Explore BC: Gabriola Island
It’s my goal to explore my beautiful province this summer, and I’ve spent the last couple of weeks off the mainland. I have lots of content coming your way, highlighting many of the fun places to visit that BC has to offer.
But today’s post is about Gabriola Island.
You know, there’s something magical about being on an island. I live in the heart of downtown Vancouver, and while I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else (okay, Paris, maybe), it can be noisy and busy. Last night the neighbourhood was flooded with folks coming in to watch the fireworks, and our seawall bike ride yesterday was severely hampered by poky tourists.
And even though Stanley Park is my back yard, sometimes you just wanna get away from it all. On Gabriola, they live what’s called Island Life.
You see, it’s not easy to get there. They make you work for it. You have to take not just one, but two ferries, first from the mainland to the big (Vancouver) Island, and then a second, shorter ferry from Nanaimo to Gabriola. They make you pay to get on to the island, but it’s free to leave. You might not want to, though.
Things are different when you step or drive off the ferry. People live a slower lifestyle here, closer to nature, less rushed. You know all your neighbours, and you inevitably spend a lot of your time waiting for ferries.
People are more friendly here, too. While waiting for the ferry to take me over to Gabriola, I left the parking lot and walked to the closest Starbucks to get a snack. While walking back to the parking lot, a gentleman crossing the crosswalk said “good morning” to me. This is not something that happens to me in the city, or if it does, it causes me alarm. Here, it’s just how people are. It’s a small-town mentality.
Gabriola is one of the larger Gulf Islands, and it is, as you might expect, populated with the kinds of folks that appreciate a slower lifestyle; artists, farmers, and artisans. There is, to be fair, kind of an embarrassment of riches in this small community of really cool and creative people. You only have to visit the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market to get a taste (also literally taste) of the talent here.
So here it is: the foodie’s guide to Gabriola Island.
But first, you’ll need a place to stay. There aren’t any real hotels on Gabriola Island, mostly B&Bs. My recommendation is the Hummingbird Lodge B&B. The house, run by owner Tanya Kuyten, is beautiful. Soaring ceilings, natural wood everywhere, loads of patios, and a hot tub. There are three guest rooms, each with their own ensuite, desk space, and private deck. Yes, it’s beautiful and charming, but for foodies, the breakfasts here are the bomb.
You’ll need a place to stay, because it’s going to take you a couple of days to eat your way through all the deliciousness here.
Gabriola Farmer’s Market. This is a funky market that takes place on Saturday mornings in the summer. It has a real neighbourly feel to it, you get the sense that most of the people that attend are regulars. The vendors run the gamut from locally-grown produce to tie-died t-shirts (very popular here), to soaps to jewellery to baking. This is the place to get a pie, your week’s veg, and some amazing (and I mean AMAZING) bread from Slow Rise, a bakery here on the island.
Coffee. I love Mad Rona’s. The space is open, airy and modern, but they also have a lovely courtyard with some seriously chill vibes. The coffee is great, the food is great, the baking is great… It’s the place to get your daily cup of joe.
Pizza. Right next door to Mad Rona’s is Woodfire, a pizza joint that, true to its name, does all their delicious pies in their woodfired oven. The whole parking lot smells like a log cabin. You really can’t go wrong here, so let your gut guide you. It’s tasty, tasty stuff.
Dessert. I love Robert’s Place. They do great pies, and this mind-blowing cheesecake that is a chocolate cheesecake with chunks of vanilla cheesecake baked inside. It’s crazy good. In fact, everything is good here; you might as well stay for dinner while you’re at it. Robert also does theme nights on Thursdays, where he’ll pick an international cuisine and make that night’s specials Indian or Asian. Robert himself, and his partner, who run the joint, are also a couple of really lovely souls.
Cider. Pay a visit to Gabby’s if you’re on the island on a weekend. Named, of course, for the island, Gabby’s grows and processes their apples right here. They have a wee tasting room where you can try the various kinds of ciders. My fave this time around is a brand-new offering made from granny smith apples.
Farmstands. You really haven’t experienced island life unless you’ve visited a farmstand. Local residents grow produce, raise chickens, and bake, and then sell these products at a farmstand they’ve built at the end of the driveway. Everything works on the honour system. You take what you like, and leave the money. It’s a pretty cool system, and it works well here.
Learn to make cheese. Paula teaches cheesemaking classes on the island and also in Vancouver. It’s worth it to attend one of her workshops if you can while on Gabriola Island. The milk comes from her neighbour’s cow, which she milks daily. Paula is a fount of information about different types of bacteria, bloom, and how to make different varieties of cheese. She’s one of those people that you can’t help but admire for their sheer nerdiness and passion for their subject.
I hope I’ve inspired you to go off the beaten track and explore some of BC’s lesser-known destinations.
Have you ever been to Gabriola? I’d love to hear about your impressions in the comments below.