An island of artists
As gorgeous as the scenery is, the best place to get a sense of the island is at the Saturday Market. This institution draws more than 150 local artisans and organic farmers ― and scads of visitors ― to Ganges' waterfront Centennial Park. It's in the still-cool early morning when Doug Hall usually arrives to set up his booth. The island's self-described Masala Wallah ― Hindi terms roughly translated as "spice-mixture purveyor" ― Hall is one of the owners of Monsoon Coast Spices.
"The first thing I do while my partner's doing prep is go down the farmers' alley and buy fresh bread and all my vegetables for the week," says Hall. With the shopping done, he sets about introducing visitors to his unique spice blends while doling out a stew flavored with Moroccan La Kama spice or cups of Railway Chai.
For all the food and the artwork, though, the market is more than a place to shop--it's a community forum. You're as likely to see people doing communal Tai Chi, mounting a peace protest, or passing environmental petitions as shopping for produce. Hall enjoys it all the more for its eccentric nature. "What you get around the market and the park on a Saturday is a distillation of Salt Spring," says Hall. "It's wonderful."
After the market, everyone disappears into the island's nooks and crannies, and it's worth going to seek out the artists and growers where they live and work. Enter local Wendy Hartnett, owner of Island Gourmet Safaris, a tour company that leads visitors to restaurants, galleries, and wineries, with tastings of remarkable food along the way. "The year before I started my business, I went to Cannon Beach, Oregon, and I thought, Wow," says Hartnett. "There are signs, it's well organized, and it's made for visitors. To me, Salt Spring Island isn't like that."
Yet the island's disorganization and unmarked roads are also part of its charm. "Getting to know it is like opening a tightly wrapped present," Hartnett says. On her tours, the joy of discovery comes in delicious forms: smoked salmon-topped wood-fired pizzas at the out-of-the-way Raven Street Market-Café; chocolate ice-wine truffles at Harlan's Chocolates; and an afternoon wine- and cheese-tasting at Salt Spring Vineyards, which has sweeping views of the Fulford Valley.