Mum and I spent our night in Gananoque in a beautiful Bed and Breakfast called “Sleepy Hollow”. The owners were delightful – I always find it amazing how kind people are to let strangers stay in their home. Mum and I thoroughly enjoyed the stay and breakfast was especially nice, shared with a couple from Peterborough, another couple from Japan (and their two young children) then a young French couple who joined later on.
After our breakfast, we headed out in anticipation of the Thousand Islands tour we had planned. The weather was unfortunately rather overcast, but this did not impinge on the tour – the Thousand Islands are amazing in hail, rain or shine (and most probable even snow).
Map of the Thousand Islands
A few notes from the tour:-
- There are 1,864 islands;
- Straddle the US/Canada border. The line does not split any single island;
- To be considered an island, the mass of land must have at least one living tree, be at least 1 square foot size and remain above water year round;
- Islands stretch for about 80 kilometers / 50 miles downstream from Kingston, Ontario;
- Overall landmass of islands split evenly between US and Canada;
- The St Lawrence River is a treacherous stretch of water, therefore ship liners use qualified river pilots for their voyage;
- Waldorf Astoria as the first major hotel to sell Thousand Islands Dressing;
- Granite rock quarry on Piston Island. Used to build Boldt Castle and others on millionaires row;
- Underwater cables for electricity;
- 1880’s tracks laid on the ice to travel between islands;
- Mailboxes on docks – mail delivered from Gananoque. Mailman became first tour boat operator and founder of Gananoque Boat Lines;
- US prohibition very interesting time in the area due to number of smugglers and rum runners. Many experts at navigating the area. Would do things such as pain their boats a different colour on each side so as to trick the border agents. A few other tactics used included putting large amounts of salt in the bags so that if they were caught, they could throw bags overboard with the hope the salt would dissolve and bags float to surface by time the agents had left. Another tactic was trailing the cases of booze behind their boats. White Lightning (moonshine) bottles are still found in the lake by divers!
Boat tour route:
Notable wrecks in the St Lawrence River:
- A.E. Vickery (1889);
- Iroquois HMS Anson (1763);
- Kinghorn (1897);
- Roy A Jodrey (1974) – one of World’s biggest freight shipwrecks.
- St Lawrence Seaway opened 1959. One of most important seaways in the World
The St. Lawrence Seaway opened to navigation in 1959. Construction of the 189-mile (306-kilometer) stretch of the Seaway between Montreal and Lake Ontario is recognized as one of the most challenging engineering feats in history. Seven locks were built in the Montreal-Lake Ontario section of the Seaway, five Canadian and two U.S., in order to lift vessels to 246 feet (75 meters) above sea level.
The 28-mile (44 kilometer) Welland Canal is the fourth version of a waterway link between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, first built in 1829. The present canal was competed in 1932, deepened in the 1950s as part of the Seaway project, and further straightened in 1973. Today its eight locks, all Canadian, lift ships 326 feet (100 meters) over the Niagara Escarpment.
St Lawrence Seaway:
- History of Heart Island
George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, and his family enjoyed an earlier frame cottage on Hart Island (the island’s original name) for several summers, which they greatly expanded. In 1900, George Boldt launched an ambitious construction campaign to build a huge masonry structure, one of the largest private homes in the United States. He engaged the architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt and hundreds of workers for a six-story “castle” as a present to his wife. In addition, four other masonry structures on the island are architecturally notable. Equally distinctive is a huge yacht house on neighboring Wellesley Island, where the Boldts had another summer home and a vast estate, incorporating farms, canals, a golf course, tennis courts, stables, and a polo field.
The construction of Boldt Castle ceased abruptly in early 1904 after the death of Boldt’s wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Boldt never returned to Heart Island, leaving this structure as a monument of his love. For 73 years, the castle and other stone structures were left exposed to the harsh winter weather and occasional vandals. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Heart Island and the nearby yacht house in 1977, for one dollar, under the agreement that all revenues obtained from the castle operation would be applied towards restoration, so that the island would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. In the two decades after acquiring the property, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority spent some $15 million for restoration and improvements here, and work continues annually. The initial goal of the restoration of Heart Island was not to finish what had not been completed, but to restore the island to the state it was in when construction was halted. Improvements have gone beyond that stage, however; a stained glass dome, marble floor, and grand staircase woodwork, for instance, now seen in the main hall, were not original but are modern innovations.
Prior to European colonization, the Thousand Islands region was home to, or visited by, members of the Iroquois Confederacy and Ojibwa people. Their name for the islands was Manitouana or the “Garden of the Great Spirit”.
The region was a part of the War of 1812 between the British Empire and the United States. Many sites from the war can be found, such as Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario and the garrison on Chimney Island, Mallorytown, Ontario. Museums about the war can be found on both the Canadian and American side of the river.
- Largest island is Wolfe Island at 127 square kilometres or 49 quare miles. The island was part of the traditional hunting lands of the Tyendinaga Mohawk people and the original name of the island is Ganounkouesnot (‘Long Island Standing up’)
- Adjacent to Wolfe Island but part of New York is Carleton Island, the site of a ruined fort, Fort Haldimand, built in 1779 by the British during the American Revolutionary War. The island was captured by three American soldiers during the War of 1812 and remains part of the United States today.
- Deer Island, about two miles (3.2 km) north of Alexandria Bay, is owned by the secret society of Skull and Bones.
- A pair of islands southwest of Grenadier Island are collectively called Zavikon Island. A popular but incorrect tale is that the larger island is in Canada, while the smaller one is in the United States, and the foot bridge between them is the shortest international bridge in the world. Zavikon Island is entirely located in the Canadian territory and belongs to the Leeds and Grenville municipal unit.
- Longue Vue Island is the only artificial island in the region. It will remain so, because it is against environmental legislation to create more;
- Ironsides Island is home to one of the largest Great blue heron rookeries in northern New York State, where over one thousand herons return to breed each April. The uninhabited rocky island near Alexandria Bay, New York is owned by The Nature Conservancy and was listed as a National Natural Landmark in 1967.
- Calumet Island is located near Clayton, New York. The privately owned island formerly featured a “castle” mansion belonging to New York tobacco tycoon Charles G. Emery, and later hosted a marina in the 1960s.
- Just Room Enough Island is the smallest inhabited island in the United States.
Sources of information: Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thousand_Islands) and my notes obtained from the commentary on Gananonoque’s Thousand Island’s Tour.