A new way to experience the islands’ terroir


I published this in Island Tides on January 17, 2013

The natural capital of the islands and coasts of the Salish Sea is our geography, geology and climate—our terroir, to borrow a word from French wine production. It is an apt borrowing if we consider the product of our terroir to be our communities. At terroir’s core is the assumption that the land (and sea) imparts unique qualities specific to the site; our communities are the way they are because of their terroir. People from outside certainly recognize this and find it desirable. And so do Islanders, though often we are so embedded in our setting that we forget how truly precious and unique it is.

Many join us for weekends and holidays to get a taste of the terroir, to join in and to carry away an ambience which changes and enriches their lives elsewhere. Probably more would visit if we could intensify that taste; make it more an experience than a tourist trip. We don’t have non-stop sun, adventure or Disney, but we do have a way of life full of wonder, friendship, endeavour, commitment, quirkiness, humour and romance.

Like good farmers, we could treasure and cultivate our terroir, making it possible for more people to see and feel what we feel. In creating the experience for others, we would intensify for ourselves what and who we are at our happiest.

Galiano’s Ed Andrusiak has a vision, one backed by a good deal of experience. And Ed is expanding his vision from Galiano outwards. On December 15, he visited Pender to talk to about his ‘Experience the Gulf Islands’ idea. Twenty-five people, representing several groups, came to listen at Hope Bay Bible Camp. So far he is thinking Southern Gulf Islands, mainly because that is the jurisdiction of a recently formed Economic Development Commission which may be able to provide a boost.

‘The Gulf Islands way of life is the experience,’ he says. As we continue to live our dreams and desires, we could make it easy for others to take part for a while. This would in turn enrich our lives and even bring some income. Ed sees ‘Experience the Gulf Islands’ as part of the world’s ‘slow’ movement.

To date, the proposal would link the Southern Gulf Islands: North and South Pender, Mayne, Galiano and  Saturna via a series of hiking/biking trails and marine facilities that look beyond current ferry traffic. Mayne Island has absorbed the idea and is quite gung-ho, with 20 people working on the initiative.

The project could also link with the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island trail systems. Ed sees a model in the ‘Experience the Fraser’ project, on which he worked while Manager of Metro-Vancouver’s Regional Parks System prior to his retirement two years ago. Experience The Fraser will link the town of Hope to the Salish Sea via trails and water route and is expected to be complete for Canada’s Sesquicentennial Anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

The Experience the Gulf Islands network could also become part of the Trans Canada Trail system.

Meanwhile, the plan is to build on what already exists, or has been thought of, in each island community. Much ground work has already been done by groups and organizations. Largely it is a matter of joining the dots and getting the word out.

Current specifics of ‘Experience the Gulf Islands’ include: separating pedestrian and cycle traffic from conventional road systems, encouraging non-motorized visitors and activities, and developing trails and water routes to include recreational, cultural, and heritage activities. Ed talks about ‘nodes’ comprising accommodation, food and interpretation. An enriching component is to teach and tell more about what’s here and who we are.

Developing alternative water connections between the Islands to rekindle historic relationships that created the Island communities is part of the plan. Using new connections, like the internet, and new cultural trends also have their place.

Why not link with other islands farther north, right up to the Discovery Islands? say I. There is a critical mass that would make us visible to a worldwide discerning audience.

Centrally located, Gabriola Island is already reaching out to the south with its annual multi-island Gathering on Galiano and with an Island Studies Conference next May at Haven By The Sea. Salt Spring also has an Economic Development Commission and many other groups with whom this initiative will resonate.

Not only does Andrusiak think big, he also thinks long-term: ‘We need a generational vision, then we do what we can now.’


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