Arts and Farm Culture on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
With farm stands galore, an abundance of talented artists and a culture of health and wellness, Salt Spring Island ranks high on the Pacific Northwest bucket list. Tucked between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland, Salt Spring is the largest and most-populated of the Southern Gulf Islands, with more than 70 square miles of natural beauty, small villages and retreat options that make it perfect for a quick getaway.
Salt Spring Island’s artist cooperatives, galleries and open studios hold a special place in the hearts of creatives. Art lovers flock to the island in droves, whether it be to sell their creations or appreciate the diverse works of locals. Salt Spring hosts a combined farmers and artisan market with the largest display of artisans on the island every Saturday from April through October. Potters, jewelers, woodworkers and mixed media artists are just a few of the creators and craftspeople that showcase and sell their work. Each summer, the Salt Spring Arts Council puts on ArtCraft, a daily gallery exhibiting a wide selection of works ranging from paintings and ceramics to silk scarves and greeting cards. Featuring the creations of more than 100 artists, ArtCraft has been operating for more than 40 years and is one of B.C.’s largest art exhibits.
Almost as famous as its art scene, Salt Spring’s rich agriculture industry is apparent through its myriad of farm stands and markets, many of which collect payments via honor boxes. Eggs, jams, cheese and flowers are shared between farmers, residents and visitors all across town.
From lavender and lambs’ wool to giant, sustainable greenhouses like those at The Garden, Salt Spring’s agricultural offerings are nearly as diverse as its artists. One of the island’s surprises is the cool Mediterranean microclimate that supports the growth of vineyards and olive groves. Canada’s only olive farm is in Salt Spring’s Fulford Valley, boasting nearly 3,000 olive trees across 72 acres. In addition to olives and olive oil, the farm also produces blueberries, grapes, papaya, kale, garlic and more.
Though Salt Spring’s surrounding waters are popular with beachgoers, anglers and sailing enthusiasts, there’s also plenty of inland adventure. For those who want to indulge their competitive side, the island has disc golf events throughout the year at Mouat Park and the Salt Spring Island Golf and Country Club.
Salt Spring’s awe-inspiring hiking routes include trails in Mount Erskine Provincial Park and Ruckle Provincial Park. Both areas are rife with wooded paths, coastal views and lots of room to explore. If you’d rather drive to a view, the steep, gravel road to the summit of Mount Maxwell is a rough ride that’s worth the bumps; park officials recommend high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles and cautious driving.
The island has a diverse array of wildlife, unique ecosystems and large tracts of land set aside for conservation. Bears, mountain lions and leatherback sea turtles are rarely spotted; more common are deer, seals, sea lions, whales, porpoises and a variety of bats. Salt Spring is a lesser-known birding destination for species such as Anna’s hummingbirds, belted kingfishers, California quails and snowy owls.
Retreats for Every Lifestyle
A recent influx of remote workers and semi-retired individuals from Vancouver has resulted in an abundance of wellness retreats across the island. From practicing barre to learning how to press oils, retreat topics cater to a wide variety of hobbies and interests. Solace Organic Spa provides private and shared overnight retreats for those seeking a relaxing atmosphere and rejuvenating ambiance with services such as pedicures, massages and foot reflexology. Salt Spring Centre of Yoga also offers wellness retreats for groups and families. For those who want to further indulge, Stowel Lake Farm offers retreats as well as classes and apprenticeships for the culinary-oriented.
–Written by Maggy Lehmicke, last updated in September 2022.