The Geography of Salt Spring Island

Maps to consult: (in addition to the School District Maps)
Survey Map with Schools
Contour Map
3-D drawing of SSI (SOI p.16 “SSI Today”)

The school district boundaries were set by the Government in Victoria, following the N-S and E-W lines on the surveyor’s map. But if the school district boundaries had followed the lie of the land, they might have run across the island diagonally, NW-SE.

Salt Spring is a hilly island. (When you cycle along its roads you have to push hard to get up the long steep hills, before you can whizz down the other side without peddling.)

The first settlers made their farms along the valley bottoms, where the soil was good for farming. These valleys run diagonally from the north-west to the south-east. Each valley is separated from the next by a steep rocky range of high hills, also running diagonally from the north-west to the south-east. Before roads were built, it was very difficult to get over these dividing ranges to the community in the next valley.

Where valleys meet the coast, they form bays. When the first settlers came, they found that the deep waters on the west coast were safer places for bigger boats than the shallower bays on the east side of the island. In deeper water steamships could tie up at docks. The settlers built long docks that reached out into the sea, where the water was deep enough for bigger boats.

Today, boats and ferries dock on the east coast, at Fulford Harbour, Ganges Harbour, and Long Harbour. But in the time of the first non-aboriginal settlers, boats and steamships travelled up the deep narrow passage between Vancouver Island and the west coast of Salt Spring Island. They were travelling between Victoria further south, and Nanaimo further north, on Vancouver Island. (The city of Vancouver did not exist until much later) The ships travelling up and down the Vancouver Island coast tied up at the Island docks at Vesuvius Bay, Burgoyne Bay, and Musgrave’s Landing. Later, on the east coast, there were docks at Beaver Point in the south, and Fernwood dock in the north. (Ganges did not become a town until much later)

The first Post Offices were at the docks - one of the most important things the ships brought to the island and left with, was the mail. The mail delivered letters and parcels, supplies and newspapers. The mail was very important in the early days before people were linked by a telephone service.

If you remember these geographical features of the island, you will better understand how separate communities formed. If you learn the names of the bays, you will better remember the names of the communities. The settlers referred to their communities by the names of the bays they used to leave the island and return home, and where they collected and sent their mail, which linked them to the outside world. Later, when the first settlers had cleared the land to make farms, people referred to their communities by the names of the valleys, lakes, and mountains, and the bays, harbours and coastal points they looked out for to find their way from farm to farm. Later still, when there were roads to link the communities, people began to use road names to describe where they lived, as people do today. On the school district maps you will see the early roads people built to link their farms. You will also see lakes, and the streams going from the lakes to the sea. The roughest roads are indicated with dotted lines.

(If you get confused between a stream or a rough road, you can see the colour map on the website. The streams are blue and the roads are red.)

The Burgoyne Valley
The Burgoyne Valley runs from Burgoyne Bay to Fulford Harbour south of the Divide and north of the mountainous south-western part of the island.

The Divide
The Divide is a steep range across the island with a cliff for its southern edge. The Divide used to separate the island into north and south. After 1900 road crews began to cut away the rock of the Divide to make easier roads to connect the communities in the northern and southern parts of the island. On the 3-D drawing of the island, can you see where Cranberry Road was cut through in 1903? Can you see where the Fulford-Ganges Road now cuts through at Rock-Crusher Corner? (just north of Cusheon Lake - the rock-crusher came to the island in the 1920’s)

Ganges and Central
From Vesuvius Bay and Booth Bay on the west, to Ganges Harbour on the east, is a flatter part north of the Divide. The area around St, Mary’s Lake is called Central. The area south-east of that is called Ganges. (The island’s town of Ganges was farmland before the 1900’s. Much of it was seawater, until the second half of the twentith century, when parts of the harbour were filled in.)

Musgrave Landing
In the southern section, sheep farmers settled early at Musgrave Landing. A high mountain range cut these settlers off from the Burgoyne Valley and the rest of the island (see the contours of the 3-D map, and the 3-D drawing of the island). The Musgrave Landing community travelled by boat across the narrow channel to the communities on Vancouver Island.

Beaver Point and Isabella Point
In the south-eastern part of Salt Spring Island the earliest settlers travelled by sea, and along the coast, to get to the Post Office. Early settlers in this area settled along the sea shore. Later, a road was made, to connect the farms between Beaver Point and the Burgoyne Valley.


check the dictionary