Born and raised to the age of eight in the largest, noisiest, sharpest-elbowed city in Canada, I gave no thought to the pastoral life of country folk I’d occasionally see on CBC television during the supper hour.
All that began to change in 1971 when my father managed to acquire a 10-acre piece of land that belonged to his family’s ancestral homestead in Guysborough County, N.S.
It was a peninsula of forest framed on two sides by a pond and on the other by beach frontage. He called it The Island, possibly because owning an island seemed more impressive than owning a peninsula.
As a new cottage rose rapidly near the crest of the property, which offered spectacular views of Chedabucto Bay and still does, I began to imagine myself as some sort of Scottish laird.
On August vacations there, I would spend every day patrolling the borders, searching for poachers and other interlopers. I dreamt of one day building my own cabin in the woods. From this primeval perch, I watched rollers from distant hurricanes crash onto the shore.
None of this will be new to anyone who grew up on a patch of land near any sizable body of water. But unless I’m very much mistaken, interest in owning islands is on the rise.
Two years ago, the Saint John Telegraph-Journal featured New Brunswick islands for sale not once but twice in as many weeks. One of them might have set you back a cool $3.7 million.
As the story reported, “Sandy Robertson stepped out of his vehicle onto a snow-covered clearing to show off a beloved trait of his private island. The absence of noise, just wind whistling through the trees, complements the serene, panoramic view of where the St. John and Kennebecasis rivers meet.”
At about that time, a website called Notable Life devoted an entire feature to island life, beginning its write-up thusly: “Thinking about buying a condo? If you’re in Toronto, the average one of those will run you about $370,000, or in West Vancouver around $590,000. But maybe you’re considering a stand-alone, single-family home in Toronto for an average price of just over $1 million?
“Or perhaps you’d like to land somewhere between a savvy investor, a lover of nature and tranquility, and a Bond villain, and buy yourself your very own island. You’ll probably be shocked to know (we still can’t really believe it) that across Canada, there are currently more than 30 islands on sale for under $500,000. Now, some of them have not been developed, so they’ll require some additional investment to make them ‘livable,’ but when you consider … (the) country’s real-estate market … it’s pretty amazing to imagine that for such a small price-tag, you could have exclusive access to such considerable beauty.”
Consider, for example, a plot on Nova Scotia’s Big Tancook Island, which Notable Life described as “an absolutely stunning property” with “11.6 acres that boast 449 feet on the ocean. Sub-divisible, this parcel might become a roomy family compound, grounds for the only hotel or campground on the island, or a sailing destination just six miles from the world-famous Chester Yacht Club.”
Indeed, adds the website Private Islands Inc., “At nearly a mile wide by two-and-a-half miles long, Tancook Island is the largest island in Mahone Bay with strong fishing traditions and approximately 125 year around residents (200 in summer), served by a passenger ferry. It is reminiscent of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket 150 years ago.”
Not for nothing, but it also hosts a new rug-hooking club that, only last week, announced its determination to “bring together lifelong Tancookers with newly arrived residents to revitalize the art of rug hooking for which Tancook was once well known.”
I have a theory about all of this. Whenever the world takes an especially bitter turn (Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, the rise of populist political parties in Europe), those with enough coin in their pockets will cast their eyes both wearily and jealously to a place they need a boat to reach – there to rusticate happily like the country folk they secretly and always wanted to be.
Alec Bruce is a Halifax journalist who writes about business, politics and social issues, and editor of Troy Media Partner news site The Bluenose Bulletin.