Salt Spring Island was and still is Coast Salish territory. A small 43 acre reserve on the eastern side of Fulford Harbour was established in 1877 and still provides breath taking un-populated vistas of the Southern Gulf Islands today. Many of the first settlers that came to the island in 1858 were African Americans fleeing from racism in California to a place where they had the same rights as everyone else. Other early settlers such as Hawaiians that were hired to work in the whaling industry and in fur trade posts in North Western BC, settled on Salt Spring once their contract ended. Japanese labourers settled on Salt Spring beginning in 1890.

saltspring_history2After the bombing in 1941 of Pearl Harbour, the Japanese living on the west coast were “expelled” from the coast and interned in the interior. The Japanese on Salt Spring suffered this same fate. In 1949 the Japanese were allowed to return to the coast. In 1954 just a couple of the Japanese families returned to Salt Spring. Upon their return they found that the government had sold all of their land and possessions. One family, the Murakami’s, continue to reside on Salt Spring and today are business owners and highly respected Salt Spring Island residents.

White settlers came to Salt Spring in 1859. Land in Victoria was expensive and there was a large unemployed population. Settlers were given the approval to pre-empt land in the Chemainus district which included Salt Spring. On July 27, 1859 the first white settlers began to arrive by ship to Salt Spring Island.

Salt Spring was, and still is, an important source of natural resources and diverse environment, however, as far as the settlers and pioneers were concerned it was geographically rugged and much of the land that was to be farmed had to be cleared of the huge Douglas Firs that populate the island. This was only one of the many problems the first settlers had to overcome. Another was the fact that the island had no roads, wharves, regular transport to and from the island, stores, mail service or people to hire for help. Most had little or no farming experience and had not brought many supplies or farming equipment with them.

The local environment had sustained the aboriginals for years and it proved sustainable to these first settlers as well. The population increased and island services such as schools, churches, groceries and supply stores were opened to facilitate the needs of the settlers. Small businesses began to grow; farming local fruits, vegetables and animals, the lucrative logging industry, and the not so lucrative mining explorations.

By the 1930s the island’s reputation grew and the word got out to vacationers and resorts were opened to welcome these early tourists. By the 1960s, artists such as potters, painters, stained-glass and basket makers, woodworkers, quilters and paper makers began arriving on the island and started what is now the heart of island culture.


The name of the island has changed over the years. The Cowichan called it Klaathem (meaning ‘salt’). The Saanich called it Cuan (meaning ‘each end’ referring to mountains at each end of the island). In a letter written in 1853 the island was referred to as Chuan. In the late 1850′s it was renamed Admiral Island in honour of Rear-Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes.

The island became known as Salt Spring because of the North End salt springs which exist today. The Geographic Board of Canada adopted the name Saltspring in 1905 although Canada Post and many residents prefer it spelled Salt Spring (two words). Want to visit the Salt Spring’s today? They are located at the Salt Spring Spa Resort.

If you found this informative, you will love what you find at the Salt Spring Archives located in the new Salt Spring Public Library. Located at the Farmer’s Institute is the Bittancourt House & Salt Spring Museum where all artifacts on display were donated from local farms, homes and businesses located on the Island – a real insight into the live of our founding families!

Salt Spring has the oldest continuously used school in BC which is The Little Red School House which was built in 1885 and is located near Beaver Point Hall and Ruckle Provincial Park. It now operates as a well attended pre-school. Salt Spring oldest church is Saint Paul’s Catholic Church in Fulford Harbour which was built in 1880.

The Village of Ganges was named after HMS Ganges, a Royal Navy Battleship launched in 1821 which visited Salt Spring Island (Admiral Island at the time) between 1823 and 1861 conducting land surveys. Some of the Island’s villages are named after Captain and Crew of the HMS Ganges including Fulford Harbour and Southey Point in addition to Ganges Village.