Retreat Island - A Narrative

Retreat Island is a 7 acre island, just off  the west side of Galiano Island; it faces across Trincomali Channel toward Fernwood on Saltspring Island.  Access is a by small boat from Retreat Cove public dock, which is a very short distance away on Galiano.  Retreat Island is what makes Retreat Cove into a cove.  Its native old growth forest has never been logged.  Large 500 year-plus old growth Douglas Firs grow on the northeast side of the island, which slopes gently down to the shore and a rich eel grass bed in the shallows between Retreat and Galiano.  The southwest facing side of the island is a steep drop-off, above which is a healthy Garry Oak and Arbutus meadow with spring wild flowers of sea blush (plectritis congesta), merry wink (collinsia).  erythroniums (fawn lilies), fritollaria (chocolate lilies) and many others that thrive in early spring at the edge of the Douglas Fir zone.  There is a small white shell beach at the north end of the island, which was visited seasonally by Coast Salish First Nations, who harvested clams there for thousands of years. Retreat Cove itself was known as a place where young men came for puberty ceremonies. However, the island was never used as a village site.  There is an eagle nest on the island.

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Retreat Island

Main House
1775 sq ft
Mudroom ±12’8" X 12'2"
Kitchen ±14’0” X 11'7"
Dining ±10'0" X 13'11"
Living ±13'6" X 16'1"
Family Room ±20'4" X 16'0"
Bathroom ±8'2" X 5'10"
Bedroom 15’-9” X 15’-9”
Ensuite ±3’6" X 9'0"
Bonus Room/Meditation Room ±10’5” X 18'8"
Guest House
860 sq ft
Kitchen ±9’0” X 8’0"
Dining ±7’6” X 11'6"
Living ±9’0” X 13’6"
Bathroom ±8’0" X 5'3"
Main Bedroom ±14’0” X 9’-0”
Upper Bedroom ± 11’6” X 16’2”
Open Loft ±7’6” X 9’0”
450 sq ft
Open Studio ±14’10” X 17’0”
Open Office ±7’4” X 8’4"
Sleeping Area ±7’0” X 4’0”
Powder Room ±2’6” X 6’6"
Walk In Closet ±4’6” X 6’6”

*Room dimensions and square footages are provided as reference only, and are not to be relied upon as accurate. Prospective buyers must satisfy themselves with actual measurements; the status of finished space as shown on floor plans specifically in relation to minimum ceiling height requirements for habitable rooms as per the BC Building Code; allowable finished floor area in relation to current zoning; and determination if space was developed with necessary municipal permits.

Land History

When Europeans settled the coast they were largely unaware of this rich history, The Nanaimo Coal and Timber Company obtained title from the Crown in the 19th century but because but because the island did not appear to have commercial value they did not disturb it.  Sometime in the early 20th century the Mouat family of Saltspring Island purchased the island, but only used it for occasional family picnics.  One of the Mouat daughters taught at a small Retreat Cove school in the 1930s.  The Galiano Club has a picture of her with her students on a beach, which is probably the one at the north end of Retreat Island.

George Plange and Malcolm Hegge purchased the island in 1969.  After spending a long time getting to know the island and camping there, George collaborated with Salt Spring Island architect Henry (Hank) Schubart, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, to design a home that would take advantage of the island's distinctive features with a minimum of disturbance.  The result was the present house, completed in 1985.  George and Hank built the house around the existing old growth fir trees.  Hank's design used post and beam internal framing, large decks and extensive decks to create a feeling of living within the landscape, rather than imposing on it.  Following George's death, the present owners, Robin and Jillian Ridington, became stewards of the island in 1992.  Three years later, Robin took early retirement from his teaching post in the Anthropology Department at UBC.  Jillian and Robin moved to Retreat, where they supervised construction of a new studio and guesthouse, again designed by Hank Schubart.  The new buildings continued with Hank's theme of post and beam construction, and local Galiano builders Struen Robertson and Lars Lilholt added their own creative touches.  The Ridingtons found antique French banding from Lee Valley Tools and bought enough to incorporate them into the studio and a two-bedroom guest house.  They obtained salvaged Douglas fir flooring and a claw foot bathtub from a heritage house that was being demolished in Vancouver.  A deck, recently rebuilt, connects these two new buildings.  The studio was designed with two desks, and with shelving to accommodate an extensive library and a collection of audio and video tapes from the Ridingtons' fieldwork with the Dane-zaa First Nations. 

