Day Paddle to Russell Island, Gulf Islands National Park ReserveFebruary 9, 2016
Russell Island is a small island at the mouth of Salt Spring’s Fulford Harbour. We chose Russell Island as the destination for our first ocean paddle with the kids because the island itself is only half a kilometers off Salt Spring Island and does not involve crossing the path of a ferry .
The island is a typical beautiful Southern Gulf Island with Douglas Fir, Arbutus and Garry Oak trees. The shoreline is rocky with many small beaches along the north side of the island. Russell Island is quite popular in the summer with boaters and paddlers, however on a beautiful, sunny Saturday in February we had the place to ourselves!
We landed on the beach at the west side of the island. We collected driftwood off the beach and Dwane quickly started a fire. He made it look easy but I had my doubts it would be possible with all the rain we’ve had this winter. We made our famous toasted sandwiches which the kids thoroughly enjoyed.
Cooking over a fire takes time so the kids had plenty of time to play and explore the immediate area. After cleaning up lunch we walked the trail. The trail is a loop, less than 1 km that circles half of the island. From the west end it follows the coast to the centre of the island where the old homestead is found. The homestead is fun to explore, with old artifacts and rusty old things to show the kids. Our highlight today was finding a patch of crocus flowers blooming in the yard (on February 6th!).
The island has historic significance as it was first settled over 100 years ago by Hawaiians who came to the area to work in the fur trade industry for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The old homestead was built by Maria Mahoi and her family . Apparently she raised 13 kids on the small island with no freshwater (except the rain in winter). If the island seems remote today, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like living there 100 years ago!
After exploring the homestead grounds we walked the beaches. Molly loves finding beach glass and since the Island has been lightly visited during the winter we found a lot. Chuck is less discriminating and shoves everything in his pockets, shells, rocks and beach glass. We believe in taking nothing and leaving no trace so our collecting is only a game for the kids. We make some ceremony of putting everything back or piling it up for the animals and faeries before we leave.
We enjoyed our time on the island so much we did not want to leave. But by 4 pm we knew it was time to go if we wanted to get back before dark. The sun had come out (for the first time in how many months?) and the water was flat calm. Both kids fell asleep as soon as we started paddling. Chuck slept nestled up between Dwane’s legs and Molly made herself comfortable in the extra clothes. We paddled around the whole island before heading back up Fulford Harbour. With the kids asleep we enjoyed some rare adult time and got some real exercise. I was tired and sore when we arrived back to the boat launch and it felt great!