Aboriginal peoples had several names for Salt Spring Island. The Cowichan called it Klaathem, which in their language means "salt." The Saanich called it CUAN, which means "each end," referring to mountains at each end of the island) Variations of this information have passed by word of mouth from generation to generation of Coast Salish people.
The first written mention of Salt Spring Island appeared in a letter written by Governor James Douglas in 1853, a year after he explored the east coast of Vancouver Island by canoe. Douglas believed that his discovery of salt springs on the island "would be of the greatest importance and become a wealth to the country"' His report was published with a map on which Salt Spring was labelled Chuan. The Cowichan had given this name, which means "facing the sea," to Mt. Tuam on the south end of the island. Over time Chuan became Tuan and eventually Tuam, which it remains today Meanwhile, the salt springs were sufficiently intriguing for Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant (in 1849 the first settler to purchase land on Vancouver Island) to use the name Saltspring Island on a map included in his 1856 "Description of Vancouver Island."
Captain George Henry Richards, who charted much of the northwest coast between 1857 and 1863, renamed the island Admiral Island in honour of Rear-Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes, commander in chief of the Pacific station at Esquimalt between 1857 and 1860. Post-Richards maps showed the island as Admiral island and Ganges Harbour as Admiralty Bay
The salt springs captured the popular imagination, however, and the island became known locally as Salt Spring (two words) Island, in spite of Grant's 1856 one-word spelling. Saltspring (one word) became the island's official name when the Geographic Board of Canada adopted it in 1905, although Canada Post - with the support of many residents - still prefers it spelled as two words.
Perhaps the debate over the island's name planted the seeds of Salt Spring islanders' contentious natures. Throughout this story, you'll find accounts of islanders lining up on opposite sides of issues, and even on opposite sides of nonissues. Perhaps this can be explained by the kind of people attracted to island life - strong-willed (stubborn?), independent (perhaps isolationist?), often unconventional individualists whose opinions and beliefs cover every possible position on any idea or issue. islanders find almost everything disputatious. Introduce an issue or express an opinion and you can expect lively debate.
Salt Spring Island covers about 182 square km and is about 27 km long and 14.4 km at its widest point. St. Mary Lake is by far the largest of the eleven named lakes on the island, and Bruce Peak at 709 m is the island's highest point.
The map of Salt Spring on the inside front cover of this book suggests the immense transportation and communications problems that early settlers faced on a mountainous island covered with old-growth forest and few roads. High ridges of uplands divide parts of the island from one another and the interior from the shoreline. Because of this geography, the early story of Salt Spring is largely the story of hard-working people in small isolated communities carving farms out of rugged terrain. It's no wonder that boats and water transportation were crucial to the early settlers and continue to be important to the island's well-being today
Broadwell's Mountain (now Channel Ridge) cut off settlers at what is now Fernwood on the east, and even St. Mary Lake in the centre, from Vesuvius Bay on the west. The mountainous Cranberry and Mt. Maxwell area was effectively cut off from all other parts of the island and was thus one of the last areas to be settled. This upland region also separated the north and south ends, ensuring that each end of the island would develop in blissful ignorance of the other. The Fulford-Burgoyne Valley, stretching between Burgoyne Bay in the northwest and Fulford Harbour to the south, formed a large area of its own. it was cut off on the east from the Beaver Point community by the upland area around Reginald Hill and on the west from the Musgrave community by what was once termed Musgrave Mountain (now Mt. Sullivan, Mt. Bruce, Hope Hill, and Mt. Tuam).
Landings and, later, wharves developed at Fernwood, Vesuvius Bay, and ultimately Ganges Harbour in the north and at Burgoyne Bay, Fulford Harbour, Beaver Point, and Musgrave Landing in the south. Settlers visited the closest Vancouver island port to receive their goods and mail and to ship their crops and livestock to the closest markets. For example, Vesuvius and Fernwood residents relied on ships plying the routes between Victoria and Nanaimo, occasionally making the voyage to Nanaimo in their own vessels. The few residents who used Ganges Harbour relied on their own vessels to travel to Victoria. Settlers using landings at Beaver Point and Fulford Harbour travelled either to the Saanich Peninsula and then by land to Victoria or directly by sea to Victoria. Residents around Musgrave Landing intercepted ships travelling from Victoria to Nanaimo or travelled to the settlement on Cowichan Bay
Salt Spring's communities developed independently, each with its own character and interests. To this day the character of south Salt Spring is distinctly (and proudly!) different from that of north Salt Spring, and this difference is a constant source of mostly good-natured discussion and banter.
The story of the island begins with the life of the Coast Salish people on Salt Spring's shores and continues through several periods of settlement by diverse peoples. People have always come to Salt Spring with their individual dreams. Many came to find a place where they could live free of the constraints that characterize most societies. This is still true today: almost every new islander arrives with a unique personal dream.
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