Stormy Nights on the Gulf Islands
the darkness at nights.
Salt Spring Ferry
On the wet
coast of Canada, snuggled between the British Columbia mainland
and Vancouver Island, a cluster of more than a dozen islands rest in
the Straight of Georgia. Many of the islands have Spanish namesGaliano,
Cortez, Saturna, for example evidence of the first European explorers
in the area more than 200 years ago. They have long held a romantic
appeal to settlers in the region. The cliché in these parts is
that they are populated by aging hippies, writers and other assorted
misfits. The truth is that poets, potters and painters share the islands
with the super-rich, commuters and developers. Peter, a webmaster on
Salt Spring Island states: "There is such a vast variety of inhabitants
now: the very rich and the not so very rich. Environmentalists and developers."
Many of BCs foremost creative souls live here. To name-drop just
a few: crime novelist, William Deverell; performing artist and playwright,
Ann Mortifee; rock guitar legend Randy Bachman; world-renowned nature
painter Robert Bateman; and watercolourist Carol Evans. What the islanders
share is a self-reliant spirit and a desire to be close to the land
and to the sea. They seek a quiet, rural lifestyle, with the convenience
of Vancouver and Victoria both just short ferry hops away. There is
usually a positive, close-knit community spirit among the islandersexcept
when there is tension with developers seeking to spoil the rural charm.
The residents have chosen this lifestyle for a variety of motives. Kate
Carson, assistant to world-renowned nature painter and Salt Spring resident
Robert Bateman, notes that the Batemans moved to Salt Spring for several
reasons. "The 'push' came from the urban development in the 1970's
of the area in Ontario where the Batemans lived and worked, i.e., Burlington.
The 'pull' was from their desire to be closer to nature. Mrs. Bateman
also grew up in Vancouver and was familiar with the area.
Hailing originally from landlocked Manitoba, the gulf islands appealed
to Carolyn, a bed and breakfast owner on Galiano Island. "I always
have had a dream to live on a small island," she states. And, although
she commutes to her job in the Vancouver area each week during the school
year, the quiet of the rural island holds its appeal: "I love the
darkness at nights. I love being able to walk along the beaches, along
the bluffs and in to forested areas."
The inhabitants would love to keep their slice of lotus land private
from the world, however the secret is out. In summer, tourists flock
to the quaint B&Bs and the arts and crafts galleries that dot the
islands. The island dwellers some willingly, some begrudgingly
share their paradise and their pastimes such as whale and bird
watching, beachcombing, and lounging in hot tubs while watching sunsets
shimmer off the Straights waters. But, as winter approaches, the
festive atmosphere dissolves into drab, damp skies, a thick fog rolls
in, and harsh winds that can cut power for days at a time buffet the
islands. Tourist traffic reduces to a crawl. Many islanders enjoy the
solitude and quiet that winter brings, but others escape. Writer Deverell,
for example, is only a part-time Salt Spring resident: in the winter
he flees to the warmth of Costa Rica. "The weather changes with
a jolt. It gets dark and a raw East wind topples trees, knocks out power
and blows chimney smoke from the hills into the villages," notes
Peter. Of course, no part of the province escapes the grey, wet skies
of winter. Island winter weather is nothing compared to what is experienced
in the north, but the isolated reality of island life magnifies itself
during a fierce storm.
on an island means being dependent on and at the mercy of
thethe ferry service, which Peter remarks can often be unreliable:
"The ferries cancel and break down frequently... it really
hits me like a wake-up call. Remember, it is an island!" The
ferry schedule also limits the islanders freedom. "The
last ferry off the island is 8pm to Victoria and 9pm back
(it) limits what you do in the evening 'off island'
For those inhabitants
who live here year-round, fast approaching winter is not looked forward
to with dread. Rather it is a time to get in touch with friends and
catch up on hobbies and pastimes.
But isnt it an isolated place?
Kate states that Salt Spring has activities year-round; life does not
shut down just because the tourists have left. "Salt Spring Island
is big enough and has easy access to Vancouver Island so that it is
not isolated. There are courses and concerts all year, with a large,
creative population so there are lots of things to do. Young people
who are not creative or into sports find it isolated." Carolyn
concurs: "No the island is not an isolated place for me... It definitely
is much quieter in the winter months but there is always something going
on...." Peter adds: "Isolated? Only for me in the best sense
of the word, although there come times in the deepest darkest months
when a trip to bustling Victoria movie theatres and mallsbeckons."
Stewart Clayton - Writer/Teacher/Import-Export Business Developer -
Intern on hackwriters
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