Owner of historic Harbour Island property outlines restoration plans

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.

Date announced for 2019 History Day

KAGAWONG – The owner of historic Harbour Island said his future goal is to restore the buildings on the property as much as is possible to provide for the public to be able to use the buildings for rentals for events such as wedding parties.

“The goal is to clean up the property and the buildings and restore the buildings as much as much as possible to the way they were,” said Rob Chandler, the owner of the historic Harbour Island, who outlined his plans for the property and buildings he purchased in 2018. Mr. Chandler will be in attendance at the annual Billings Museum Committee History Day in Kagawong (taking placed on Thursday, August 9) to provide an update on his plans.

“Some of the building and cabins are too far gone to repair,” Mr. Chandler said ruefully. He explained, “the main lodge roof collapsed inwards this winter, and the front facade half collapsed—it was going to need to be replaced anyway.”

However, “the stonework, foundation and fireplace in the main lodge are still intact,” said Mr. Chandler. “And when we do get to fixing that building we will keep these features and build around them.”

“As for the cabins, we will try to keep them the same as well, as much as possible relating to the period of the 1940-1950s,” said Mr. Chandler. “Even the cabins that have to be completely repaired from the ground up, we will use existing materials and be incorporating, for instance, low voltage LED lights.”

Mr. Chandler noted, “as the cabins are fixed we will consider weekly rentals in the future. Eventually we want to open up the entire lodge and facility as a resort to become a venue for events like weddings.”

“Originally my thoughts were that it would take five years to clean everything up, but it may take a little longer than that,” acknowledged Mr. Chandler. “We bought a barge last year and my brother is going to be transporting equipment over to the island so we can do more clean up of the property and be able to move around on it.”

“Step one is to work on the grounds,” said Mr. Chandler. “We found one or two cabins that only need minor repairs and will be livable while we continue the work. Eventually like to do something as well to provide for proceeds (from rentals) going to the Shriners Club. My grandfathers were both Masons, and so am I.”
Mr. Chandler noted previously that he hopes to work closely with the Old Mill Museum (in Kagawong) in this venture and with any individual, group or organization that will support the restoration of the resort, as a heritage property.  

Harbour Island is a 30-acre island that was once a playground for the rich and famous and was purchased by Mr. Chandler, a descendant of the original owner, Grant Rogers. He told the Recorder previously he wanted to get the property back into family ownership. His grandfather originally owned and built the resort on the island and he grew up hearing stories from his parents and grandparents about Harbour Island. His grandfather had originally bought a single lot on the island in 1942 and the next year transferred the property to the Jake and Heinz Company. He noted his grandfather built the resort as a recreational retreat. 

His grandfather bought the island back from the company in 1946, subsequently selling it to the Hutchinson family in 1945. His grandparents stayed at the resort as caretakers on a year-round basis.

The Billings Museum Committee recently announced the agenda and date for the 2019 History Day in Kagawong. The event will take place on Thursday, August 9. 

“First on the agenda schedule will be a multi-media presentation about the ‘Shipwreck Tales of Georgian Bay’ featuring historians Cris Kohl and Jane Forsberg, authors of ‘The Griffon.’ Cris and Jane were recently featured searching for The Griffon on Expedition Unknown on the Discovery Channel. For History Day in Kagawong they will reveal facts behind recently discovered shipwrecks and ones still awaiting discovery—including the Asia, the absolute worst disaster ever on Lake Huron, in terms of lives lost! Their new book ‘Lake Huron Shipwrecks’ will be available for purchase,” states a release.

Following a short intermission, “the museum committee will feature a multi-media presentation on the abandoned resort Harbour Island. During its glory days in the 1950s and 1960s it was the yachting playground for the rich and famous. Harbour Island was recently purchased by a local family and is being restored. New owner Rob Chandler will be in attendance to speak about the restoration project currently under way to return the resort to its former splendor.”

History Day in Kagawong will take place on Thursday, August 9 at 3:30 pm and will repeated at 7:30 that evening, at the Kagawong Park Centre (upstairs).

Contact the Old Mill Heritage Centre for further information at 705-282-4826 or oldmillheritage@billingstwp.ca