Salt Spring Island Getaway
Why our editor-in-chief is dreaming of the island life.
“Barb,” the woman behind the counter calls out to a regular, “can I interest you in raffle tickets to support StageCoach Theatre School?” I’ve popped by Salt Spring Books, a spot in Ganges village that’s both a hub for its impressive selection of magazines (The New Yorker and People for the weekend, thanks) and for locals selling raffle tickets, apparently. It’s a moment that’s reflective of what makes Salt Spring unique from its other Gulf Island counterparts: people spend their lives here, raising their kids, farming sheep, turning a passion for pottery or cheese or puffins into a small business. Locals are southenders, whether or not you live on the south side of the island (phone number prefix: 653). Northenders (prefix: 537) are more likely to be vacationers—those of us who marvel at the Ganges farmers’ market and aspire to one day grasp the brass ring, to figure out how to stay on this idyllic little slice of the coast.
Because a weekend spent meandering along the winding roads of Salt Spring has me carefully planning my exit strategy from the big city. Ganges Harbour is ground zero for those first inklings of the itch: a handful of shops and restaurants that manages both the functional (Mouat’s Trading Co., built by an island family back in 1907, still serving as your spot for both bedsheets and pet food) and the touristy (Old Salty—built by the same family, fewer bedsheets, more hand-carved seagulls). At Saturday lunch hour, Barb’s Buns buzzes with soccer kids clutching cheesy bread sticks and dreadlocked yogis opting for fresh-pressed carrot, beet and ginger juices as I settle in by a window seat with The Rosie Project and the butter tart to end all butter tarts.
But outside of Ganges, the island stretches out into grassy farms and rolling hills, and though an official Salt Spring Island Studio Tour map winds you through the makers and producers dotted all over the island, each spot feels like a surprise discovery hidden in the woods. David Woods’s Salt Spring Island Cheese farm is much more of a production than Moonstruck Cheese (where a trailer and a refrigerator, avec honour box, are all that’s there to greet you), but small-town charming all the same. The woman sampling goat cheese “ruckles” and cardamom raspberry jam enthusiastically supports my choice to pair their blue Juliette with rhubarb and pink grapefruit jam-a-lade.
Further south, way into southender territory, I’m tipped firmly into I-can-definitely-do-this-move when Salt Spring Island Ales appears at the end of a farm road (mental note: pick up organic bacon from neighbouring Furness Farm on the way home). I wind up the narrow staircase to be warmly greeted by the accountant-turned-tasting-host-for-the-day, who’s living the Salt Spring dream: she moved here with her girlfriend last year from the Yukon, and between tastings of Earl Grey IPA and the herbal Gruit, tells us of their plans to open a restaurant below the apartment they’ve just purchased. With Salt Spring Island Ales on tap, of course. My dreams of joining their ranks get an affirmation when her partner shows up to take her home—“She gets it. Check out her boots,” she says, pointing at my Blundstones—and I mentally Breakfast Club my fist in the air.
And then there’s the Fritz movie theatre. On this Saturday night, cars line the four corners of the roads outside the former community hall, its whitewashed, wood-panelled walls now upgraded with Dolby surround sound speakers next to the sign establishing the space was once the practice home of the Salty Wheels Square Dance Club. (Alas, square dancing doesn’t hold the attention the way The Revenant does.) High-tech, yes, but anything but fancy: 10 bucks (cash only) gets you access to decent chairs, real butter on your popcorn and a packed house on most nights.
And though my book (and a roaring fire) calls back at the Stonehouse B&B, where I’m making my home for the weekend, I can’t resist a late-night check-in at Moby’s Pub on the water for Brome Lake duck wings and a roasted Brussels sprout salad. The musician onstage is playing blue-eyed soul, and one solo guy is swaying on the dance floor, though I suspect he’ll soon be joined by the dozens crowding the tables around it. We all want a slice of this island life, at least for tonight.
Salt Spring Stats
Salt Spring or Saltspring Locals seem to prefer the former
Name origin Given by Hudson’s Bay Company officers who were interested in obtaining salt from the 14 briny springs on this island
Size 182.7 sq km
Local Luminaries Raffi, Robert Bateman
Signature Dish Salt Spring Island goat cheese bites rolled in muesli, with apricot-ginger chutney and warm naan at the Tree House Cafe.
Rest Your Head Owner John Lefebvre first built the six-suite clutch of buildings at Stonehouse B&B for friends and family who came to visit him on Salt Spring, but converted the elegant home into a bed and breakfast a couple of years ago. With its views of the rolling hills over Ganges Harbour and a stunning stone sculpture installation from local artist Ron Crawford, the vibe is more Tuscan villa than folksy retreat—transporting in the best way. You’ll be warmly hosted by renaissance man Michael Coughlin—painter, linguist, author, trained chef and just plain charming man—whose weekend Bennies sprinkled with rosemary flowers (plucked that morning from the garden, natch) and fresh basil are the stuff dreams are made of.