The Thousand Islands Millionaires Playground

The 1000 Islands are in the heart of the St. Lawrence River, running along the Canadian and American sides of the border from Kingston to Cornwall in Ontario.Exactly 1,864 Islands make up the 1000 Islands region. To become an official part of the count, an island must meet two criteria: it must be above water 365 days a year and it must support two living trees. Ferries or bridges provide access to Wellesley, Hill, Wolfe and Howe Islands. The islands are unique, offering a wonderful recreation experience that spans two nations.

Each island has its own individuality with features such as stately granite cliffs, soft sandy bays, tall dark pines and vibrant maple trees-it's a sightseer's paradise. Many islands are privately owned but ample public access can be found at island parks and villages throughout the region.It was French explorers who named the region. Vacationers discovered the islands in the 1870s, when wealthy people began to build summer homes while other travelers came to stay in large hotels. For more than a century the area has been a mecca for summer visitors. In the more distant past the islands were stepping stones between New York State and the Province of Ontario-in times of trouble between Canada and the United States, a place of refuge and a setting for disreputable deeds during the days of Prohibition.

On the Canadian side the Thousand Islands Parkway is one of the province's prettiest drives and well worth the detour off the 401 freeway. It connects a string of attractive riverbank communities from Kingston to Cornwall, the most notable of which is Brockville. Brockville's King Street is dotted with stately old homes including the remarkable Fulford Place, now a national historic site. Fulford Place was built on a fortune made in patent medicine and the family were friends with such notables as William Lyon Mackenzie King, longtime Prime Minister of Canada. The mansion is impressive and the stories about the people who lived here are fascinating.The rich military history of Kingston is much in evidence, from the Royal Military College, seen across the bay, to Fort Henry and the 1846 Murney Martello Tower national historic site.

Their most famous character is none other than the country's first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald and his former home, Bellevue, is now a national historic site that is maintained in brilliant period detail.The sights and sounds of an 1860s village in the midst of the harvest are yours to discover at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg.

Every September they host a traditional Fall Fair where you can see the "best of the best" in 19th century agricultural products, livestock, garden-grown vegetables, crafts, cooking and handiwork. The Apples and Art Studio and Heritage Tour in Cornwall is a great venue for starting your Christmas shopping.For the outdoor enthusiast there is the St. Lawrence Recreational Path. This recreational path stretches over 75 kms, the majority of which follows the shoreline of the St.

Lawrence River. The path begins in Lancaster travelling along the shoreline to Gray's Creek and then travels through Cornwall to continue winding through the rolling terrain toward Long Sault. The path then follows the island causeway of the Long Sault Parkway and continues to the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ingleside, then arriving at Upper Canada Village Heritage Park. From the Village, the path continues into the village of Morrisburg, with a section also completed in Iroquois.

Here Ontario and the United States meet, their cultures blending in the waters of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, the first in the Great Lakes. The native peoples called this region the "Garden of the Great Spirit". Today, many people still remark that this gorgeous garden of woods and waters that is the 1000 Islands is truly one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Others will tell you its friendly atmosphere, fresh outdoors and laid-back pace makes the 1000 Islands a place that inspires the spirit and renews the soul.At the turn-of-the-century in 1899, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full size Rhineland Castle in Alexandria Bay, on Picturesque Heart Island, on the New York State side of Lake Ontario. The grandiose structure was to be a display of his love for his wife, Louise.Beginning in 1900, Boldt's family shared four glorious summers on the island in the Alster Tower while 300 workers including stonemasons, carpenters and artists fashioned the six story, 120 room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a draw bridge and a dove cote. Not a single detail or expense was spared.

In 1904, tragedy struck. Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately "stop all construction". Louise had died suddenly. A broken hearted Boldt could not imagine his dream castle without his beloved.

Boldt never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love. For 73 years, the castle and various stone structures were left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow and vandals. When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977, it was decided that through the use of all net revenues from the Castle operation it would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. Since 1977, several million dollars have been applied to rehabilitating, restoring and improving the Heart Island structures.A very pleasant way to explore the 1000 islands is to take a twilight hour boat tour that unveils a beauty of the river and islands not seen at other times of the day. These romantic tours explore a section of the islands not visited during the regular day tours, including the Sport Island group and historical Grenadier Island, the site of many battles during the French and Indian War.

These tours and a number of others including a dinner cruise looping around the islands through US and Canadian waters, are offered by boat tour companies out of Alexandria Bay.And finally, also out of Alexandria Bay, there is a Hot Air Balloon company that offers two flight times a day, weather permitting. One at sunrise and the other about two hours before sunset. Their flights last about 45 minutes to an hour and the intended flight path is paralleling the river and the Islands, offering a completely different perspective on the 1000 Islands.


Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Canada Vacation.

By: Michael Russell


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