by Tina Kelly –
To me, a good trip requires a plane, train, boat or other mode of transportation I don’t use on a regular basis; for me this includes a car. Ideally my destination exposes me to experiences connected to history, culture – architecture, people, museums – and nature or green space. That is the travel trifecta I am seeking. London would do. Toronto fits the bill and that other Sydney has it in spades. But you hardly need to venture that far; hop on a boat and travel out to our nearby Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
Coast Salish people have lived on and around the Gulf Islands for thousands of years. A clam garden – evidence of this cultural history – is found on Russell Island. Indigenous peoples actively tended this intertidal garden. By constructing a rock wall at low tide they altered the slope of the beach and increased the area suitable for their preferred clam species. To view this walled garden, visit during the lowest tides of the year. If you’re lucky you may happen upon Parks Canada staff conducting eco-restoration of the site.
Signs of other past Russell Island inhabitants are more obvious: a homestead, out buildings and an apple orchard reflect a settlement of Hawaiians in the late 1800s. During the summer months, Mahoi descendants stay onsite and detail their family history to island visitors. Russell Island is accessible by private boat or water taxi.
A passenger ferry to Sidney Island departs at the end of Sidney’s Beacon Avenue through Labour Day weekend. Expansive stretches of beach (see above pic) and easy forested trails expose the keen explorer to interpretive signs, an array of flora and fauna, ancient Indigenous middens and ruins and remnants of an early 1900s brick factory. Visit on a Sunday through August 26 and take part in “Sidney Spit Snappy Chats” Parks program.
Two of the larger Southern Gulf Islands – Saturna and Pender – feature parcels of park land and are reached by BC Ferries via Swartz Bay. Saturna Island’s East Point swirls with ocean currents resulting in a rich soup feeding many species. Wildlife viewing at this spot is among the best in the region. Friday summer nights at East Point take in the Parks program “Sunset Wildlife Watch.”
Like the park land on Saturna, Pender Island has mountains, forests and seaside beaches. At Parks Canada’s Roesland waterfront site, you’ll find the Pender Islands Museum, a quaint museum run by the Pender Islands Historical Society. On Friday August 10 at 8 p.m., Parks Canada hosts “Bats, Boötes and Bioluminescence” at Roesland.
Accommodation for a trip to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is inexpensive; stay at home and take day trips or book a campsite nestled in nature. One travel perk is missing: a hip café and exotic foods. Pack water and your favourite picnic foods with you when you go.
With access to a private boat or water taxi, more than a dozen islands in the park can be explored (including D’Arcy Island, a former leper colony). Travel near and experience local Indigenous culture, human history and bountiful natural diversity.
Interested in learning more about the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve? Visit www.pc.gc.ca or the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea to speak with a Parks Canada Interpreter Thursday-Tuesday through the end of August. Open daily at 10 a.m.