A whiff of Mediterranean flavor in British Columbia

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, Canada 

Campbell Point


Even though located much further north than the Mediterranean region, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in south-west Canada is blessed with a climate comparable to that in the Mediterranean.

The park lies in the rain-shadow of the mountains of Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula, in the United States of America, resulting in dry summers, moderate rainfall in the winter, and over 2000 hours of sunlight annually. Winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing, usually staying between 5-10ºC. Many plants and animals found within the park are at the northern extreme of their range, and as a result, are not found anywhere in Canada, making Gulf Islands National Park one of the most ecologically at-risk natural regions in southern Canada.

Created in 2003, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is one of Canada’s newest national parks and just a stone’s throw from the urban clamour of Vancouver and Victoria. It protects a representative sample of the Strait of Georgia Lowlands Natural Region.

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is managed by Parks Canada. A Park Advisory Board provides advice and guidance on park management and matters of interest to the surrounding communities and the public. Parks Canada also has established two First Nations consultative committees, who provide feedback and advice on park management initiatives.

View images of the park


Size and Location

Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is located in the southern Strait of Georgia, Haro Strait and Boundary Pass between Vancouver and Victoria. Some areas of the park are accessible by ferry from Vancouver Island and Vancouver, while other islands are accessible only by private powerboat, kayak or sailboat. It covers about 36 km2 of land and 26 km2 of marine area.

Fauna and Flora

Due to the unique climate zone in which Gulf Islands National Park is located, many species found within the park are very rarely seen elsewhere in Canada. This includes trees such as Garry oak (Quercus garryana) and Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii).The dominant vegetation on most islands tends to consist mostly of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), grand fir (Abies grandis), western red cedar (Thuja plicata), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) and red alder (Alnus rubra).

Many species of animal, such as Bendires shrew (Sorex bendirii), Townsend’s chipmunk (Neotamias townsendii), and Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) are also found only in the Gulf Islands region in Canada, and are at the northern limit of their range in this area. Large terrestrial predators are uncommon in the park, allowing prey species to become overabundant, reducing the forest understory in their search for suitable food plants. The black-tailed deer (Odocoileus columbianus), a small sub-species of the mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), is abundant throughout the region. It is the most conspicuous large mammal in the park although it is not present on all islands.

The waters around the islands host several large mammals, including orcas (Orcinus orca), harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli), stellar sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), river otters (Lontra canadensis), harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). Thousands of resident and migratory species of seabirds, shorebirds and waterfowl thrive on the bounty of the nutrient-rich ocean waters.

A total of fourteen endangered species are known to exist in or to use the park. In particular, Parks Canada is taking action to help the recovery of the Contorted-pod evening primrose (Camissonia contorta) and the Foothill sedge (Carex tumulicola) in the park. Other species at risk include the sharp-tailed snake (Contia tenuis), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrines), the orca (Orcinus orca) and the stellar sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus).

Threats and measures taken to address them

Lyall Creek, a four-kilometer long body of water that winds through Saturna Island in the park, has been called the “backbone” of Saturna Island. This creek is one of the few salmon-bearing streams, as well as one of the only protected watersheds, in the southern Gulf Islands. In Lyall Creek, habitat alteration over the years had resulted in the loss of chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) populations and the depletion of Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) and cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki). With support from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, volunteers began to incubate chum eggs in Lyall Creek and release the fry into the creek. Chum salmon are now returning to the stream. This project continues to this day—each spring thousands of chum fry are released into the Lyall Creek system.

Further restoration to riparian habitat that was impacted by historic road building was undertaken in partnering with island residents and other government agencies. A culvert installed many years ago was positioned too high above the stream level, thereby preventing chum salmon access to their spawning grounds. Volunteers had to pass live fish by hand across the road to allow spawning. In 2003, the culvert at this crossing was replaced with a new, larger one at the correct elevation and the stream bed was restored to its original gradient. This was followed with improvements to the stream bed habitat through the placement of large woody debris and planting of riparian vegetation to provide shade and aquatic habitat for fish and other species. These efforts have resulted in more natural water flows and sediment transport and the fish have full access to the spawning grounds upstream of the road.

Visitor experience

Parks Canada is committed to make every national park a treasured place and a living legacy for all Canadians, connecting hearts and minds to a stronger, deeper understanding of the very essence of Canada. Visitors can experience the wonders of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve in many different ways, such as by taking a ferry to one of the bigger islands and, by car or bike, explore the islands mosaic of open meadows, forested hills, rocky headlands, quiet coves and sandy beaches.

In the park, visitors can hike, camp and picnic while overlooking incredible coastal vistas. For the more adventurous, there are many boating and kayaking opportunities — explore sheltered bays that are not accessible by road or tie up at a mooring buoy and relax. The Park Reserve is located in Coast Salish First Nations traditional territory and 19 of these nations assert rights and interests in the park. Since the early 1800s, many other cultural groups, including Europeans, Hawaiians, Chinese and Japanese people have settled here. Heritage features associated with all of these cultural groups exist in the park. Today, the bigger islands are home to approximately 3,500 people and the Gulf Islands lifestyle embraces ecological sustainability, volunteerism, and artistic endeavours.

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