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Cape Vincent, NY
Our journey through eastern Canada began and ended on the U.S. side of the border. Our final destination was the sleepy town of Cape Vincent in northwestern New York—far removed in location and mindset from the skyscrapers that dominate the southeastern corner of the state.
What enticed us here was the opportunity to sleep in a former lighthouse keeper’s home—our 3rd hostel on this trip. Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel exuded charm, at least from the outside:
The lighthouse was on a point of land that jutted out into the water where Lake Ontario flowed into the St. Lawrence River.
It is also listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The land had been deeded to the U.S. Government for a lighthouse in 1827, and the current lighthouse was built in 1854. The U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse duties in 1939, but left the premises in 1981 when the light became automated, and a keeper was no longer required. The keeper’s quarters opened as a Youth Hostel in 1984.
The hostel was only open from 5 p.m. until 9:00 a.m., for overnight stays. Getting a reservation took some perseverance on my part, with unanswered emails and evening telephone calls that merely reached a recorded message. It was as if the hostel didn’t want any business. We ultimately scored, however, and reserved a “family room” on the 2nd floor—the window with the light on, to the left of the lighthouse below:
The reservation process should have given us warning that something wasn’t quite right here. We arrived just after 5 p.m. to find the hostel door still locked. As we stood on the front porch wondering what to do, a sweaty man walked up and, barely glancing at us, began unlocking the door. I greeted him and said that we had a reservation. He looked at us and said slowly, “Oh. You’re the family.” Then he opened the door, went inside, and closed the door behind him.
We were left looking at each other with raised eyebrows. Was he coming back out? Should we follow him inside? We chose to wait. About five minutes later, the man came back out wearing different clothes. He said that he had gone for a run earlier. Speaking very little, he walked us to a second building where he checked us in. The bits and pieces of weirdness just kept adding up. First, there was apparently only one key to our room, and the man said that we couldn’t have it because he needed to keep it. (Okay. No biggie. This just meant that we had to keep our belongings in our car until we retired for the night and could lock the door from the inside.) When we asked whether there was WiFi, the man paused and then said slowly, “Yeah, but I have to give you the password.” But he made no effort to give us one, so we had to expressly ask, “Can we have the password please?” He also showed us a large living room that he called the “common area”; however, it looked like it had someone’s personal belongings stacked here and there, and when Ben asked if we could hang out there to check email, the man indicated that we might not want to and trailed off mid-sentence. He also forgot to give us towels, and he didn’t mention anything about coffee or use of the kitchen in the morning.
Given the man’s slow speech, his tendency to not answer questions or even finish sentences, we thought he might have some social skill challenges or even mental difficulties. But then we arrived back at the hostel after dinner to find him in the kitchen area talking up a storm, laughing, and joking with a woman who turned out to be a Hostel International representative who had shown up unexpectedly to inspect the hostel facilities. His Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde behavior will remain a mystery.
In any event, our room was basic, as we had anticipated. However, the beds had such a range of firmness that we joked about sleeping in a room from Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In the photo below, I am taking the picture from the striped Papa Bear’s bed (so hard that Ben laid down and immediately moved over to share the bunk beds with Sebastian); Genevieve is in Mama Bear’s bed (squishy soft, like a marshmallow); and Ben and Sebastian are on Baby Bear’s bunk beds (not perfect, but pretty good when compared to the others):
The best part about the hostel was the beautiful setting next to a functioning lighthouse.
Occasionally, a cluster of tourists would arrive and wander around the property. Although the door to the lighthouse was open, the interior locked gate barred visitors from climbing the spiral stairs to the top.
As the sunlight faded, we sat in the wooden chairs and discovered dinosaur heads and other figures in the clouds:
The hostel was also less than 5 minutes from Cape Vincent, down a 2-lane street lined with large historic homes.
The Stone House was built in 1815 and purportedly sheltered Canadian rebels during the Patriot War in 1839, when some Canadians rebelled against British rule but were defeated.
The Maple Grove house was built in 1838 by a French officer in Napoleon’s army:
The General’s Mansion was built in 1872:
Cape Vincent became a popular tourist destination in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when wealthy families began flocking to the Thousand Islands area every summer. Although we were there during August, which would seem to be prime vacation time, the downtown businesses seemed pretty deserted.
Tucked away off of the main road was a large children’s playground, which had lots of nooks and crannies and was obviously designed by someone who is a child at heart:
In the morning, we left our hostel (not to be confused with “hostile”) and stopped in town for some great coffee and muffins that were served with a smile at Taste of Design, a tiny café and interior design shop combination:
A flier advertised that the business was for sale, along with a large apartment. The price was very inexpensive compared to Santa Cruz, California housing, and the apartment looked lovely. As I often do when traveling, I took a moment and visualized what my life would be like if our family lived here. But there just wasn’t a heart connection to this place. Our hearts, at least for the immediate future, had settled into a nice groove in California.
After a long drive to the Pittsburgh airport, we were homeward bound.
Our journey through eastern Canada had revealed parts of the country that had surprised and thrilled us—the drenching spray from Niagara Falls, the height of the CN Tower in Toronto, the multi-cultural neighborhoods in Montreal, the flour and wool mills on Isle-aux-Coudres and in the Eastern townships, the tight-rope adventure over Canyon Sainte Anne, the best-chocolate-dipped-cones-ever in Quebec City, the British roots so evident in Ottawa, and the single-island homes built within the Thousand Islands area. Those memories, and so many more, we carried home with us.
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