GALIANO ISLAND, B.C. -- When my travel pals found out I went for a ride to Bluffs Park with Humphrey Bogart, they all had the same response: "I hope he wasn't driving."
Of course not, I assured them. First of all he doesn't have a licence and second, he much prefers parking his butt up against the windshield while gazing at the passing scenery from the side window.
Humphrey Bogart is a handsome Bengal cat who lives at the Galiano Inn and loves going out for drives. On this day he was enjoying a ride in one of the inn's new Smart Cars, which guests can rent for $80 a day. I had asked proprietor Conny Nordin if she'd take me out for a quick spin to test the vehicle and Bogart, who apparently follows Nordin everywhere, seemed happy to tag along.
A sensitive cat with a mature countenance, he wasn't meowing as much as usual. I think he was concentrating on how to keep his balance on the new dashboard without falling onto my lap.
I had visions of travelling around the island with Bogart, a la John Steinbeck, who once took his dog on a drive around America, a tale he recounted in his book Travels With Charley.
At the Bluffs Park viewpoint, which resembles a Group of Seven painting, a ferry boat in Georgeson Bay was making its way to Galiano. Also visible from the 168-metre-high cliff was Mayne Island, Seal Rock, and the narrow Active Pass, where Orca whales are frequently spotted. A few metres from the lookout, a hiking trail runs along the clifftop ridge, among tall stands of Douglas fir, cedar and Garry oak trees.
Bluffs is just one of several parks on this slender island, which is 30-km long and 6-km at the widest point. There's also Dionisio Provincial Park with its beautiful beaches, and Bellhouse Provincial Park with its rocky peninsula and groves of copper-coloured arbutus trees. From hiking paths on forest trails to interesting sandstone formations along the coast, best viewed from a kayak, there's a lot to explore.
Bogart was left alone in the car for less than a minute but he meowed the whole time. On the drive back, Nordin recounted how she and her husband travelled every back road on all of the Gulf Islands looking for property but kept returning to Galiano.
"The views are always different and the people are interesting," she explained, reflecting on the decision to move to the island full-time.
Local painter, Kenna Fair, whom I'd met the previous day, believes Galiano is the arts hub of the Gulf Islands.
"We have three operating art galleries, which is good for this size island, and lots of studios."
One of the biggest annual events is the art festival on the first long weekend in August, which is so popular that visitors are advised to book a ferry ticket in advance.
Along with the "interesting people" are a few well-known (at least among islanders) and much-loved feline critters. Aside from Bogart, there's Shadow, a friendly 10-year old long-haired black cat at Galiano Island Books -- an excellent bookstore near the ferry dock, and Bart, who resides at the Hummingbird Inn Pub.
"Bart's hilarious," said Pam Welch, an esthetician at the Madrona del Mar spa. "If you order fish and chips he's right there, you have to make room for him."
Everyone told me Bart was a fluffy orange cat, but the animal I saw at this popular watering hole looked like he'd been freshly shorn.
"His hair was getting natty so we had to cut it," owner Debbie Spees said.
I watched Bart lap up some fresh cream, then go outside to sniff the air, before returning indoors where he crawled under a pool table. The bartender showed me a comical photo on the wall of Bart lazily draped over a railing. He really is a character.
With so many artists and well-known company cats on the islands it seemed natural that the two should merge in some quirky way.
"We're asking artists to put a concept forward for whimsical paintings of a cat in the context of a local business, so we'll have the cat in bookstore, the pub and the inn," explained Nordin.
The winning submissions will then appear on local souvenirs. As early as this fall, visitors may find artistic images of Bogart, Shadow and Bart reproduced on notecards, coffee cups and perhaps, appropriately, mouse pads.
One of B.C.'s Gulf Islands, Galiano is less than an hour by ferry from Vancouver. It has a population of 1,100 and a mild, dry climate. During the summer the Hummingbird Inn Pub has live music on weekends and also runs a free pub bus for campers and boaters. A Daytripper shuttle bus also operates during the Art Weekend July 3 to Aug. 3.
If you're not staying overnight at the Galiano Inn, it's still possible to meet Bogart on your way to the Inn's "eat," restaurant -- the island's only oceanfront fine dining room or at the Oceanfront Terrace, which serves gourmet wood-fired pizzas. For more, check galianoinn.com or galianoisland.com.