Great places to live: British Columbia

Salt Spring Island
Midway between Victoria and Vancouver off the east coast of Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island with its population of 10,000 is the largest and most populated of the Gulf Islands. Ganges, in the geographic centre of the 27 kilometre-long island, is its biggest community.

Others include Fulford, Vesuvius and Fernwood. While the Gulf Islands are unique in many respects, Salt Spring has an additional claim that sets it apart: Salt Spring dollars, accepted on par with the national dollar, is Canada’s only local legal-tender currency.

Watching the weather
Average Jan. temp (daily mean): 2.6 C
Average July temp (daily mean): 16.2 C
Annual rainfall: 983.1 mm
Annual snowfall: 45 cm

Setting up house
Bungalow: $200,000 to $250,000 (on half-acre with no view); $250,000 to $35,000 (with view)
Standard two-storey: $250,000 to $350,000 (with no view); $350,000 to $450,000 (with view). With acreage, add $100,000 to $150,000
Condominium: $200,000 to $300,000; $350,000 to $500,000 (with ocean view); $600,000 to $800,000 (on oceanfront)&ltbr/>Oceanfront property: $600,000 to $4,000,000-plus
Vacant acreage with ocean view: $300,000 to $500,000
Monthly house rent: $700 to $1,500
Monthly rent on two-bedroom apartment: $700 to $900 (very few apartments)
(Source: Patrick Akerman, Re/Max Realty, Salt Spring Island)

Getting around
Although there are no bus facilities or public transit services, Salt Spring has taxis, water taxis and two airlines (Harbour Air and Seair). Three terminals serve BC Ferries from the mainland at Long Harbour, from Victoria/Sidney at Fulford Harbour and from Crofton at Vesuvius Bay.

Enjoying your life
A self-guided summer tour through three dozen studios reveals the diversity and depth of the island’s illustrious artistic community. There’s fine art paintings and glass to pottery, candles, basketry and woodenware, as well as jewelry and fibre arts. There’s more in the 13 galleries in the town of Ganges. Artwork and performances coincide at Artspring, a 259-seat theatre and art gallery complex, home of Graffiti Theatre, a community theatre company and the setting for great concerts.

Salt Spring Island Golf and Country Club has a nine-hole par 36 course, but Blackburn Meadows suits the island’s eco-consciousness as the country’s only organically maintained golf course. From April to mid-October, the Saturday market in Ganges is the place to find organic food, delicious breads and superior arts and crafts. Annual celebrations include a Garlic Fest, a fall fair and the Round Salt Spring sailing race. The island’s hills make for challenging hiking and cycling, but yoga is almost a way of life here. 

Calling the doctor
• Lady Minto Hospital provides emergency, radiology and lab services, surgery, palliative care, physiotherapy and outpatient medical clinics.
• Two medical clinics.
• 10 family physicians, five specialists, three dentists.
• Long-term care: The Greenwoods Intermediate Care facility with 49 regular beds, one respite and one overnight respite bed.
• Ambulance services features one station, two vehicles, one manager and 32 volunteer paramedics.

What they’re saying
“As far as I’m concerned, Salt Spring is the best place to live not only in Canada but the rest of the world as well. I’m fourth generation Salt Springer. I was born here, my dad was born here and my granddad was born here. My great-granddad came to Salt Spring in the early 1860s and homesteaded land in the south end near Fulford Harbour. My grandmother was First Nations from Salt Spring as well, so our heritage goes back a long way. Salt Spring has been a great place to grow up and raise a family. My children have also chosen to stay work and raise their families here on the Island.”  Patrick Akerman

Next page: Comox Valley

Comox Valley
A three-hour drive north of Victoria on the central east coast of Vancouver Island, Comox Valley is nestled between the Beaufort Mountains and the Strait of Georgia. The valley is a collection of small communities, which include Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland as well as Denman and Hornby Islands, farmland, forests, mountains and beaches. The population of 65,000 can, according to the Comox Valley tourism website, ski, golf, kayak, fish, hike and go to the theatre – all in the same day. It is one of the most diverse recreational and cultural destinations in the world.

Watching the weather
Average Jan. temp (daily mean): 3 C
Average July temp (daily mean): 17.6 C
Annual rainfall: 1,100.3 mm
Annual snowfall: 74 cm

Setting up house
Bungalow: $140,000*
Standard two-storey: $160,000*
Condominium: $ 80,000*
Monthly rent on a two-bedroom apartment:  $550 to $900
* Prices increase significantly if on a golf course or oceanfront.
(Source: Rick Gibson, Royal LePage, Comox Valley)

Getting around
The Valley has a reliable and thorough bus system, including access for the disabled, such as low-floor buses, handyDART special vehicles and a taxi subsidy program when handyDART is not available. The Comox Valley Transit System also offers a Bike & Ride program; you can attach your bike to racks on the buses. The Comox Valley Airport serves the local communities of Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland. It is also the most convenient airport for the North Island and other nearby communities such as Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Port Alberni and Pacific Rim National Park. BC Ferries services the Comox Valley with two routes.

