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Saltspring is Canada's arts and crafts island.

Saltspring is Canada's arts and crafts island Like an arrowhead pointing almost true north, Saltspring Island noses into the Strait of Georgia between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, about 18 miles long at its tip and 6 miles wide at its southern end. Saltspring and its some 200 smaller neighbors make up the Canadian Gulf Islands, as beautiful and beguiling as our San Juans, yet flavored by a different culture.

Saltspring's beneficent climate, slow pace, maritime landscapes, and comparative isolation draw artists and craftspeople from all over Canada.

In several days or longer, you can look for their works at galleries, studios, and a Saturday market. Other island pursuits include hiking, cycling, horseback riding, country walks, beachcombing, canoeing, even a leisurely game of golf. Accommodations range from bed-and-breakfasts to waterside cabins and several inns.

Though Saltspring is well known to boaters and is reached by three ferries, it remains an unknown to most American travelers. Not so to Canadians, however, and in summer the island can be crowded.

Getting around the island

From Fulford Harbour, Fulford-Ganges Road follows the shore briefly, then heads up the middle of the island through a valley of small farms to pick up the water again at Ganges.

Ganges village is the focus of island life. From here, one road heads northeast toward Long Harbour. Another heads northwest to Vesuvius, loops around Southey Point, and returns along the northeast shore to Ganges.

Off these main roads, country lanes network through valleys and forest, and along the shores to rocky headlands and long beaches. To get around easily, pick up a copy of Saltspring Out-of-Doors ($2.50) at bookstores and other shops on the island. This map details roads, park, beaches, points of interest, and other valuable information.

A sampler of island attractions

Nine galleries, most in or near Ganges, show painting, sculpture, weaving, pottery, baskets, handknit tea cozies, and baby sweaters. And in Mahon Hall, a 1920s elementary school building, the annual Artcraft show runs daily from mid-June through Labor Day. Hours are 10 to 4; admission is 25 cents.

A Saturday market on Ganges' waterfront affords another chance to see crafts, as well as to meet artists and other islanders. At this popular get-together, you may be tempted by a fragrant loaf of homebaked bread, a basket made from still-green willow switches, or even a freeform table sculpted from cedar driftwood.

If you'd like to visit artists' studios, the travel information center in Ganges (address on page 41) has a list to help you put together your own tour.

For walkers, Ruckle Provincial Park, 6 miles east of Fulford Harbour, offers easy-to-follow trails through woods along the shore, with good beachcombing and tidepooling. Trails are suitable for family walks. Look for bald eagles, blue herons, and quail; camas, chocolate lily, buttercups, and wild roses; even killer whales. Ruckle offers shoreside meadow camping for backpackers and cyclists. Mouat Provincial Park, near Ganges, has 15 campsites and an area for cyclists. Northwest of Fulford Harbour, Mount Maxwell Provincial Park shows off the island's rugged topography. Stately old-growth Douglas firs crown the slopes on the 1,932-foot mountain.

For more active recreation, you can rent bicycles, motor scooters, canoes, kayaks, and horses in or near Ganges. The travel information center has a list.

About the only nightlife consists of dinner at one of the several top-quality restaurants. Menus often offer island fruits, vegetables, salmon, and crab. Other choices remind you that you're not in the U.S.: scones, tarts, steak and kidney pies, and sausage rolls. The tea, properly brewed, is always excellent, as is the bread.

Hastings House, overlooking Ganges harbor, is very English, with a renowned dining room and impeccable service. From its gardens come fresh vegetables for the kitchen and fragrant bouquets for every guest room. It is worth a stop, if only to see the gardens.

Other dining spots we enjoyed include The Bay Window at Booth Bay, Vesuvius Inn, Fulford Inn, and Harbour House in Ganges.

Where to stay

Accommodations are mainly bed-and-breakfasts. The travel information center lists more than 60, from a luxurious and isolated waterfront cabin on the south end of the island to quarters like an eagle's nest on Satellite Channel. Of American-style resorts there are none, but pleasant, medium-priced accommodations are plentiful. For example, mile-long St. Mary Lake, noted for its bass fishing, has half a dozen cabin resorts along its shores. Most cabin rentals here include the use of a rowboat; prices run from $50 to $75 U.S. Hastings House, noted above, has 12 suits, from about $250 to $350, including breakfast and afternoon tea. Visitors can make reservations for lunch or dinner.

Getting to Saltspring

Three ferries can take you to the island. If you choose to thread the Gulf Islands, cross the Canadian border at Blaine and drive 23 miles northwest to Tsawwassen (25 miles south of Vancouver). British Columbia ferries leave here on a 1 1/2-hour crossing to Swartz Bay, on Vancouver Island, every odd hour from 7 A.M. to 9 P.M. (more sailings on weekends); no reservations. When you buy your ticket, designate your final destination as Saltspring Island to receive a pass for the final Swartz Bay-Fulford Harbour leg. Twice daily, a ferry leaves Tsawwassen for Long Harbour; vehicle reservations required.

Or take a Washington State ferry from Anacortes to Sidney on Vancouver Island. From Sidney, it's a 3-mile drive to Swartz Bay for the 35-minute crossing. Another choice: from Victoria, drive north on famous Malahat Drive to Crofton and catch ferry to Vesuvius on Saltspring's northwest shore (20 minutes; 14 sailings a day).

For schedules and fares, write or call Washington State Ferries, Colman Dock, Pier 52, 801 Alaskan Way, Seattle 98104, (206) 464-6400; or British Columbia Ferry Corporation, 1112 Fort St., Victoria V8V 4V2, (604) 386-3431.

For more on the island, write or call Saltspring Travel Information Center, Box 111, Ganges V0S 1E0; 537-5252.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Saltspring Island
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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