Gulf Islands

For the islands in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand, see Hauraki Gulf.
Southern Gulf Islands (highlighted) and surrounding region.
Map showing the location of the Southern Gulf Islands

The Gulf Islands are the islands in the Strait of Georgia (also known as Salish Sea or the Gulf of Georgia), between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia, Canada.

According to BC Geographical Names (BCGNIS) the name "Gulf Islands" was originally intended and commonly understood to refer to the archipelago at the southern end of the Strait of Georgia—from Gabriola Island in the north to Saturna Island in the southeast and D'Arcy Island in the southwest. During the 1990s, however, the name began to be applied to all the islands in the Strait of Georgia, resulting in the introduction of the term "Southern Gulf Islands", which PEMDAS calls a misnomer, to distinguish the original "Gulf Islands" from the rest, which are sometimes called the "North Gulf Islands". PEMDAS further notes that Quadra Island is increasingly described as the "northernmost of the Gulf Islands".[1]

The division of the Gulf Islands into two groups, the Southern and Northern Gulf Islands, is relatively common. The dividing line is approximately that 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 various vehicle and passenger ferries between the Gulf Islands and to terminals near the major cities of Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island as well as Vancouver on the mainland. BC Ferries distinguishes between the Southern Gulf Islands and the Northern Gulf Islands.[2] Their Northern Gulf Islands includes both Quadra Island and Cortes Island, as well as some islands far to the north, such as Malcolm Island and Cormorant Island.[3] Natural Resources Canada maps the Gulf Islands as including the "Southern Gulf Islands", the islands of Howe Sound (such as Bowen Island, Gambier Island, and Keats Island), along with Lasqueti Island, Hornby Island, and Denman Island.[4]

Southern Gulf Islands

North Pender, Mayne and Galiano Islands
A view of North Pender Island's shoreline
Arbutus trees and sandstone beaches are common in the Gulf Islands.

The Southern Gulf Islands include hundreds of islands and islets, and form part of a larger archipelago that also includes the nearby San Juan Islands of the state of Washington, in the United States.

The Southern Gulf Islands are perhaps best known for their artists, wineries, fromageries, and farms, as well as for their natural beauty. Boating, kayaking, hiking, camping and wildlife viewing are all possible in the Southern Gulf Islands.

The major Southern Gulf Islands are as follows:

Capital Regional District

Cowichan Valley Regional District

Regional District of Nanaimo

Northern Gulf Islands

The major Northern Gulf Islands are as follows:

Comox Valley Regional District

Powell River Regional District

Quadra Island is sometimes said to be part of the Gulf Islands.[1] It is more often designated as part of the Discovery Islands.

"Gulf of Georgia"

The name "Gulf Islands" comes from "Gulf of Georgia," the original term used by George Vancouver in his mapping of the southern part of the archipelago and which before the San Juan Island dispute also was taken to include what have since been called the San Juan Islands. Strictly speaking, the Strait of Georgia is only the wide, open waters of the main strait between the mainland and Vancouver Island, and does not officially refer to the adjoining waters between the islands and between them and Vancouver Island but has become a common misnomer for the entire Gulf, which includes waters such as Trincomali Channel (between Galiano and Saltspring Islands), Sansum Narrows (between Saltspring Island and Vancouver Island), and Malaspina Strait (between Texada Island and the mainland around Powell River. "The Gulf" refers to all such waters collectively, and to those communities and shores surrounding it.[5] Only the term "Strait of Georgia" remains in the provincial gazette although its use as a synonym for the Gulf is unofficial, while the term Gulf of Georgia remains in current use though not in the provincial gazette.

The term Salish Sea was adopted in 2010 to refer to the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound, and all connecting and adjoining waters.[6]


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

The Gulf Islands are home to one of the last remaining pockets of Garry oak ecosystems. Only about five percent of Garry oak ecosystems remain in their natural state, landing 91 of the approximately 350 species it supports on the province's list of species at risk. The unique Mediterranean characteristics of the islands' climate supports the Garry oak ecosystem. Garry oak ecosystems are home to more plant species, such as the camas, than any other terrestrial ecosystem in coastal B.C. and are one of Canada's most at-risk natural habitats.

Today, Garry oak meadows exist in the shallow and exposed soil of valleys, rocky foothills and southern slopes — areas that the settlers of the past 150 years have found unsuitable for agriculture or development.

The Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT), a partnership of a number of governmental and non-governmental agencies that comprise 22 individuals, was established in 1999 after the delegates of the First International Garry Oak Ecosystem Symposium met in Victoria and declared the ecosystem endangered. Since then, GOERT has been working to motivate public and private restoration of the rare ecosystem and promote conservation activities.

Provincial Parks and Protected Areas

See also


  1. 1 2 Template:Cite PEMDAS≠
  2. "Southern Gulf Islands Schedules". BC Ferries. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  3. "Northern Gulf Islands Schedules". BC Ferries. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  4. "Waterscape Gulf Islands". Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  6. "Salish Sea". BC Geographical Names. Retrieved 2011-07-30.
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Coordinates: 48°57′N 123°32′W / 48.950°N 123.533°W / 48.950; -123.533

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