Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Eastern Canada: Thousand Islands

by Kathy 3. November 2012 11:27

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Thousand Islands

Along the border between Canada and New York is a stretch of the St. Lawrence River that is called “Thousand Islands.” There are actually over 1800 islands; to be included in the count, a protruding patch of land has to stay above water all year long and have at least one tree.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the area was the summer playground for many wealthy families who built eyeball-popping summer homes and lavish boat houses to protect their yachts. Many of those magnificent homes still remain, along with hundreds of small cottages and more modest houses.

To end our journey through eastern Canada, my family took a boat tour that wove between the islands and skirted past the highlights in the area.

Our boat:

We were lucky to get a time slot that fell between the arrival of some big bus tours, so our boat was not crowded. The interior seats were padded benches that weren’t bolted down. (One would think that this would be a safety concern in the event of a collision, but I’m sure there was a good reason.)

Sebastian, scoping out a good seat:

The grey clouds were gathering overhead as we pulled away from the dock:

On either side, the riverbank was lined with homes—both floating and on solid ground:

We glided under the Thousand Islands International Bridge, which was built in 1936 and includes 5 sections that hop from island to island, connecting Canada with New York:

Shortly past the bridge stood a statue of Saint Lawrence holding a grid-iron and looking out over the river:

Saint Lawrence was a devoted advocate and protector of the poor who lived in the 3rd century A.D. During a period when the Emperor was persecuting Christians and had killed the Pope and many church leaders, the Emperor demanded that Saint Lawrence turn over the riches of the church. He gathered together as many riches as he could, and distributed them all to the poor instead. For his defiance, he was put to death, allegedly roasted on a gridiron.

The 14-foot statue was carved by sculptor Jim Smith and erected here in 2006 to remind boaters about the namesake for the Saint Lawrence River.

The border between the U.S. and Canada zig-zags down the river, threading between islands and then swooping around them, as the countries had agreed not to divide any of the islands in two when establishing the international boundary line.

One short bridge between two islands is often proclaimed by tour guides (including the one on our boat) as “the smallest international bridge in the world”:  

The island with the house on it supposedly lies in Canada and the other island lies in the United States.  The story's credibility is enhanced by the existence of a Canadian flag on the left side of the bridge and a U.S. flag on the right. However, the story is completely false. Both islands lie in Canada.   Perhaps the basis for the widespread rumor stems from the fact that the smaller island holds a U.S.-Canada Boundary Commission reference monument that is used by surveyors to determine the exact location of the boundary.

Other fascinating islands that we saw were those that had a single home taking up almost the entire surface:

While the above home was exposed to the elements, as well as the prying eyes of all the boat tourists, another home was protected by enveloping trees:

One island home had a bird’s nest on the top of its chimney:

Some of the homes were very modest dwellings:

That modesty contrasted sharply with the opulent extravagance of some of the other homes, such as Boldt Castle on Heart Island.

Just to give perspective on the size of the main castle, the lovely fortress at the point of the heart-shaped island was just the Power House:

While the story of Heart Island and the Boldt Castle is one of love, it does not have a happy ending. In 1900, the island was purchased by millionaire George Boldt, owner of the posh Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Work began immediately on a 6-story, 120-room castle that included tunnels, a drawbridge, and lovely gardens—all a manifestation of George's deep love for his wife Louise, and their two children. Stonemasons, carpenters and artists were hired to bring to life George’s vision, and he spared no expense. In 1904, however, Louis died suddenly of a heart condition at the age of 41. George was devastated. All work on the castle came to a screeching halt, and he never set foot on the island again.

The castle was left to deteriorate until 1977, when it was purchased by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority.  Proceeds from castle tours now go toward restoration and preservation of the island structures.

The castle:

In front of the castle was the Hennery, also called the Dove-Cote, which held the island’s water supply in the bottom and a dove house on the top:

At the rounded top portion of the heart were the Arch and the Alster Tower:

The Alster Tower was modeled after defense towers common along the Alster River in Germany. It had a room for dancing, a bowling alley, and space for a billiard room, library, bedrooms, a café and grill, and kitchen.

The Arch evoked Roman monuments and was originally intended to be the entry point for guests visiting the Boldt family. The plans had called for a drawbridge that extended from the Arch’s opening to the embankment of the pond. Here is another view of the Arch:

While George was building the castle, he supposedly tasted a wonderful salad dressing at a meal given by actress May Irwin. She had allegedly obtained the recipe from a woman named Sophia LaLonde, who prepared the dressing in lunches for her fishing guide husband. George purportedly then instructed his hotel’s maître d’ to include the dressing on the hotel restaurant's menu. Voila! Thousand Islands dressing has been enhancing salads ever since.

While I’m not a big fan of Thousand Islands dressing, I did enjoy motoring through the islands and looking at the different land shapes and houses.

After our tour, we said “goodbye” and “au revoir” to eastern Canada, and crossed over the Thousand Islands International Bridge to re-enter the United States.

Our journey was almost complete.

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