Story by Jody Robbins
Vacay.ca Family Travel Columnist
GANGES, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Meandering through the labyrinth of outdoor market stalls brimming with all manner of produce and hemp fashions is making me nervous. It’s not the hipster factor that has me feeling uncomfortable, it’s that we’re crammed so tightly together. I fear my newly bought gluten-free goodies are sure to get crushed. Plus I’ve got my husband to contend with.
Markets aren’t Dan’s scene at the best of times, but the extreme organic factor is making him edgy. I try to shut out his running commentary on the irony of latent communists with iPhone plans, but when he asks, “How much pottery does one province need?” I concede defeat.
We’re at Salt Spring Island’s Saturday Market, where purveyors must either make it, bake it, or grow it themselves (legal crops only) in order to sell at this popular bazaar. Peddlers set up their wares in Centennial Park from from April to the end of October, and await weekend visitors from Vancouver Island to snap up their bounty.
Arguably the most popular of the Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island is home to approximately 10,000 eclectic residents. The influx of “artistic types” in the early 1970s earned this island a reputation for being a prime spot to tune in and drop out. The hippies have grown up, but that doesn’t stop free-loving spirits from flocking to this island of the arts. More than 30 art studios dot the isle, and taking a self-guided tour gives visitors a unique look at the lives and work developed by these creative minds.
Boasting a burgeoning culinary scene, the island’s farm-to-table approach is obvious. Driving from the ferry terminal to the village of Ganges, we pass by several kiosks selling eggs, produce, and honey (and more Westfalias than you’ve ever seen in your life).
Culinary Delights on Salt Spring Island
Plenty of day trippers make a market trek each Saturday, but do yourself a favour and claim a cosy overnight at Harbour House Hotel. Built in 1925, the largest hotel in the Gulf Islands boasts full harbour views, and is a short walk from Ganges.
But the big draw here is its 2.5 -acre farm that supplies up to 80% of the restaurant’s produce in the summer (and an impressive 50% during the winter). What’s on the menu? Take a tour with farm manager Rob Scheres, a spry 77-year-old gardener who in the past five years has transformed this small plot of land behind the hotel into a space that grows more than 70 varieties of produce, herbs, and fruit, in addition to managing eight beehives for honey and tapping into the Bigleaf maple trees for maple syrup. Guests are also encouraged to gather eggs from the chicken coop for breakfast, and to make friends with the resident sheep and goats.
The restaurant, under the helm of chef Brooke Winters, offers fine dining, but you’ll find burgers, ribs, and chicken wings on the menu, too. “The menu’s based on what we’ve got,” reminds Scheres. The whole-roasted farm garlic platter with Salt Spring Island goats cheese, olives, and sourdough is like a charcuterie board without the meat. And you can’t go wrong with any of the seafood dishes such as a pot of clams and fresh sockeye salmon.
Foodies will want to take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary guided van tours. “The tours give our guests a good taste of the island,” says Tania Aguila, program director at Harbour House. Tours take 2.5 hours, and can be customized depending on preference and season. At Salt Spring Island Cheese you’ll see how the cheese is made while wee-ones visit the goats at the petting zoo. While popping into Salt Spring Vineyards and Salt Spring Lavender will get you salivating for your next meal.
Heading back to the ferry, I think I spot my old poli-sci professor hustling bracelets made out of arbutus seeds, and quickly point him out to Dan.
“See that old guy? The hippy over there?” I ask.
“You’re going to have to be more specific. There’s a lot of people milling about who I suspect are still dodging the draft,” he replies.
I realize he’s right, and that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Canada could use a little more colour, which you’re sure to find on Salt Spring Island.
More About Harbour House Hotel
Location: 121 Upper Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island, BC
Contact: Telephone 1-250-537-5571 or 1-888-799-5571 (toll-free); www.saltspringharbourhouse.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Room Rates: From $99 a night during low season to $239 a night during high season. Packages: For $378 + tax stay in a harbour view room for two nights mid-week (single or double occupancy), and take a complimentary Taste of Salt Spring Tour with an experienced guide that has met the Tourism BC course requirements.
More Information: Visit British Columbia’s tourism site for additional details about Salt Spring Island.