Back to the feature: "A Matter of Trust in B.C. Gulf Island Real Estate," by David Jordan. Back:

You are what you eat – and where you live. And for vacationers and year-round residents alike, B.C.'s Gulf Islands offer a dazzling array of identities. This is your field guide to telling them apart.

If great cities have personalities – London the Hardscrabble Urchin, Paris the Dewy-eyed Lover – it stands that islands too exude an essential character. By their mysterious magnetism, the places attract people who, for better or worse, belong to the same tribe.

That's certainly the case in B.C.'s Gulf Islands, which litter the southern Georgia Strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The chain has a wide reputation for quirk. If Vancouver is the hive for Canada's milk-and-honey crowd, with its idiosyncratic mores and philosophies, the Gulf Islands are its concentration, the honey.

And, needless to say, no two share the same flavour.


Salt Spring Island

Salt Spring Island
Like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Salt Spring Island glitters
with a quasi-celebrity its peers can't match.

You're a star, dahling.

Salt Spring, with its bright lights and big grocery store, is without question the Hollywood of the Gulf Islands. Its roster of residents reads like a who’s who of Canadians Some Other Canadians Have Heard Of. Among them: former CBC host Arthur Black, writer Nick Bantock, children’s entertainer Raffi, and retired rock star Randy Bachman. Feeling star struck? Star nudged, at least?

With the pong of fame on the air, you’d think Salt Spring’s best feature would be the open-mic battles each week at the Tree House. It isn’t, says 11-year-resident Johanna Murray. For island virtues, she prefers the “lack of traffic in winter.” Meaning? Salt Spring remains off-radar to the international paparazzi.


Hornby Island

Hornby Island
All you need on Hornby are a five-year plan and
an enflamed appetite for building consensus.

You like fun place where make Party apparatchiks relaxing.

Hornby might be known for its swinging summer beach parties, but don’t think the residents are thrilled about it, says resident Joanne Ovitsland. This community is full of engaged, spry folks who prefer their own brand of fun.

And what name does this brand of fun go by, pray tell? Meetings, comrade. “Everyone here’s on a committee or a board,” says Ovitsland.

To wit: The community's new radio station, whose launch required a scant 10 years of conference. It plays folk and country music, as well as a classical program by Judith Laurence, the puppeteer behind Mr. Dressup’s Casey and Finnegan. Perhaps worried that the beachniks would find those bourgeois-suckling-pig offerings a tad sleepy, the station made them one concession: a punk rock program. CHFR is at 96.5 on your dial…


Pender Island

Don't worry about that unsavory business back
at Chappaquiddick. What's done is done.

You have a past.

Looking for a quiet island on which to bury your past – or your treasure? Pender is the place. The island, originally inhabited by the Coast Salish and now home to peaceful Poets Cove Resort, flies under the radar. That makes it perfect for politicians – former premier Mike Harcourt calls it home – oil barons, Internet-throttlers, and anyone else who’d prefer to keep a low profile.

The island, says Chamber of Commerce president Jane Perch, is best defined by understatement, by lack of reputation. Ideal, in other words, for the overexposed. (Listen up, Calvin Ayres.) Pender, which actually consists of two islands joined by a one-lane bridge, has the most park and ocean access of the Gulf Islands. All the better to sit and quietly toast your ill-gotten gains.


Mayne Island

"Take it easy, man"? Oh, no, no, no. Mayne Is-
landers are all about getting things done.

You're eager and you don't care who knows it.

Think Mayne Island is peopled primarily with driftwood collectors? Well, perhaps, but don’t think they’re bumming around on the beach all day. “People here are busy,” said web designer Monica Hogg. Having two or three jobs is the only way to survive.

And there are some weird combinations of jobs. Hogg recalls a cartoon she saw at the general store a couple of years ago: “It showed a little shack with a sign that said ‘Joe’s Bulldozing & Croissants.’ I always thought that was so Mayne Island.” But be warned: When all the construction workers/bakers go home after a day of multitasking, the resulting four-car traffic jam might mess with your island Zen. Actually, as the southern Gulf Island that marks the halfway point between Victoria and Vancouver, it does see its share of traffic. And driftwood.


Gabriola Island

Three signs you're right for Gabriola: the black
vintage jeans, the Proust, the quivering sneer.

You're smart and you don't like to be seen "trying."

It's not that Gabriola is a refuge for slacker intellectuals, says chamber of commerce manager Carol Ramsay. It's that the island has an on-again- off-again relationship with work. You're less likely to hear a rousing refrain of "hi-ho" than yawning and some mumbling about post-post-modernism. 

The Gabriolans who do fit some work between boating and hiking excursions tend to do so with their brains. The island is home to an unusual number of online teachers, in addition to the standard Gulf complement of artists and musicians.

Although Gabriola's residents are an economically diverse lot, few of the academic emperors have new clothes. Says Ramsay: “We all buy clothes at the recycling centre for $2 per bag.” Which gives new meaning to business casual.


Denman Island

Know the lyrics to "Tears Are Not Enough"? Un-
able to cycle past a fresh car wreck? You're home.

You're a good Samaritan.

Denman Island is the Jan Brady of the Gulf chain. Beside its more glamourous sister, the island can never – sigh – get the attention it deserves. As five-year resident Melodie Suchy-Tancon points out with chagrin, “Most people simply rush by Denman to go to Hornby.”

But living in Hornby's shadow has focused Denman residents on making their home the best it can be. Denman distinguishes itself from the other Gulf Islands by its dedicated helping community.

“We have a lot of people who give back to the island,” says Suchy-Tancon. “They might have gone away to volunteer at an orphanage and they’ll come back and put on a slideshow. One of our doctors does home visits on an electric bike.” Suchy-Tancon is no stranger to helping out. She's known to assist stranded travellers who've missed the last ferry to the nemesis isle. She laughs. “I’ve actually paddled people over to Hornby.”


Bowen Island

Where caffeine meets proximity, Bowen is the
getaway for those who loathe getting away.

Modern life has you on the verge of a breakdown.

With one foot on the island and the other on the mainland, 20 minutes away, Bowen residents inhabit a kind of paradoxical island universe – one that's both away and not at all

It's possible the psychological strain is showing. The Gulf Islands are no stranger to raised voices, but Bowen residents have a hard-won reputation for pugnacity. “Many of them seem arrogant about island living and their choice not to live in town,” says Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, a writer who left recently to live on Vancouver’s North Shore.

And, like Rush Limbaugh, Bowen's personality is defined by ranting. “It's all about who’s screaming loudest about parkland, village parking, and municipal decisions,” says Pawlik-Kienlen. "People get very heated."


Galiano Island

Galiano Island
When you're down and out. When you're on the
street. When evening falls so hard... Galiano.

You're wounded, soldier. Come to Mama.

If city living has beat you down, Galiano is your salve, your refuge, your bridge over troubled water. More than the other islands, says web programmer Christian Nally, people come to Galiano to escape and to heal.

If food is your poison, Galiano's got endless amounts of stinging nettle, which boasts restorative properties. For more complex cases, there's the Woodstone Residence for eating disorders. “To choose to live on the island is to pick a particular pair of handcuffs, says Nally. "You are constrained just so, but in a way that makes it easier to live authentically."