The Saturna Island Lamb Barbecue is a community tradition 72 years in the making.

Why not celebrate the start of the cruising season with a trip to Canada? Winter Cove, Saturna Island has long been a popular anchorage for Canadian and American boaters alike. Nestled at the northwest end of the island, Winter Cove is one of the Southern Gulf Islands’ tranquil national parks. The anchorage is surrounded by sandstone and shale coastline, overlaid by layers of midden — remnants of a meeting place of the Coast Salish peoples for thousands of years. Ashore, you will find a 1.5-kilometer forested walking trail that passes through a saltmarsh and north end, which looks out across the open waters of the Strait of Georgia. There is also a picnic day-use area and pit toilets. Across from the park is the privately owned Samuel Island, where you can look over at a quiet farm and a meadow dotted with outbuildings.

Lamb cooking on racks. Photo by Nadia Dale.

The annual Saturna Island Lamb Barbecue takes place on Canada Day, July 1st. The barbecue is held in Hunter Field, a two-minute walk from the Winter Cove dinghy dock. It’s worth the trip just to see the lamb roast itself — 27 lambs splayed on crosses in a vast circle around an open fire, which are slow-cooked for seven hours, Argentinian-style. Lamb meals are served between 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. and cost $28 CAD a plate. There are also hot dogs, hamburgers (including vegetarian options) and fish tacos available for purchase throughout the day.

The first lamb barbecue was held in 1950. A local named Jim Cruikshank decided to give up his island farm after the coldest winter on record. He was coming to the end of his lease and getting ready to move off island, but he still had three lambs left. So, he asked his neighbour Jim Campbell if he was up for putting on a barbecue for the school kids to celebrate the end of the year. The first barbecue was such a success, the two Jim’s did it again. The following year, 150 attendees were drawn to the event. Today, well over a thousand lamb tickets will be sold.

Plenty of dock space for visiting boaters. Photo by Nettie Adams.

In all these years, the barbecue has not lost its small-town, country fair charm. The event is steeped in local traditions, including classic carnival games like the nail drive, the coconut shy, the dunk tank and a potato sack race for kids. Adults can enjoy the craft market, book sales, bingo, and of course, the beer garden. There is plenty to do all day.

After a pandemic hiatus, the Saturna community is ready to welcome visitors back to the island with this hallmark event. With less than 500 permanent residents (and 1,000 plus in the summer), this tiny island relies on fundraising to run the volunteer fire and ambulance services, the medical clinic, as well as many community organizations. Sail or motor to Winter Cove for this Friday, July 1st and celebrate Canada Day with your neighbours from the north. Grounds open at 10 a.m. Buy your lamb tickets early.

Know before you go: Boaters can contact barbecue volunteers using VHF (Channel 69) the day of the event. Watch for reefs coming in and out of the cove, bring your own anchor and be sure to check conditions. For more information about the barbecue, check out the event website: