Mark Lamey, The Montreal Gazette, May 11, 2001
William Blomstrom, a Toronto ad man, is the brains behind www.privateislandsonline.com, a Web site that markets island real-estate all over the world. Are you looking for an Italian idyll or a Greek getaway? Then this is the place to start.
His site features 162 island retreats in places as exotic as Oceania or as homey as Georgian Bay. He even has two Quebec properties listed. Prices begin as a low as $29,500 for a one-room cottage on a small island in Stuart Lake in British Columbia's interior and range into the millions for castles and estates in the Italian Riviera, the Adriatic or the Caribbean. The site is loaded with photos and links to other real-estate sites. It has a price-conversion function so you can calculate how much 750,000 Irish punt is in Canadian dollars (about $1.3 million.)
Blomstrom grew up in Thunder Bay and spent a lot of time looking out at the islands that dot Lake Superior. "I guess it's always been an interest of mine," he confessed in a phone interview this week.
He began researching the idea of a Web site dedicated to the sale and rental of island properties about six months ago and discovered that while islands can be bought through conventional real-estate Web sites, finding the listings can be time-consuming.
He launched his site three weeks ago and is encouraged by the number of visitors it attracts - about 800 a day, with each visitor viewing an average of 19 pages per visit.
"It's probably not as many as visitors as the Interesting Things To Do With Butter Web site gets in a day, but it's a start," Blomstrom said, then stopped to reconsider. "Maybe you shouldn't use that quote." Too late, pal.
Chances are that many of Blomstrom's cyber-visitors are idle dreamers like me. There are worse ways to waste a few minutes on a slow work day than looking at pictures of Pelican Island, 32 acres of lush greenery in sapphire waters off the coast of Antigua. It's probably a steal at $6.3 million U.S. Then there's Dark Island, a seven-acre island in the St. Lawrence River, near Watertown, N.Y. The rose granite main house was built for the president of the Singer Sewing Machine Co. in 1904. Asking price? $2.5 million U.S. The place has a turret.
If prices like those make you feel weak in the knees, you can always surf through the islands in the rental section, where the prices are a little more realistic. You might want to rent a three-bedroom cottage on Hattie Island in Lake Huron, near Sault Ste. Marie, for $600 a week. The rental section doesn't have many listings, yet.
Blomstrom has picked up several listings from Rudy Nielsen, a B.C. entrepreneur who has his finger in many real-estate pies.
He claims to be one of the province's biggest landowners. He buys remote properties, holds on to them for a few years and then sells them when the market is ripe. Since starting his business in 1972, Nielsen has sold thousands of properties, including abandoned mining towns that he's redeveloped for recreational-vehicle owners. His company, Niho Land and Cattle Co., maintains a very interesting site at www.niho.com.
"When you sell someone an island, you're selling them a dream," the very friendly Nielsen said in a phone interview. "They take one look at a spot and picture themselves there. If you stop to think about it carefully, building on an island isn't all that easy."
He began specializing in islands years ago. He'd take his sons on camping trips in B.C.'s interior. They'd canoe down the Fraser River, land on an island, cut a trail through the woods, build a cabin and eventually sell the property.
There's a picture of one of Nielsen's islands on the front page of Blomstrom's Web site. It's called Kassan Island, one-third of an acre in size, with a sandy beach at one end and a cabin on a rocky bluff at the other. The land is covered with pines and surrounded by the kind of blue water you only see in beer commercials.
"It's a beautiful spot, with snow-capped mountains back in the distance. The area used to be very popular with the Americans," Nielsen said of Stuart Lake, about 80 miles west of Prince George.
With two shopping days left until Mother's Day, buying an island online might be the perfect gift idea. Besides, could your mother complain that you never call if you've bought her a pied-a-terre called Wavi Island in Fiji? Sorry, the place doesn't have a phone line.