"I moved to
Saturna Island in 1970 and fell in love with the deep quiet and the balance between human beings and the land," said Priscilla Ewbank, who, with her husband, operate Haggis Farm and the adjoining bakery. "On this small island we are a community, we're all interconnected, pulling together," she continued. "We want to keep it this way, however, the relentlessness of progress worries me."
Earlier I was aboard the
Mayne Queen chugging past isle after forest-bedecked isle deep into the south-eastern corner of the Gulf Islands archipelago. Sunshine glistened from the water. In the distance an eagle soared effortlessly.
My car bumped ashore and I set off to explore, driving leisurely, pleased that the drivers of the occasionally passing cars all gave friendly waves. At East Point Park I lazed amongst sun-warmed sandstone rocks sculpted by the wind and rain into unusual pock-mark patterns. Seals frolicked amongst the kelp beds. Just off shore, the tidal currents eddied and swirled around the point called Boiling Reef. Sailboats, with translucent sails skimmed the water like butterflies. Further out, enormous merchant steamers lumbered along. I was told that pods of Orcas, the famed killer whales often pass this way, their dorsal fins rising smoothly in and out of the water.
I ambled past the lighthouse to a secluded beach to explore shell beds, a jumble of driftwood logs left by winter storms and rocks exposed by the low tide. Purple and orange starfish clung tenaciously to rocks, and whenever I turned over a stone, tiny crabs scurried frantically. Two sleek sea kayaks paddled past.
I learned that life on Saturna is slow and relaxed. At the general store and post office, I lounged on the steps exchanging gossip with the locals. The atmosphere was friendly with a deep sense of belonging. The island, I discovered, is part of yesteryear with no "modern" distractions such as cell phones (no reception), traffic or gridlock (only 350 permanent residents), banks, pharmacies, movies or bowling alleys. Life is simple and revolves around nature and community.
Saturna's forests present a distinctly different character. I hiked along Lyall Creek trail under a canopy of towering cedars, alders and Douglas-firs, surrounded by ferns and moss covered logs. The lush greenery exhibited a primordial look and at any moment I expected a raptor or other Mesozoic creature to charge out of the dense foliage. Instead, I came upon a bench where I sat and watched a veil of water tumble over mossy rocks and a small cliff.
A pot-holed dirt road led over a long ridge to the 600-acre farm of Jim and Lorraine Campbell. In their late 80s, they and their daughter raise sheep and cattle on the rugged terrain below the cliffs. With two Australian sheep dogs at their side, we sat on the steps of their farmhouse. "When I arrived in 1932," said Lorraine, "there were only 60 residents and two cars." Jim, a former school trustee and councillor, said, "Life is simple. We produce almost all our food, and we love the peaceful, rural character of the island." He continued, echoing the concerns of most islanders, "but I worry about development changing our way of life."
Next door lies the island's main commercial enterprise, Saturna Island Family Estate Winery. Planted in 1995, the vineyards cover pretty, rolling fields caught between the sea and the cliffs. The towering ramparts reflect the sun and retain warmth, creating a microclimate ideal for Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and other popular wines.
As the sun drifted lower in the sky, I drove up a gravel road to Mount Warburton Pike, the highest point on Saturna. Spread before me like a feast were hundreds of islands including the San Juan's to the south and Pender, Salt Spring and many of the Gulf Islands to the west. The steep slope below was marked by ragged contour lines - tracks made by feral goats - and here and there I could make out a shaggy nanny or billy-goat. Of Saturna's rugged 96 square kilometres, for more than 50% is Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
As the sinking sun painted the clouds on the horizon shades of vermilion and flaming orange, a lone sailboat headed for harbour with a long shimmering v-shape trailing behind.
Next day I walked at Winter Cove past tidal marshes alive with the twittering of birds. Across the Strait of Georgia, cloud-enshrouded mountains of the mainland formed a ragged strip on the horizon. I sat on a sunny park bench lulled by the sound of tidal water gurgling through Boat Pass and surrounded by a field of elegant white lilies and blue-eyed Marys. Just outside the cove the wreck of a wooden tall ship lay impaled on a reef, its gloomy shape contrasting ominously with the bright glistening water.
Every July 1st, this serene spot transforms into one of the most tumultuous and unusual Canada Day celebrations in the country. The population of the island more than triples as an enormous flotilla of boats packs into the cove. Earlier, Jim Campbell explained how the lamb barbeque started in 1950 on his farm based on the gaucho tradition of the Argentine pampas. About 30 lambs are roasted on tall iron crosses like crucifixes set in a circle around a blazing fire. The sight is pagan, but the result is mouth-watering. The event also features a band, craft fair, dunk tank and contests for children and adults. "This is a true community effort," said Campbell, "virtually every person on the island contributes in some manner." A new recreation centre has arisen from the proceeds.
My respite soon came to an end, and I boarded the Mayne Queen. A handful of seagulls swooped behind as we chugged away. Gazing back, I was sad to be leaving this outpost of yesteryear.
Hans Tammemagi has written two travel books: Exploring Niagara - The Complete Guide to Niagara Falls & Vicinity and Exploring the Hill - A Guide to Canada's Parliament Past & Present. He is the environment columnist for the Vancouver sun.
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