Thursday, September 8, 2011
I’m a city girl. I may have grown up in a town with more horses than people, but ever since I left for college I have been addicted to the urban lifestyle. From Providence to Prague, San Francisco to San Diego, my city dwelling sometimes makes me forget important things like where my food comes from. So when a good friend in London found out that I was going to a wedding in Washington near her parents’ farm on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, she encouraged me to travel to Canada to visit them.
I didn’t hesitate to take her up on it. After my stay in La Conner, I got a ride from a friend to the nearby ferry terminal in Anacortes. From there I made the two-hour crossing to Sidney, BC on Vancouver Island.
Once in Sidney, I spent some time walking around the town. Most shops and restaurants were closed on account of it being Labour Day (yes, they spell it with a ‘u’ in Canada), but I still enjoyed walking around the pretty streets and bright, sunny harbor.
From Sidney it was a quick 10-minute bus ride to Swartz Bay, where I caught my ferry to Salt Spring Island. BC Ferries had offered me a complimentary ticket on the 35-minute ride, and I was glued to the beautiful views of the Gulf Islands out the window the entire time. In fact, I could have even sat outside on the roof for a unique open-air experience.
When I alighted at Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island, my friend’s mother picked me up and drove us the short distance to Ruckle Provincial Park, where she and her husband ran the oldest working farm in British Columbia.
Ruckle Heritage Farm was a large expanse of land where my friend’s parents raised everything from lambs to highland cattle, agricultural crops to flowers, and just about anything else the soil would yield.
My first evening at Ruckle Heritage Farm on Salt Spring Island was spent getting to know my hosts and their WWOOFer. No, a WWOOFer isn’t a dog (although they did have some adorable dogs and cats). It’s an acronym for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.
They had been hosting WWOOFers for years, and showed me several albums with photos and letters from volunteers from all over the world. Each had stayed on the farm for several weeks or months to help with everything from bottle-feeding spring lambs to making crabapple jelly, which their current WWOOFer was in the process of doing.
The next morning I woke up, made some eggs that had come from the farm’s chickens, and set off to explore the provincial park. Not since my childhood had I had the opportunity to live in a house where there were hiking trails just down the street. I walked to the nearest one, passing my hosts’ abundant farm stand on the way, and set off.
I went through beautiful forested land, complete with shadowy moss-covered trees, big black slugs, and giant green leaves that filtered sunlight onto the trail. It was gorgeous.
Soon the forest gave way to shoreline, and I found myself at a pebble beach. From there I walked along the water’s edge and discovered Ruckle Provincial Park’s waterfront campground, which was the largest in the Gulf Islands. In front of me ferries plied the routes between the land on the glassy water.
Back at Ruckle Farm, I was met by a friend of my hosts’ that had generously offered to take me around the island for the afternoon. We started by traveling on the long road to Ganges, the main town on Salt Spring Island. On the way we passed Mount Bruce, several wineries, and lots of signs for farm stands and art galleries.
Once in Ganges, we met up with my friend’s mother for lunch on the terrace at the Harbour House hotel. I had salmon and cod cakes and a big salad from the hotel’s organic garden, as well as a glass of white wine from one of the island’s wineries.
After lunch we walked around Ganges, stopping first at Embe Bakery for delicious butter tarts. From there we went to Island Escapades to see their shop. We also saw the accommodation upstairs with its gorgeous views of the water, and the racks of kayaks that they use to take visitors out to white shell beaches (one of the owners has even kayaked all the way from Salt Spring Island to Alaska).
After that we walked around the shopping area and went to the new Tuesday market. The town’s Saturday market is famous and attracts people from all over British Columbia, and I was sad that my visit didn’t coincide with it.
Once we finished exploring Ganges and the market, we got back in the car and drove around to St Mary Lake, the largest on the island. We also drove out to the west coast, then headed over to Cusheon Lake to sunbathe on the dock outside of my guide’s house. It was absolutely gorgeous outside, and I wish we could have sat by the peaceful water in the sunshine forever.
But we couldn’t. We had a boat to catch. No, it wasn’t a ferry. It was my friend’s parents’ boat. We boarded the boat in its trailer at their house, and her father pulled us behind his tractor through the farm. It was the first time I had ever ridden in a boat through fields full of sheep, and it was fun.
But it was even more fun when we got to the water. My friend’s father runs a business called Silver Spoon Charters, in which he takes people out fishing in the area around Salt Spring Island. Given that he had come home that morning with some good-looking salmon that he had caught, I was pretty sure he was an expert fisherman (and even more sure when he came home with more good-looking salmon the next morning).
But we weren’t out to fish that evening. We were out for a trip to nearby Mayne Island for dinner. It was the first time I had ever boated to dinner (well, with the exception of Bermuda), and I was excited.
After jetting across the water and through the channel where ferries from Vancouver to Victoria travel, we docked at Miners Bay in front of Springwater Lodge. There we enjoyed dinner on the terrace. I had a dish of prawns with asparagus and lemon, which hit the spot.
After dinner we boated back to Salt Spring Island and Ruckle Heritage Farm. The sun was setting, making beautiful views across the water and over the mountains.
We weren’t the only ones that enjoyed the views, either. A group of seals lounging on the nearby rocks were also out for the evening, as was a beautiful eagle perched in a tree.
Back on land, I spent my last evening on the island with a delicious dessert of homemade cupcakes. The next morning I took one final hike through the woods and out to the beach. Afterwards I had another good breakfast from the farm, this one in the form of homemade blackberry jam and crabapple jelly on toast.
My ferry from Fulford Harbour to Swartz Bay departed just before noon. As I left, I waved good-bye to Ruckle Heritage Farm on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia with a heavy heart. I may be a city girl now, but my time there almost convinced me to give it all up. For now, I will just have to persuade my friend to pack me in her suitcase next time she travels home to Canada to visit her parents.