A combined car and ferry ride of about 75 minutes separates Victoria and Salt Spring Island, two British Columbia destinations with charms vastly distinct from each other, as well as from the rest of Canada. One thing Victoria and Salt Spring Island share in common is a deep commitment to being LGBT-friendly - this region is among the most politically progressive in North America.
Despite being quite close to Victoria as well as Vancouver (an easy ferry or float-plane ride across the Georgia Strait) and its somewhat sizable summer crowds, Salt Spring Island (SSI) enjoys a peaceful vibe and a contented-snail's pace. The commercial hub, Ganges Village, feels less cluttered and touristy than Friday Harbor, its nearby U.S. counterpart in Washington's San Juan Islands. Throughout this wooded, hilly island of slightly more than 10,000 residents you'll find galleries and studios, driftwood-strewn beaches, hiking and biking trails aplenty, and waterways ideal for fishing and sea-kayaking - visitors tend to choose SSI in search of tranquility and amazing scenery.
For such a small island, there's also a pronounced LGBT scene. SSI holds a Salt Spring Pride celebration each year in early September (it's in its 12th year). The date this year is September 8 through September 11.
Salt Spring Island Pride consisted of four days of celebration and parties - it's quite a fete for a little island without relatively little in the way of nightlife. A number of parties and events are held, starting with a Thursday-night film screening of Upstairs Inferno at the Fritz Theatre. Then there's live music, food, and drinks at a Loud and Proud party in festive Moby's Pub on Friday.
Saturday, September 10, is the main event for SSI Gay Pride. There's Carnival of Pride and Protest outside the public library at 11 am, followed by the Salt Spring Island Pride Parade, kicking off at noon outside the library, continuing through the main village of Lower Ganges, and then returning to the library for a 2 pm dance. That evening at Fulford Hall, you can attend the Queer as Funk dance party at 7:30 pm, with dancing to the music of DJ Slade.
Finally, on Sunday, events wrapped up with a Unitarian Pride Service at 10:30 am at the Lower Ganges Seniors Centre.
There's lots to see and do on this peaceful island. As noted above, getting here requires either one ferry ride from Victoria or other parts of Vancouver Island, two ferry rides if coming from Vancouver or Seattle, or a potential quick and easy (though spendy) float-plane ride - by air, the island is just 35 miles from Vancouver, and 95 miles from Seattle. SaltSpring Air has service from Vancouver, and Kenmore Air flies from Seattle.
You can find out more on the area by consulting online resources like GayVan.com's Victoria Gay Guide and by reading our Salt Spring Island Gay Guide. For travel and tourism info on SSI, consult the website of Salt Spring Island Tourism, which has loads of helpful information, and the excellent site about the Vancouver Island produced by Destination BC.
Elsewhere in the Gulf Islands
If planning a trip to SSI, you might also think about considering a visit to some of the other nearby islands that make up this archipelago, known collectively as Canada's Gulf Islands. SSI is the clear favorite destination in the LGBT community, but there are other gems nearby. Like Salt Spring Island, the neighboring Gulf Islands have green, heavily forested slopes, interrupted only by the occasional rocky promontory. The water around them is dark - almost black. The sun shines here far more than it does in mainland BC, giving these jewels an enchanting climate.
The other islands are sleepier, with cottages clinging to their shores and tiny commercial centers.
Galiano Island, a 16-mile sliver of wilderness with about 1,250 year-round residents, is more remote and wooded than Salt Spring (it's just 4 miles from SSI across Trincomali Channel), but still fairly popular with visitors, owing to its vast opportunities for sailing, sea kayaking, scuba diving, and hiking. The island has many fine outdoor outfitters and guides, and several parks with maintained trails. If you have time enough for one additional island, try to come here.
Quiet, squat Mayne Island (population 1,100), just south of Galiano and east of Salt Spring, has rolling hills and not much in the way of activities, accommodations, or shopping. It's easy to drive or bike the whole island in one afternoon; many visitors come to explore tidal pools, unspoiled beaches, and coastal woodland. The hike up 837-foot Mt. Parke doesn't take more than a half hour; the views of Vancouver and Vancouver Island from the peak are incomparable. Mayne was the first island developed by settlers, but growth has been virtually nil since the turn of the last century.
Other nearby jewels in the archipelago include bustling and slightly more developed Pender Island (population 2,250) and quiet Saturna Island (population 350), which is just 8 miles across Boundary Pass from Orcas Island, one of the U.S. San Juan Islands in Washington.