Saltspring Island


One of the things our son Stef had planned for this road trip was a visit to Saltspring Island.  While Chris and I had been there, it was many years ago and we were quite game to see it again. Stef said there were some friends of  his there that he wanted to visit.

Saltspring Island was originally inhabited by various Salishan peoples before it was settled by European pioneers in 1859. At that time it was called Admiral Island. It was the first of all the Gulf Islands to be settled and has become  the most populous of them all. It is also the largest and most frequently visited of all of the islands. It was the first agricultural settlement in what was called the Colony of Vancouver Island and was the first island to permit settlers to acquire land by pre-emption. Neither the settlers nor the government of Britain (who controlled Canada a the time through its colonial government) made any treaty with the local indigenous people who acquiesced in allowing the new people into their territory.

Settlers were allowed to occupy and later purchase land if they first “improved” it. At least they considered it improved. This was the primary way that land passed into the hands of settlers. They could purchase it for $1 per acre. As a result of this method there is a fairly good historical record of what happened to the land.

I am not sure what gave the “authorities” the notion that they had the right to sell land that they themselves had never purchased. In law the violates a fundamental principle: there is Latin phrase we lawyers use that means, you cannot convey a better title than you have. It is an interesting notion they inherited as a result of being English or successors to the English.

The early settlers included African-Americans, Hawaiians, English, Irish and Scottish. Most of them were subsistence farmers. Many abandoned the farms they “bought” after they were not able to make a sufficient living. Most of those who survived needed side jobs fishing or logging to make a go of it.

The Indigenous people called the island xʷənen̕əč. Other Saanich names on the island include was initially inhabited by Salishan peoples of various tribes. Other Saanich place names on the island include the following: t̕θəsnaʔəŋ̕ (Beaver Point), čəw̕een (Cape Keppel), xʷən̕en̕əč (Fulford Harbour), and syaxʷt (Ganges Harbour). Don’t ask me to pronounce those names.

The island has had some interesting history since contact. It became a sanctuary for refugees for black African Americans who wanted to escape the racism of the United States. Many of the blacks left California in 1858 after the state of California passed discriminatory legislation against African-Americans. Representatives of the refugees visited the Governor, James Douglas, about what kind of treatment they could expect. Douglas was in fact a Guyanese man of multi-ethnic birth and assured them that slavery had been abolished here more than 20 years earlier and that they would be well treated on the island. By an interesting twist of history, a little more than a 100 years later the island again became a refuge for American draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam War.

Located between Mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island has a population of 10,557 inhabitants. For such a small population, Saltspring Island has a surprising number of well known people. Particularly artists and entertainers seem to love it. The notables include Randy Bachman of the Guess Who, Canada’s most famous artist Robert Bateman, former CBC host Arthur Black whom I regularly listened to about 20 years ago, Brian Brett a very unusual poet, novelist, writer, and raconteur who I listened to on CBC’s Sunday Edition, a couple of days later on our way back home. It is also home to  Stuart Margolin, an actor who played Angel, an extremely colourful character on one of my favorite television shows of all time, Rockford Files with James Garner. Musicians Raffi and Valdy also call the island home.  Ronald Wright author of one of my favorite books on Indigenous issues, Stolen Continents also lives there. For a community about 2/3 the population of Steinbach they sure do punch above their weight in famous people.

These are not famous people. They are Stef, Charli and their buddies. After lunch we drove a short distance to the Wild Cider a cider bar where we met 6 of his friends. The young people were from around the world. 1 was a Saltspring resident, and he was partnered with a girl who now lives there two but came from Nova Scotia. One young couple was from New Zealand the other from Australia. World Citizens. They all seemed to be great friends enjoying each other’s company. They even put up with Stef’s old folks hanging around and included us in the conversation. Chris and I sampled a flight of ciders. Pretty good cider.

We spent so much time at the Cider Bar with Stef’s friends we had no time for anything else. We headed back to the ferry and then drove “home” to Sooke. It was a great day.

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