Enjoying your life
A coal mine reconstructed in the Cumberland Museum offers insight into a miner’s difficult work. More recent history is captured at the Air Force Museum and Heritage Airpark at CFB Comox. Grandchildren will love the elasmosaur in the Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre, before everyone starts out on the Great Canadian Fossil Trail. Fine arts and crafts can be admired at two public galleries in Courtenay or several commercial galleries in the area. Music, plays, dance and film are on the bill at the “Sid,” the performing arts centre named for beloved Courtenay actor Sid Williams. For people 55 and older, Comox Valley Elder College is a program of North Island College that serves up academic and practical courses and hosts a lecture series. February’s Trumpeter Swan Festival celebrates the 2,000 swans that winter on area ponds and lakes. The Valley of Festivals also hosts a competitive powwow, a music festival, Nautical Days (in Comox), a fall fair, rodeo and a Snow to Surf relay race. Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park in Comox is the magical setting for the annual Filberg Festival, an opportunity to see and buy fine crafts created by the many artisans who live in the valley.

Calling the doctor
• St. Joseph’s Hospital and Extended Care Unit has 238 beds, including a 125-bed extended-care unit and an 11-bed day-care, full in-patient services, providing primary and secondary levels of care. Acute care and extended care facilities along with selected referral services for north and west Vancouver.
• Courtenay Medical Clinic, Washington Park Medical Clinic, Comox Medical Centre, Cumberland Medical Clinic.
• 43 family physicians, 30 specialists, 37 dentists in the area.
• Long-term care: Cumberland Health Centre with 75 beds, Glacier View Lodge Society with 75 beds and Laurel Lodge with 27 beds.
• A transportation service within Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland for individuals incapable of using public transit due to mental or physical disability. Individuals must pre-register in order to use the service and there is a fee.

What they’re saying
“There truly is everything here – great cycling opportunities, great beaches, and beautiful sunsets – the whole nine yards. Everyone loves it here. Since we moved, we’ve had 100 nights of entertaining overnight guests. No one wants to leave. You really can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon.”  Lynne Blair

Next page: Salmon Arm

Salmon Arm
Halfway between Vancouver and Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway is the mountain community of Salmon Arm. With a population of 16,000, Salmon Arm is the largest community on Shuswap Lake and the business centre of the area. The year-round recreation, moderate climate and affordable housing are big attractions to anyone looking for a new place to live.

Watching the weather
Average Jan. temp (daily mean): -4 C
Average July temp (daily mean): 18.6 C
Annual rainfall: 487 mm
Annual snowfall: 182.1 cm

Setting up house
Bungalow:  $150,000
Standard two-storey:  $170,000
Condominium: $130,000
Monthly rent on a two-bedroom apartment: $650 to $700
(Source: Gary Osborne, Shirley Real Estate, Salmon Arm)

Getting around
The community is serviced by the Shuswap Transit System with a fixed-route bus system. Salmon Arm Airport provides air travel to communities throughout British Columbia.

Enjoying your life
The Salmon Arm campus of Okanagan University College offers continuing education courses, including golf (beginner to advanced levels) and grape growing. For the artistically inclined, Artwaves Summer School of the Arts has classes in visual arts, various crafts and dance. The ambitious Salmon Arm Folk Music Society mounts the popular Roots and Blues Festival each August, as well as concerts throughout the year. In summer, the 40-acre R.J. Haney Heritage Park, with its museum and preserved buildings, is also the venue for dinner theatre. Movie buffs can catch first-run films at a four-cinema movie theatre. There are two libraries, including one at the aforementioned college.Salmon Arm’s Community Centre has an indoor pool, fitness rooms and auditorium, while the Sunwave Centre holds a 1,500-seat multipurpose arena with two ice pads and can also be used for concerts. There are spinners and weavers, quilting, and needle arts guilds for creative residents. During the Grebe Festival, birdwatchers celebrate the nesting of the western grebe, a crane-like bird that has only one other nesting site in the province. With its 400 kilometres of shoreline, Shuswap Lake is all about water fun such as houseboating, fishing and swimming. Golfers love the championship 18-hole Salmon Arm Golf Club. Winter activities in the area include downhill and cross-country skiing, curling, skating, hockey, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

Calling the doctor
• Shuswap Lake General Hospital is a state-of-the-art 45-bed acute care surgical hospital. 
• Six medical clinics in the area.
• 42 family physicians, 16 dentists. Additional specialists Thompson Okanagan centres.
• Long-term care: three extended care facilities with a total of 200 beds.
• New Seniors Activity Centre and Seniors Resource providing senior services, transportation and programs.

What they’re saying
“Salmon Arm is central to Vancouver, the Okanagan and Calgary and is right on the Trans-Canada Highway. A local airport services Vancouver, and a international airport is just one hour south. Mild winters mean comfortable travelling or enjoying the season on great cross-country or downhill ski trails. We have big-town amenities such as a full-service hospital, a community centre with pool and twin-sheet ice for our franchised hockey team. Dozens of great restaurants, a beautiful waterfront and quality retail stores add to the mix that makes Salmon Arm the charming town it is. Did I mention boating from downtown to an 18-hole panoramic golf course? Salmon Arm is great place to live, work or play.”  Fred Bird