While you can head north on the #1 /Transportation-Canada highway,
to cover ground quickly, the more scenic road is along the coast, winding
through the communities of Maple Bay, Crofton and Chemainus. This route also enables you to catch
short ferry rides to three of the Gulf Islands.
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Maple Bay is a small thousand resident town with a great view of Sansum Narrows which separates Vancouver Island from Salt Spring Island. It has a beach, and at Birds Eye Cove, one of the finest natural harbours anywhere, you can rent or charter just about any kind of watercraft.
The next town is Crofton, which was built in 1902 as the site for a smelter for James
Dunsmuir's nearby copper mine. The town was named for Henry Croft, a brother-in-law of
Dunsmuir, who was appointed manager of the Mount Sicker Copper Company in 1900. The
smelter closed down in 1908, and the town has been a logging town since. The Crofton (Schools) Museum
is open in the summer to showcase the area's mining history. Fletcher Challenge also offers tours of the local
Pulp Mill (250-246-6100) You can also catch the ferry to Vesuvius Bay on the northern end of Salt Spring Island.
Chemainus is 4 km up the road again, and has a population of 4,000. This community was named in 1871 for the Tsimminis, a Salish tribe, whose name is derived from the island Halkomelem phrase "bitten Breast", referring to the crescent shape of Chemainus Bay, which according to legend was a bite taken from a bystander by an excited shaman during a tribal ceremony. Chemainus has Canada's largest outdoor art gallery. After the shutdown of the town's only art gallery in the early 80s, the town revitalized its core by painting murals of the area's history around its downtown. Over 250,000 visitors come each year to view the 32 large murals, making the town a must for both art lovers and artists. The Chemainus Museum (250-246-2445) at Waterwheel Park showcases the early forestry industry. The Chemainus Theatre (250-246-9820 or 1-800-565-7738) offers great dinner theatre with both matinee and evening performances. The town even has a public 18 hole golf course. Chamainus is also the departure point for Ferry rides to Thetis and Kuper Islands. While Kuper is mostly Indian Reservation and private land, Thetis is a pleasant place for a drive, bike ride, paddle or a swim.
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Ladysmith is a 5,000 person town, about 9 km past Chemainus and overlooks a deepwater harbour. Ladysmith is the point where the 49th parallel meets Vancouver Island (the border was shifted to keep the entire Island in Canada). This town boomed when coal baron John Dunsmuir needed a port for his coal mines. The town is named for the site of a British victory in the Boer War fought in South Africa. (The South African Ladysmith was named for Lady Juana, the wife of Sir Harry Smith, governor of Cape Colony and high commissioner to South Africa from 1847-1852). The main street is lined with restored heritage buildings. The town has a free boat launch ramp and a beautiful park, Transfer Beach Park with full recreational facilities. The Ladysmith Arboretum, just past Transfer Beach, has over 25 species of trees planted in 1947-1948, and includes a "living fossil" planted from seeds of an unknown species.
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