We Bought Our Own Private Island

A couple who started out penniless managed to create a beautiful private island home off the coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

| March/April 1978

Man With Duck

David VanderZwaag holds onto his pet duck on his family's very own private island off the coast of Cape Breton.


If you've ever wanted to own and live on your own private island ... well, stop dreaming about it! My wife and I are proof positive that such an idle fantasy can be converted into delightful reality. Or, to put it another way: If we could buy and homestead our very own island, anybody can.

We Were Penniless When We Made the Jump

A few years ago, when I was still a penniless theological student, Cindy and I and another couple fell in love with MacLeod Island, a 90-acre chunk of North American wilderness off the coast of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Although the asking price for the water-bounded piece of property was only $5,800, or $2,900 per couple, that was about $2,900 more loose cash than Cindy and I had to our names at the time.

Still, it never hurts to ask, and we did ask a local banker (we lived in New Jersey at the time) about the possibility of a loan. And he did take pity on a couple of poor Mother Earthers. And we did get the money! Hey! We were home free! We could buy our private island! Buoyed up as we were by our incredible good fortune, we had no trouble putting in the necessary time at YMCA odd jobs (everything from pool attendant to camp counselor) to earn the dollars we needed to make the monthly payments on the loan.

By the time I graduated from school (June 1974), we had received our Canadian immigration papers, and we were ready to retire to MacLeod's Island (our island!) for a summer of diving, foraging and tree chopping.

It was a glorious summer. But we did still owe $2,000 on the property, so in October, we began a new phase in our lives: For the next 1 1/2 years, we slaved away the weeks in the city (Sydney, Nova Scotia) and spent our weekends finishing off a log cabin out on the island.

Finally, in May of 1976 — at last! — we had the bills all paid and were ready to live on our island full time. So we packed a tailless cat, two ducks and 10 chickens into a two-place kayak ... and paddled off to paradise.

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