Thursday, April 25, 2024


Island Books: A Modern “Swiss Family Robinson” Saga on Whale Island

Author Daniel Hays has penned a poignant and humorous account of purchasing a small island and moving his reluctant family there for a year.

(On Whale Island by Daniel Hays)

(On Whale Island,  by Daniel Hays)

For the many people who have fantasized about what life would be like living on a remote island, Canadian author Daniel Hays has just the tale for you. In “On Whale Island: Notes from a Place I Never Meant to Leave”, he illustrates the charm – and frustrations – of the private island lifestyle.

“In 1988 a real estate agent showed me a Xerox of an aerial photograph. He handed it to me almost embarrassed, because the property was so far away,” Daniel wrote of his experience buying the island. For him, however, it was perfect – even if, according to the agent, it was almost impossible to get to, with nothing on it but an abundance of rocks and thick forests.

All 50 acres of Whale Island soon belonged to Daniel, in exchange for a modest sum, and he set about making the island a home. His attempt at pursuing a life of solitude was made more complicated, however, by the fact that he wouldn’t be ruling over the kingdom of Whale Island on his own.

More “Swiss Family Robinson” than “Robinson Crusoe”, Daniel would be joined in his island adventure by his wife and 11-year old stepson – along with two rambunctious dogs. After the mammoth task of building a small home and moving all of their possessions, with the help of an army of friends and family, settling into their new life would be more difficult than Daniel imagined.

Throughout his book, he details in an intimate diary style –albeit with all names and details somewhat changed – the trials and tribulations of island life, shining a light on the interpersonal challenges of living in such close and isolated quarters.

The psychological difficulties, would, in fact, be far more difficult than the labor. The incredible tasks that Daniel and his family faced in their first months – building an array of solar panels, a wind generator, and septic system –paled in comparison to the hazards of boredom and ennui that set in during their later months.

Waging what could be considered a philosophical crusade for independence, the author is particularly suited to a hard existence on Whale Island and well-equipped by his prior experience sailing South America and working as a wilderness survival expert. His wife and stepson, predictably, missed the comforts and community of civilization.

The objections of his family limited Daniel’s island adventure to 365 days, but inspired a fascinating account that potential island owners would find a helpful read. The tale spun in “On Whale Island” is a great reminder that when it comes to living on a private island, the only things you can really count on are plenty of surprises.

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