Canada?s Pacific Gulf Islands

When Was the Last Time You Got Lost in a Tidal Pool?


In the Pacific northwest waters of British Columbia, between mainland BC and Vancouver Island, the Salish Sea laps the shores of the Gulf Islands, home to pockets of old growth forest, wildflower meadows and fragile eco-systems that support plant life specific to this region. Hundreds of species of seabirds thrive alongside a marine life that includes seals, sea lions, otters, schools of porpoises and the stunning black and white Orca. When you step off the ferry, set your watch to island time.


This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 Issue of Invest In Style Magazine.


Stunning black and white Orca are a common sight in the Gulf Islands.


Accessible by ferry, seaplane, chartered boat or kayak, the Gulf Islands’ Mediterranean climate make them a year-round vacation destination. Of the hundreds of islands, none is joined by a bridge (with one exception). And if you want to get along with the locals, don’t start up a conversation about building one.


The coastal city of Nanaimo, about 1.5 hrs north of Victoria, the capital of BC on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, marks the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Gulf Islands. To the north lie the less populated islands of Lasqueti, Jedediah, Savary, Denman, Hornby, Texada and others, and to the south, the larger islands include Gabriola, Galiano, Mayne, Salt Spring, Saturna, and Pender (which is made up of North and South Pender islands, joined to each other by bridge). The islands are accessible by ferry from various terminals along the east coast of Vancouver Island.


Aerial view of Salt Spring Island, the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands, in the Salish Sea between mainland British Columbia, near Vancouver, and the capital city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island.


The culture of each island is closely related to its population. Salt Spring, the largest of the Gulf Islands, with a population close to 11,000, is the most urban of the islands. Its main town, Ganges, overlooks a marina and the Salish Sea and offers a variety of eclectic shops and restaurants as well as a popular Saturday farmer’s market. Salt Spring is well-known for its artisanal cheeses, coffee, wineries and a craft brewery. Canada’s first olive farm started on Salt Spring. Baynes Peak, in Mt. Maxwell Provincial Park, is the highest point on the island and from here you’ll enjoy spectacular views all the way across to Vancouver Island.


The panoramic views from atop Mt. Galiano, on Galiano Island, extend to Mount Baker, in Washington. Galiano is especially good for tidal pools along the eastern coastline, where the smooth bedrock has been eroded by the sea. Sit yourself down beside a tidal pool and stare into it until you can no longer count the number of creatures you will eventually see, even if you notice the cluster of purple starfish right way.


Discover purple starfish on gulf island beaches when the tide is out.


While all the islands are home to a variety of artists and writers, Gabriola calls itself The Isle of the Arts. Here, painters, sculptors, textile artists, potters, jewellery makers and glass blowers open their studios to collectors and the curious. Enjoy a delicious meal of local seafood at the beautiful stone-and-glass Surf Lodge, then walk down to the shore at Berry Point Road to watch the distant lighthouse glow as the sun sets.


Pender Island – “two islands, countless treasures” – includes north and south Pender. North Pender offers more amenities while South Pender is more rural and covered with fields and farms. Pender has a nine-hole golf course on an historic farm, and you can play 27 “hole” disc golf, just north of Magic Lake.


North of Nanaimo lie the less populated Northern Gulf Islands. From the accessible shoreline boardwalk in the town of Parksville, you can see Lasqueti Island, home to 400 of BC’s most educated population (according to StatsCan). Many of these islanders grow their own food and cut their own firewood to heat their homes.


Heron Rocks, wave-eroded sandstone off the shoreline of Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada.


The ferry to Denman Island is a 15-minute trip from Buckley Bay, half an hour north of Parksville. Amongst Denman’s population of 1,100, there’s a thriving arts and crafts scene, farms, and a turn-of-the-century grocery store. Many residents grow food for themselves and to sell at the local farmers’ market.


A visit to Hornby Island requires first taking the ferry to Denman, then a short drive to catch the ferry to Hornby. Hornby Island has some of the best biking trails in BC, an astronomical observatory, and it’s a great place for ocean kayaking. Hornby has two provincial parks, picturesque seaside coves and bays, and a Douglas fir forest. It’s worth the two ferry trips.


The gulf islands are a kayaker’s dream.


The Gulf Islands are a birder’s paradise, a kayaker’s dream and a city dweller’s restorative respite. Accommodations range from campgrounds and rustic cabins, to cozy Bed and Breakfasts and well-appointed hotels. You can drive onto many of the islands and hike, bike or walk the shorelines and trails. With their provincial parks, marine park reserves, forests and sandy beaches, a visit to BC’s laid-back Gulf Islands will deepen your breathing and relax your busy mind.


It starts on the Salish Sea, on that first ferry ride…


Written By Lesley Kenny