Thousand Islands: Wikis


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Sunset over one of the smallest of the Thousand Islands. It supports one tree and two shrubs.

The Thousand Islands is the name of an archipelago of islands that straddle the Canada-U.S. border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. They stretch for about 50 miles (80 km) downstream from Kingston, Ontario. The Canadian islands are in the province of Ontario. The U.S. islands are in the state of New York. The islands, which number 1,793 in all, range in size from over 40 square miles (100 km2) to smaller islands occupied by a single residence, to even smaller uninhabited outcroppings of rocks that are home to migratory waterfowl. The number of islands was determined using the criteria that any island must be above water level all year round, bigger than one square foot (roughly 930 cm²), and support at least one living tree. The area is very popular among vacationers, campers, and boaters, and is often referred to as the "fresh water boating capital of the world".



The area is frequently traveled by large freighters traveling the St. Lawrence Seaway, but is so riddled with shoals and rocks that local navigators are hired to help the vessels travel through the hazardous waterway. Under the Canadian span, a vessel just less than 25 feet (7.6 m) offshore can find itself in over 200 feet (61 m) of water. Similarly, rocks and shoals less than two feet (61 cm) underwater can be found in the center of channels 90 feet (27 m) deep. Because of the great number of rocks and shoals just above or below the water's surface, it is unwise to travel the waters at night, unless one stays in the main channels and has charts, a chart plotter, or knows the area well. The water is so clear in some areas, that a rocky bottom can be observed in 80 feet (24 m) of water. (It was very murky with a visibility of only a few feet until the arrival of the invading Zebra Mussels, roughly around the mid-1990s.) The area features several shipwrecks and is a great place for diving. Although most of the wrecks are over 100 feet (30 m) underwater, some are a mere 15 feet (4.6 m) below the water's surface and can be seen by looking overboard.

Geologically, the islands are located where a branch of the Canadian Shield runs south across the river to join with the Adirondacks.

Aerial view of Boldt Castle and some of the Thousand Islands.

Around twenty of these islands form the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, the smallest of Canada's national parks. The Thousand Islands-Frontenac Arch region was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2002. The U.S. islands include numerous New York state parks, including Robert Moses State Park - Thousand Islands, located on an island in the St. Lawrence.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century many distinguished visitors made the region widely known as a summer resort. Several grand hotels provided luxurious accommodations while steamboats offered extensive tours among the islands. Wealthy and middle-class summer residents built summer homes. Some masonry "castles" remain as international landmarks. The most famous extant examples are "The Towers" on Dark Island, now called Singer Castle, and the long-neglected Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which is slowly being restored.

Canadian counties in the Province of Ontario that border the Thousand Islands

During the half century (1874-1912) of the resort's greatest prominence, most wealthy vacationers came from New York City, joined by prominent families from Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other cities of the United States and Canada. The region retains a historically important collection of vacation homes from this time. The Thousand Islands have long been a center for recreational boating. Large steam yachts, many designed by Nathanael Herreshoff required distinctive yacht houses. The region was known also for innovative power boating during this period. Three local yacht clubs hosted the Gold Cup Races of the American Power Boat Association for nine consecutive years. The Antique Boat Museum of Clayton, New York retains one of the world's major collections of recreational freshwater boats.

The Thousand Islands Bridge connects New York State and Ontario by traversing Wellesley Island at the northernmost point of U.S. Interstate 81 in Jefferson County and meets Highway 137, which leads to Highway 401. The Thousand Islands Parkway provides a scenic view of many of the islands.

The largest island in the group, Wolfe Island, is located entirely in Ontario. Adjacent to Wolfe but closer to New York is Carleton Island, the site of a ruined fort, Fort Haldiman, 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.

Powerhouse, Heart Island (Boldt Castle)

The Thousand Islands gave their name to the popular Thousand Island Dressing around the turn of the twentieth century when Sophie LaLonde, of Clayton, New York who served the dressing at dinner for guests of her husband, a popular fishing guide, gave the recipe to Clayton hotel owner Ella Bertrand and New York City stage actress May Irwin. Irwin shared it with hotel magnate George C. Boldt.

The towns most associated with the Thousand Islands are Alexandria Bay, New York, and Gananoque, Ontario. On both sides, free dock space is available to boaters who wish to come ashore and walk through the towns, with souvenir shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, pizza shops and arcades located nearby.

Another popular American vacation spot is the Wellesley Island State Park on Wellesley Island, which sports hundreds of camping sites, both powered and non, and several boat ramps and docking facilities for a boater-friendly park.

