Holman’s Island near Summerside permanently protected as a “Hotel for Birds”
Holman's Island, PEI (Photo by Sean Landsman)
It was once the site of PEI’s first summer resort and a lavish hotel, but now Holman’s Island is under the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC’s) permanent protection as a “hotel for birds.” The 90-acre (36-hectare) island features a large salt marsh and mature Acadian forest, making it an ideal habitat for birds.
Last month the former landowner, Sue Kelly, attended a ceremony held by NCC in Summerside to honour her family’s decision to conserve the island.
“My brother and I inherited the property from our parents. We wanted it to go to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. We want it to remain as it is so that the public can enjoy it,” said Kelly, whose family owned the island for 61 years.
The history of Holman's Island
Holman’s is famous for the Island Park Hotel, built in 1872, which hosted North America’s wealthy. The hotel offered a billiards room, bowling alley and gourmet meals, but closed for business a few years after it opened. Some say it was ruined by the huge populations of mosquitoes on the island.
In December 1904, the abandoned hotel mysteriously burned down. For more than 100 years the island has been untouched, returning slowly to its natural state.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to protect an island that is not only ecologically important but also has a cultural and historical aspect that we can protect,” says Julie Vasseur, NCC’s program director in PEI. “Holman’s Island will be allowed to flourish as it is, and we welcome people to go and visit.”
The mystery of Holman's fire, solved?
On a recent boat trip to Holman’s, the captain told NCC staff that he had heard how the hotel caught fire. He once spoke to a man who said it was an accident, and who claimed to have been responsible. Apparently he and some other young duck hunters were stranded on Holman’s during a snowstorm, and they took refuge in the hotel. To stay warm, they lit a fire in an old woodstove and later put it out before they left, but the hotel burned the next day.
Although there are still signs of the former hotel, such as an old basement, foundation stones and a well, all are heavily overgrown with moss. Lilies remain from the former gardens, now struggling under a canopy of huge native trees. Holman’s lush forest and marsh host many different types of birds, including the endangered red knot. In peak season, up to 2,000 Canada geese and 1,000 Atlantic brant migrate to the area.