Photography by Lindi Pierce
This 60-acre scrap of land has seen a lot of changes. Volcano. Glacier. Wind, water, and driven sand. Sheba’s Island sits in West Lake in Prince Edward County, itself an island in a larger lake.
A causeway built on a sandbar bordered by marsh and open lake connects Sheba’s Island to the West Lake shoreline. In the 2017 high water year, residents rediscovered island living, when access was cut off. Winn’s Road crosses the causeway and climbs a hill shaded with cedars and cottonwoods; a loop road circles the island.
Island resident John Moore explored local history in his 2004 publication, Winn’s Island, alias Shebas’s, Tubbs’, Macdonald’s Island (the spelling changed in the 1930s). The island changed names under several of its 13 owners; family names which appear even today in phone books, on road signs, or on the stones in old churchyards. Joseph Winn owned the island from 1809 to 1816. The Tubbs family (as in Isaiah Tubbs Resort) were owners from 1816 to 1875.
Albert and William Henry McDonald owned McDonald’s Island from 1900 to 1932. William operated a muskrat farm in the marsh during the 1920s (occasional sightings persist) and built a practice track, part of today’s road, for his fine trotters.
The island was agricultural for much of its history, farmers driving their cattle over for summer pasture. John noted evidence of orchards and a sugar bush. By the 1930s and ’40s several businessmen-owners used the island for a hunting and fishing preserve, and a private cottage enclave.
Perhaps surprising to anyone visiting the busy spot today, the island was privately owned until 1956 when it was purchased by investor Mike Sheba, who subdivided and sold the first summer cottage lots, creating the summer community on Sheba’s Island. Astonishingly, the purchase price was said to be $16,000 and, “People thought he had rocks in his head.”
Mike Sheba’s unique 1974 retreat boasted 50-foot wooden beams and hand-built doors, and a moat. Today two large suburban homes face the westerlies there, on the open point.
Long-time residents John and Margaret Moore have watched many changes from their private wooded acre in the centre of Sheba’s Island. “It’s been a construction site since 2000 – now only a few empty lots remain.” A handful of original cottages still stand. Those which do are typically demolished and replaced by large showplace homes filling the lots to the edges. Cedar bush surrenders to construction. The willow-draped pond the Moores once shared with nesting little green herons is now occupied by a striking modern home built for entertaining.
Perhaps the biggest change is in the community. With the proliferation of weekend homes and short-term rentals, old-time residents feel they’ve lost touch with neighbours. Weekenders bring their community with them; they may not share the day-to-day connections which characterized the former tight-knit summer cottage community. “We hardly know anyone anymore.”
The island keeps on changing.
Despite it all, some things are immutable. A canoe can still slip into the glassy smooth water at dusk, a great blue heron can fish, wind rustles in the bulrushes, and mallards court on Sheba’s Island.