The Perfect Family Island: Halfcrown Island, Quebec

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The perfect family island, just a 90-minute drive north from Ottawa, Half Crown Island sits on pristine Thirty-One Mile Lake. Surrounded by the stunning lake country and towering evergreens of western Quebec’s Gatineau Hills, the glacier-formed lake has points that are over 200 feet deep and its clear waters make for wonderful summer swimming.

Half Crown’s current owners started visiting in 1979 and rented until 1993. When their predecessors got older and decided to sell, these summer tenants immediately snapped up the 3.86-acre lake isle and now spend up to five months of the year there. They describe it as the perfect antidote to Houston’s blazing summer temperatures. With its stands of pine, spruce, cedar, maple, oak and birch, Half Crown Island’s fall colors are spectacular.

The current owner talks of “wonderful neighbors” both on the mainland and on adjacent islands, and his wife adds that it’s the perfect family island where “everyone can be together.” In fact, the couple’s grandchildren grew up coming to the island and the Texans even brought their cats and dog with them for their long summers on-island. She says, “It’s an intimate lake with lots of nooks and crannies to explore. As opposed to the Muskokas, Thirty-One Mile Lake is incredibly private. You don’t see a lot of neighbors — some days we only see one boat — yet we’re only an hour and a half from Ottawa.”

The granite and limestone island is inaccessible for about three months of each year, when winter ice forming and breaking up makes reaching the island by boat hazardous. “But if I could,” says its current owner, “I’d stay the whole 12 months.” His wife adds, “We’re the only people on the lake who cut ice. Our caretaker cuts big, clear 300-pound blocks and stores them in the icehouse for use in the summer. Everybody says the lake ice makes the drinks taste much better.”

The island boasts five fully furnished and equipped cabins, each with a private bath; a swimming dock and paddle tennis court; two outdoor living decks and outdoor kitchen with rotisserie, smoker, gas burner and massive stone fireplace; outbuildings that include three boathouses, an icehouse, woodshed, propane generator and water pump house and a workshop; 14 boats, including seven power boats that range from a 23-foot cedar strip with a 115HP ETEC to a 17.5-foot fishing boat with a 70HP Evinrude two-stroke, plus two sailboats, three fiberglass canoes and two antique cedar strip canoes.

The first buildings on the island were built in the 1930s and include the icehouse, the Mid-Heaven cabin, an outhouse (now repurposed as a gardening shed) and the original boathouse. Half Crown’s second owner built the other houses in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the island features a 4,000-square-foot, two-bedroom main house with a large formal dining room that seats 20; a three-bedroom staff house; the three-bedroom Mid-Heaven cabin; the one-bedroom Sunrise cabin; and the Northern Lights studio, which sleeps two. For added privacy, cabins are thoughtfully situated far apart. The island can very comfortably host 16, or even 20, at a time.

Today’s owner says, “The woman who designed the house was an architect and she really knew what she was doing. You have breakfast where you see the sun in the morning, and have dinner where you see the sun set. You see the lake from every window in the main house.”

“We fish, hike, canoe, picnic, read and entertain family and friends,” his wife adds. “The lake has a wonderful social group. We’ve made so many good friends here.”

The fishing is superlative on the lake, with five edible varieties likely to end up on the end of your line. Thirty-One Mile Lake has been rated as the most pristine grey trout fishing lake in all Ontario and Quebec. The owner mentions that fishing for both large and small mouth bass, as well as white fish and pike, is excellent. The lake is also home to a large population of common loons, the striking, black and white birds made famous in the movie On Golden Pond. Drifting to sleep while listening to the haunting calls of the loons is one of the island’s greatest and most distinctive pleasures. The North American Loon Fund has conducted banding and release programs on the lake, and found the loon population on Thirty-One Mile Lake to be among the world’s healthiest — a direct reflection of the pristine quality of the lake.

Nearby towns include Gracefield (19 miles west) and Maniwaki (22 miles northwest), where the airport offers a 5,000-foot runway for private jets, plus a helipad. A grocery store is situated about 15 miles away. In summer, small markets scattered around the lake sell an array of local produce, from corn to blueberries.

Further enhancing its appeal, Thirty-One Mile Lake is home to the famed, membership-only Gatineau Fish and Game Club, a fishing and hunting lodge founded in 1894. Half Crown’s owner credits the diversity of the club’s membership for its popularity, mentioning that members have included five Canadian ambassadors and a number of medical professionals. “It’s helpful when you have a sore throat,” he says with a laugh. As well as providing a prestigious summer address for a selection of Canada’s diplomatic elite, the Club has played its part in international relations. During World War II, the US, Britain and Canada even held crucial meetings about the atomic bomb in a cottage on the lake.

The Club adds significantly to the allure of this property for families with children. There are fishing tournaments, canoe races, sailing on lasers and dinghies, and a packed social calendar of dinners, dances and barbecues. The couple’s grandchildren made lifelong friends through summer camp activities. Their grandparents say, “It really is one of those kinds of places you don’t see very often. The Club is a real big plus. We use it for access to the island and leave the car there. Our big boat makes the trip from the Club to the island in 15 to 16 minutes and there’s a marina at the Club where you can get fuel, so we don’t have to tote that back and forth.”

Like their predecessors who reluctantly relinquished Half Crown when they advanced in years, the island’s current owners have decided it is time to pass on this treasured property to a younger generation. The island’s now 80-year-old owner says, “I don’t think you could have a private island with more character and convenience. It’s like being at home, yet with total privacy.”

Half Crown is offered fully furnished. “Everything comes with it,” says the owner, “From pots, pans and dishes, to $40,000-worth of bedding.

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