by Quinn MacDonald

Home to the Coast Salish people since time immemorial, the Gulf Islands Park Reserve encompasses 15 islands and many islets and reefs in the Salish Sea and is the perfect spot for a summer paddle trip. There are several culturally and ecologically rich routes to choose from, depending on your ability and availability. Visit bcmarinetrails.org to find an appropriate route and other resources.

A shore of the gulf islands with a lighthouse at sunset
Photo: Kalina Hunter

If you start your trip on Salt Spring Island, time it so you can stroll the famous Saturday market, then stock up on cheese for your picnic breaks—and say hi to the goats—at the Salt Spring Cheese Company and fill your growler at Salt Spring Island Ales before picking up a kayak from Salt Spring Adventures in Ganges Harbour. They also offer guided tours if that’s more your style.

WILD THYME ON SATURNA

Whether you paddle to, from, or past Saturna Island, make sure you stop in at Wild Thyme for a snack upstairs in the famous double-decker 1963 Leyland Lowlander. The bus came to Canada to transport the British team at the 1978 Edmonton Commonwealth Games. Somehow it made its way to a Surrey tow yard where lifelong Saturna resident and Wild Thyme owner Aleah Johnson found it in rough shape in 2012. She spent five-and-a-half months gutting and refurbishing it with the help of the whole local community before opening later that year. “Everybody and their dog came out and helped,” she says, “so everybody has a sort of personal stake in the story.

Wild Thyme owner Aleah Johnson leans on the serving window of her bus
Photo: Aleah Johnson

While it wasn’t part of the original plan, Johnson now credits the bus with Wild Thyme’s success. People visit from as far as Ontario and Wisconsin to see it, while her “regulars” come by boat from surrounding islands, the Mainland, and even California. Wild Thyme is open from Thursday to Sunday and holiday Mondays from Easter until Thanksgiving. The menu changes daily depending on how Johnson feels and what local Saturna farmers have dropped off.

TWIN ISLAND CIDER ON PENDER

The idea for Twin Island Cider sparked about five years ago when Matthew Vasilev started making cider from the 90-year-old apple trees on his grandpa’s Pender Island property. This summer marks the business’s third year and second season of sales. Vasilev and his partner, Katie Selbee, pull fruit from heirloom trees on their business partners’ property, contract orchards, and various backyards across Pender and other Gulf Islands, as well as 900 new bittersweets and bittersharps they planted and grafted. They use wild fermentation with naturally occurring yeasts, an unpredictable process that pairs well with their unique fruit. “We like our batches to be really different,” says Selbee. “We also like really funky and farmhouse style ciders.”

A person holds two bottles of Twin Island cider
Photo: Katie Selbee

Constants include a Baldwin blend and an old growth, this year consisting of King of Tompkins County and Gravenstein apples, while special small batches like a quince-pear-apple and a cider aged on blackberries and Datsun plums will be released throughout the summer and early fall. By fermenting heirloom apples, Twin Island is also preserving local history—the Gulf Islands were once the largest apple-producing region in B.C.—working with trees that are up to 120 years old. “I think we’ve found about 30 varieties, at least, that we can name on the Island and then some that we just don’t know, nobody really knows, which is kind of exciting too,” says Selbee.

Last year, Parks Canada let visitors gather from orchards on several islands in the Park Reserve. If you’re visiting closer to the fall, check to see if you can take part.

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