When the Ridingtons bought Retreat Island, it was subdividable into two lots.  In consultation with various nature conservancy organizations, the Ridingtons subdivided and placed a conservation covenant on one half of the island and donated that parcel to the Galiano Conservancy Association.  The Conservancy has been a responsible owner, and each year provides a crew to pull invasive broom on the entire island.  Other than invited guests, there are no other visitors to Retreat, as there is no public access. The Ridingtons and subsequent owners can enjoy the benefits of an old growth nature conservancy area adjacent to their half of the island.  

Access and Amenities

The island is serviced by a submarine cable providing a reliable 200 amp connection to the grid.  Power lines on the island connect to the cable and feed into the buildings.  There is a high-speed internet connection provided by Beacon Wireless.  A 40' dock can accommodate a boat up to about 50'.  The Ridingtons kept their 45' schooner with a 10' bowsprit there until they acquired their present 32' Nordic Tug.  The other side of the float provides additional moorage.  The island comes with an 8 X 20 aluminum barge built by George Bellavance and a 14' Cope aluminum runabout with a 9.9 electric start Yamaha 4 stroke outboard.  A Kawasaki Mule 4wd ATV, which seats 2 persons side by side and has an open-box bed at the back, provides transportation for people and material up the graded trail to the houses.  For access from the float to shore there is an aluminum gangway that accommodates the Mule, ending in a lazy-susan style turnaround; this allows for driving the Mule onto the dock and turning it around for the trip uphill.  A "Mule house" with a loft provides shelter for the Kawasaki at the bottom of the trail.  


There is a rainwater collection system installed by Rainwater Connnections that services three storage tanks with a total capacity or about 6000 gallons.  These tanks generally fill by early  November and it would be possible to add a much larger capacity storage.  The water is treated by a filtration system designed and installed in 2017as well as a newly constructed pumphouse adjacent to the storage tanks.  

In addition to this source, the Ridingtons have an arrangement with Mervyn Olson, their neighbor on Galiano, to supply water from his well in exchange for his connecting a float that is not on their water lease to their dock.  Mervyn has agreed to continue this arrangement with the new owners.  Mervyn's water feeds into an 800 gallon storage tank in a pump house above the dock and is pumped to a distribution valve halfway up the island.  

In addition, the Ridingtons have had an arrangement with the estate of  George Plange to receive water from a well on the Plange family property on Galiano.  That is the source being used at the present time.  That arrangement could possibly be continued, but the rainwater system is entirely independent of other parties. 

Other Amenities

 The lower deck has a 2016 recessed 6 person Softub that heats water using heat from the pump motor, so no additional heater is necessary.  
All decks have been replaced with the last 5 years using pressure treated decking.  They were pressure washed and treated with an oil-based product in 2016.  

 There are two auxiliary generators on the island.  A 4 kw Yanmar diesel genset in a dedicated structure below the main house is connected to the house via a transfer switch next to the breaker panel just outside the house.  A 5 kw Honda gasoline generator is in a small room below the studio. It is connected to the studio and guest house power supply via a transfer switch.  Each is supplied with a portable "battery booster" that can be periodically recharged in order to supply starting power when needed.  

 The Ridingtons have cherished, protected and enhanced the experience of living on this unique island property during their 25 years tenure.  They are now moving to Victoria and hope to pass the island on to new owners who will love and respect the island as they have.  

Robin & Jillian Ridington - May, 2017

Posted by Stephen Foster on
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