As a naturalist and painter living on Salt Spring Island, B.C., artist Robert Bateman has a plethora of spots he could call his favourite in the province.

But when pressed to make a choice, Bateman doesn't hesitate: the place most meaningful to him is Helliwell Provincial Park on the eastern tip of Hornby Island — a short bike ride away from his summer cabin. 

"I guess the most striking thing about it, is it slopes up to cliffs," Bateman said from his studio on Salt Spring.

"And above the cliffs is ... what looks to me an awful lot like some of the downs of southern England."

Helliwell Provincial Park

Painter Robert Bateman says the bluffs at Helliwell Provincial Park remind him of the cliffs of Dover, England. (Gerry Thomasen/Flickr)

Bateman and his wife, Birgit Freybe Bateman, bought their summer cabin in 1986. He says people often question why they would go from one Gulf island to another for the season. 

"It's totally different in character," he said of the smaller island, Hornby.

The couple's children and grandchildren often come to visit them — sleeping in tents in the backyard if there's not enough space for everyone.

But it's the visits to Helliwell Park that Bateman emphasized as a treasured family activity. 

"If you press them to name something — especially when we've gone on ahead — that will always be part of the family, it would be this Hornby Island place," he said. 

"It's deep in their psyche, and I think that will go on for generation to generation."

Robert Bateman Hornby Island

A Robert Bateman painting of the bluffs at Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island. (Robert Bateman)

Daily visits

Bateman says he visits the park daily in the summer, rain or shine, to admire the meadows of gary oaks, arbutus trees and wildflowers. 

On a clear day, he says he can see out across Denman Island to the mountains on Vancouver Island.

"So you can see the snowfields of Mount Arrowsmith on a hot, summer day standing there in the beautiful sunny meadow of Hornby Island," he said. 

Another highlight of the view from the park includes Flora Island, where sea lions often lounge around or slip into the water below. Bateman said he and his wife sometimes go snorkeling there, to swim among them. 

As for what keeps him busy these days, Bateman says he's still occupied in his studio. 

"I've never heard of an artist who retired. It's beyond conception if you're a real artist, of actually retiring," said the 86-year-old.

"And so I don't anticipate hanging up my paint brushes."

Robert Bateman Hornby Island

Cove at Helliwell, oil on board, 2012. (Robert Bateman)