Gulf Islands

Saltspring/Spring Island

Saltspring Island (also known as Salt Spring Island) is one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia between mainland British Columbia, Canada and Vancouver Island. It is the largest, the most populated, and the most frequently visited of the Gulf Islands. The island was initially inhabited by various Salishan peoples before being settled by pioneers in 1859, at which time it was officially called "Admiral Island." It was the first of the Gulf Islands to be settled and the first agricultural settlement on the islands in the Colony of Vancouver Island, as well as the first island in the region to permit settlers to acquire land through pre-emption. The island was retitled to its current name in 1910.

Gulf Islands

Located between Mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island, Saltspring Island is the most frequently visited of the Gulf Islands as well as the most populated, with a population of about 10,500 as of 2008. It is also by area the largest of the islands, with an official measurement of 182.7 square kilometers (70.5 sq mi). The largest village on the island is Ganges. The island is known for its artists. In addition to Canadian dollars, island banks and most island businesses accept Saltspring's own local currency.

The island, initially inhabited by Salishan peoples of various tribes, became a refuge from racism for African Americans who had resided in the California. Settled in 1858 by black Americans who came north from California at the invitation of Governor James Douglas, himself a Guyanese mulatto, the island was not only the first of the Gulf Islands to be settled, but also, according to 1988's A Victorian Missionary and Canadian Indian Policy, the first agricultural settlement established anywhere in the Colony of Vancouver Island not owned by the Hudson's Bay Company or its subsidiary the Pugets Sound Agricultural Company.

Saltspring Island was also the first in the Colony of Vancouver Island and British Columbia to allow settlers to acquire land through pre-emption: settlers could occupy and improve the land before purchase, being permitted to buy it at a cost per acre of one dollar after proving they had done so. Before 1871 (when the merged Colony of British Columbia joined Canada), all property acquired on Saltspring Island was purchased in this way; between 1871 and 1881, it was still by far the primary method of land acquisition, accounting for 96% of purchases. As a result, the history of early settlers on Saltspring Island is unusually detailed. Demographically, early settlers of the island included not only African Americans, but also (largely) English and European, as well as Irish, Scottish, aboriginal and Hawaiian. The method of land purchase helped to ensure that the land was used for agricultural purposes and that the settlers were by and large families. Ruth Wells Sandwell in Beyond the City Limit indicates that few of the island's early residents were commercial farmers, with most families maintaining subsistence plots and supplementing through other activities, including fishing, logging and working for the colony's government. Some families abandoned their land altogether as a result of lack of civic services on the island or other factors, such as the livestock-killing cold of the winter of 1862.

During the 1960s the island once again became a refuge for US citizens, this time for draft dodgers during the Vietnam War.

The island was known as "Chuan" or "Chouan" Island in 1854, but it was also called "Saltspring" as early as 1855, in honor of the island's salt springs. In 1859, it was officially named "Admiralty Island" in honor of Rear-Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes by surveyor Captain Richards, who named various points of the island in honor of the Rear-Admiral and his flagship, HMS Ganges. Even while named "Admiralty Island", it was referred to popularly as Saltspring, as in James Richardson's report for the Geological Survey of Canada in 1872. According to records of the Geographic Board of Canada, the island was officially retitled Saltspring on March 1, 1910, though the year 1905 is given by unofficial sources. According to the Integrated Land Management Bureau of British Columbia, locals incline equally to Saltspring and Salt Spring for current use. The official chamber of commerce website for the island, which gives a date of 1906 for the renaming, adopts the two word title, stating that the Geographic Board of Canada, in choosing the one word name, "cared nothing for local opinion or Island tradition."

An interactive map of Salt Spring Island, part of the Gulf Island Maps collection, is available through That map is produced by Kenneth Fersht of Kmax Multimedia. The Salt Spring Island interactive map is an Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) file. The map is compatible with Adobe Acrobat readers version 6 and later.