60's, there was an influx of weekend cottagers seeking inexpensive getaways in a relatively undeveloped island. Also attracted were hippies and an arts and crafts contingent that now features some of the best artisans in North America. Artcraft is a crafts market at Gange's Mahon Hall, beside the elementary school, open daily from June to September. On Salt Spring, you encounter poets and novelists such as Anthony Bruce, born in Africa and humourist and radio personality Arthur Black.
Salt Spring is accessible by three ferries, sailboat, seaplanes and helicopters. Its tranquility attracts celebrities such as Tom Sellick, AI Pacino, Robin Williams and Barbra Streisand.
Ten thousand live here permanently; however, residents, like most other Gulf islanders, choose not to incorporate as a municipality. The Islands Trust Council, two representatives from each of the 13 islands, is mandated to preserve and protect the rural nature. An old-timer warned, "The minute they put up a traffic light, I'm gone."
Terry Bolton sums up the politics succinctly: "The local pig farm, not Bosnia, is what we talk about in Salt Spring." Arthur Black was asked to "cool it" by locals for extolling the island's virtues too warmly on his weekly CBC radio show.
Back at the Beddis House, two white wooden Algonquin chairs await for us to sit and view the rippled water and stately Douglas firs while a spectacular deciduous arbutus tree, unique to this area, with its reddish-tinged bark, completes the picture frame.
With Galiano straight ahead, Long Harbour on the left and Prevost Island to our right, tourists who imagine the optical illusion of a large lake are reminded that there is a 3-metre tide! Three sets of binoculars are available at the B&B to search out otters, seals, seal lions, herons and eagles.
The contemplative sound of lapping water becomes insistent as the tide rushes back to the lip of our cove with its small strip of shelled beach. Gentle shafts of breeze sway the firs' languid limbs.
Canada geese with tiny broods form a slow-moving fleeced caravan that bounces easily along a saltwater pathway through the cove. Little wonder artists love this place.
We have an ice bucket provided for wine or beer. There are no phones in the suites. Such a chore - it's time again for more delightful R and R and R.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/