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The Spectacular Gulf Islands

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The Gulf Islands are the islands in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia. The name Gulf Islands comes from Gulf of Georgia, the original term used by Captain George Vancouver in his mapping of the southern part of the archipelago. The Strait of Georgia is also known as Salish Sea or the Gulf of Georgia.

Totem Pole

Biking, canoe touring, diving, hiking, sea kayaking and sport fishing are popular activities in the Gulf Islands. Bikes, boats, canoes and sea kayaks can be rented locally.

The Gulf Islands are divided into two groups, the Southern and Northern Gulf Islands. The dividing line is formed by the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and the mouth of the Fraser River on the mainland. The larger populated islands are served by BC Ferries, which operates ferries between the Southern and Northern Gulf Islands and to terminals near the cities of Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island and Vancouver on the mainland.

Southern Gulf Islands

The Southern Gulf Islands include hundreds of islands and islets, and form part of a larger archipelago that includes the San Juan Islands of the state of Washington, in the United States. The islands are well known for their resident artists, farms, fromageries, wineries and natural beauty.

The major Southern Gulf Islands are as follows:
  • North Pender Island
  • Saltspring Island
  • Saturna Island
  • South Pender Island
  • Thetis Island
  • Valdes Island

Lighthouse in the Gulf IslandsThe islands and surrounding ocean are rich with ecologically diverse plants and sea life including Garry oaks, kelp beds, wild lilies, seals, sea lions and Orcas. In 2003, the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve of Canada was established by Parks Canada to protect the area’s unique ecosystem.

The Gulf Islands National Park Reserve safeguards a portion of British Columbia’s beautiful southern Gulf Islands archipelago. This small park reserve includes 36 square kilometres of land and marine area on 15 islands, numerous islets and reefs which provide valuable habitat for seals and nesting shorebirds.

Twenty-six square kilometres of submerged lands are also administered for national park purpose. The Gulf Islands are home to one of the last remaining pockets of Garry oak ecosystems. Only about five per cent remain in their natural state. The unique characteristics of the islands’ climate supports the Garry oak ecosystems, which are home to more plant species than any other terrestrial ecosystem in coastal British Columbia. It is one of Canada’s most at-risk natural habitats.

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Northern Gulf Islands

The Northern Gulf Islands are part of a chain of 6,000 islands that are along the British Columbia coastline between the states of Washington and Alaska. BC Ferries services only a few of the islands and many can only be reached by boat, canoe, floatplane and water taxi. Visitors often find that the further north they explore, the fewer travellers they encounter. The islands can be explored by bike, car, kayak and on foot. Abandoned cabins, ancient villages and overgrown logging roads are scattered throughout the islands.

The major Northern Gulf Islands are as follows:
  • Cortes Island
  • Denman Island
  • Hornby Island
  • Lasqueti Island
  • Jedediah Island
  • Quadra Island
  • Rendezvous Islands
  • Savary Island
  • Texada Island

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