Harbour Island back on the market

The famed Harbour Island resort has seen grander days. Although the current owner is not rushing to divest the property, the property is available for the proper offer.

NORTH CHANNEL – The famous Harbour Island, which formerly hosted a luxurious resort that drew many notable figures to its shores, is once more for sale after a relative of the original owner faced obstacles in his plans to restore the property, made worse due to pandemic restrictions over the past year.

“I have no immediate plans for getting rid of it but it’s getting tough to do any work on it,” said Rob Chandler, the present owner of the property. “I’m hoping the right buyer comes along and can pick up where I left off.”

Mr. Chandler, whose grandfather Grant Rogers originally bought Harbour Island from the Crown in 1942, bought the land in 2017 with the hopes of restoring it to its former glory.

Harbour Island began as a private corporate resort and later transitioned into a public resort until 1949. At that time, it became  a members-only getaway.

According to local lore, notable figures such as John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Gene Autry, Lester B. Pearson and Marlon Brando all visited the resort in its heyday.

In the 1990s, the owners abandoned the property and it fell into disrepair, with massive poison ivy plants taking over the island and the once-lavish buildings beginning to crumble.

In the mid-2000s, Ontario Provincial Police officers raided the island, acting on a tip that there was a cannabis grow-op there. Officers removed nearly 1,500 plants and several pieces of growing paraphernalia.

Mr. Chandler bought the property four years ago with the hopes that he could revitalize the ground and use it for benevolent causes, such as providing mentoring and harm reduction work for at-risk youth.

“We’re trying to fix up a historical landmark that’s part of Kagawong history; my lineage goes back to the founders of Kagawong, the original settlers. I don’t think I’ve gotten a lot of co-operation from the township,” he said.

Harbour Island seen in its better days. As a grandiose destination, the resort attracted some of the biggest names in Hollywood elite such as John Wayne, Marilyn Munroe, Gene Autry and Marlon Brando.

One of the chief reasons driving the sale process has been Mr. Chandler’s inability to come up to work on the island for the past year. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and has been unable to cross the border to visit his property.

He further raised issue with Billings’ decision to not open boat launches in the township during the pandemic, which he said made it dangerous to get onto the water.

Mr. Chandler said the property is still taxed as a resort property and he expressed disappointment that the township didn’t offer its old docks at the Kagawong harbour when it undertook a major replacement last year. He did not specify if there had been such a request.

“I would have hoped it would have been a community effort to restoring the place. I was hoping it was going to be like a park; I was not going to keep people off it. My intention was to clean it up and let people enjoy it,” he said.

Billings Mayor Ian Anderson chose not to make public comment on this story.

Mr. Chandler’s situation became further complicated by the death of his mother last summer.

The landowner said he is not in a rush to liquidate the property and is waiting for someone “who is going to be a good steward of the island and preserve its heritage. I did have contact from one person that showed potential, but it’s not the easiest thing to get financed.”

He was hoping to begin programs for troubled youth this July, where they would undertake week-long survival programs with officers from Island communities. He said he hoped if a buyer emerged that they would consider continuing such activities.

Two years ago, Mr. Chandler spent seven weeks working on the property to clear up much of the poison ivy and begin to gather supplies for patching up parts of the buildings, but said he received a warning letter from Billings about not having a building permit. He expressed concern that the island has likely since become overgrown with the irritant plant once more.

When The Expositor contacted Mr. Chandler, the island was listed at $899,900. It now sits at $1,199,900.