Kagawong’s Harbour Island returns to local hands

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.

Original developer’s grandson buys it back

BILLINGS—Historic Harbour Island, once playground to superstars and society heavy hitters from across the globe, has come full circle back to its roots with news that a descendant of the original owner has purchased the property with an eye to bringing it back to its former glory.

“I would like to restore the place back to the original,” confirmed Rob Chandler, who now makes his home and business as a contractor in Tennessee, north of Nashville. “My grandfather was the original owner and it was he who built the resort.” As to what motivated him to purchase Harbour Island Mr. Chandler said he wanted to get the property “back in the family.”

His grandfather originally bought a single lot on Harbour Island in 1942, later, in 1943, transferring the property to the Jake and Heinz Company (not the ketchup folks, this company made automotive parts for the war effort). The resort was built as a recreation retreat as a reward for company employees.

“My grandfather and great grandfather were also involved in logging up north for the company,” said Mr. Chandler. “He bought the place back from the company in 1946. It wasn’t to remain in the family’s hands that much longer, though, as it was sold to the Hutchinson family in 1949. “They had it for seven years.” Mr. Chandler’s grandparents remained at the resort as year-round caretakers.

Mr. Chandler has his work cut out for him. The resort and its original cabins have fallen somewhat into disrepair, but the contractor has gone in to his project eyes wide open. “I know it will cost a lot of money,” he said. “I am not a rich man, but I would like to see it restored as a heritage property.”

The resort at Harbour Island, seen here in its earlier glory days, has returned to the hands of its founder’s family.

Mr. Chandler discovered that the property was for sale when he got a heads up from his brother, an Island real estate broker. “I put in a stupid offer,” he said. “We went back and forth for a few weeks and I got it in December.”

The family has been up to make a few emergency repairs to the structures at the resort. “Just a few things to keep things from deteriorating any further,” he said. “Right now I am concentrating on making it safe.”

Mr. Chandler said that he is open to suggestions from the public as to how he can go about restoring the property, but he had a strong caveat. “I don’t encourage anyone to go out to the site,” he said. “It really needs more work before it would be safe.”

For one thing, the first line of defence is a thick layer of poison ivy. “It is really everywhere on the island,” he laughed, recalling a family story about its origin.

It seems one of his relatives had planted “palm trees” on the island when she was a young child. “It seems those ‘palm trees’ she planted in an orchard were actually poison ivy plants.

Mr. Chandler said that his eventual goal is to create a “living museum” out of the resort.

Mr. Chandler’s family has had a long history with the resort and hope to restore it back to its original appearance.

The Harbour Island Resort, once the playground of the rich and famous, has fallen on hard times in recent years, but the original founder’s descendants have purchased the property with an eye to
returning it to its former glory.

“During its glory days, the decommissioned yachting and fishing resort was a playground for the rich and famous including movie stars, sports figures, business tycoons and politicians,” said Old Mill Heritage Centre Curator Rick Nelson. “The current state of the property will require a monumental effort to resurrect the resort, so this project will be impossible to complete in the short term. However, Rob is open to ideas on what you would like to see done with the property.” The Old Mill Heritage Centre Facebook page has been made available for the public to weigh in with their ideas on how the restoration can be moved forward. Ideas can also be forwarded by email to oldmillheritage@billingstwp.ca.

Mr. Chandler said that he estimates a full restoration will cost in the neighbourhood of $600,000 to $700,000. “Like I said, I am not a rich man, so I fully realize that this isn’t going to happen overnight,” he said. “We are just happy and excited to have it back in the family.”