Popular boating, fishing and vacationing locations

  • One of the few beaches in the Thousand Islands, Potter's Beach on the American Grindstone Island has a fine, shallow sandy bottom with a very gradual slope, perfect for boaters that want to stretch their legs or socialize.
  • A popular location for swimming or anchoring out of the wind, the Lake of the Isles is a secluded area cut off from the rest of the St. Lawrence River by Wellesley Island and neighboring Canadian Hill Island. Access is limited through two narrow passages.
  • Known for its fishing, Eel Bay is a shallow bay just southwest of Wellesley Island. From the air, the bay can resemble the Caribbean with a turquoise-tinted crystal clear water and sandy bottoms.
  • Boldt Castle, a testament of one man's love of his wife, has been under renovation by its owner, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority since 1977, and can be visited by boat or tour cruise. This 120-room mansion and surrounding grounds are available for touring, and is also available for wedding ceremonies.
Singer Castle.
  • The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton houses exhibits antique wooden boats used or built in the region. The museum also features exhibits on the region's maritime culture and is home to the LaDuchess, George Boldt's luxury houseboat.
  • Though not as famous as George Boldt's Castle, Singer Castle on Dark Island is privately renovated and is open to tourists. Frederick Bourne had his castle constructed with secret passageways so that he could spy on his guests.


One of the smaller islands (the island is named "Just Room Enough"), containing a single house.
  • In the Saint Lawrence River, about two miles (3.2 km) north of Alexandria Bay, there is an island called Deer Island which is owned by the secret society of Skull and Bones.
  • There is a pair of islands near Rockport called the Zavikon Island. A popular but incorrect[1] tale among the local tourist guides is that the bigger island is in Canada, while the smaller one is in the USA, and the foot bridge between them is the shortest international bridge in the world.[2][3] The Zavikon Island is located in the Canadian territory and belongs to the Leeds and Grenville municipal unit.[4][5]
  • There is only one artificial island in the entire region, Longue Vue Island.
  • Thousand Island dressing was named for the chain of islands by the actress who popularised the dressing, May Irwin.


See also


External links

Tourism offices

Coordinates: 44°20′02″N 75°59′41″W / 44.33389°N 75.99472°W / 44.33389; -75.99472


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

The Thousand Islands are an island group split between New York's North Country and Eastern Ontario, lying on the Canada-US border, where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River. It is a very scenic and popular summer cottage area.


The Thousand Islands are one of the most scenic spots in Ontario and northern New York. Some 1,700 islands (defined as anything permanently above water that can support at least one tree) dot this portion of the St. Lawrence River that straddles the Ontario/New York border. During the 18th and most of the 19th century, it was a choke point on the St.Lawrence and therefore of vital military importance for both the young United States and the British colony of Canada. The colonial and military influence is still visible on the Canadian side in towns like Kingston.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Thousand Islands were mainly a retreat for the wealthy, some of whom bought a private island for their summer mansion. These are visible on boat cruises down the river.

Now, it is mainly cottage country and is extremely popular during July and August holidays.

Get in

On the American side, the Thousand Islands region is served by Interstate 81, which meets the St. Lawrence River at Fisher's Landing (in between Clayton and Alexandria Bay). From there, you can either continue across the Thousand Islands Bridge to Wellesley Island and Canada, or follow NYS Route 12 along the River. On the Canadian side, Highway 401 is the most obvious choice from points anywhere but due north.

There are two main US-Canada crossing points in the Thousand Islands region.

  • The first option is the aforementioned Thousand Islands Bridge system, which is made up of five individual spans linking the State of New York with the Province of Ontario through Wellesley Island (on the American side) and Hill Island (on the Canadian side). A single toll must be paid to cross onto the islands (but not off them), making travel to an island within the national borders as expensive as going all the way to the other country.
  • The other option is the ferry between Cape Vincent, New York and Wolfe Island, Ontario (and from Wolfe Island to Kingston). Cars line up in a queue at the ferry dock and wait until they are allowed to board, drive on, drive off at the opposite side, cross Wolfe Island, and repeat the process. The ferry between Kingston and Wolfe Island (both on the Canadian side) is not only free of charge but much larger, and travelers spend the trip in a separate passenger area rather than in their respective vehicles. The ferry from both sides is also popular for cycling on Wolfe Island.

To cross the border in either direction, don't forget your passport. Travel between the two sides is generally very easygoing, but since 2001 the US has stepped up its security checks and a passport is now essential for a hassle-free trans-national trip.

Get around

A number of different ferries and tour boats depart from Gananoque, Alexandria Bay, Rockport and Clayton. Pleasure boats may also be rented.

Timing the U.S./Canada border crossing is key to quickly getting from one side of the Thousand Islands to the other by car. The border inspection point is at its busiest on Friday evenings, Saturday mornings, and Sunday evenings, when waits of 60-90 minutes are possible. If you avoid these rush hours, your wait at the border may be two minutes or less.

Be aware that there is a toll to cross the bridge going from one country to the other. Rates vary depending on the U.S/Canadian dollar exchange rate, but is usually around $3. For that amount, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the islands from the bridge.

  • Boldt Castle, Heart Island, USA (Ferry from Gananoque, Rockport, Clayton, and Alexandria Bay), 1-800-847-5263, [1]. May-October. An impressive castle on its own island in the middle of the river. Built by a millionaire for his wife, tourist revenue now pays to renovate and complete it.  edit
  • The Clipper Inn, 126 State St, Clayton, is a fancy restaurant with $20-$35 entrees and is where the locals go for a nice evening out.
  • The Island Grill, 1222 Hwy 96 Wolfe Island (One block east of the ferry dock), 613-385-2157, [2]. 8am to 10 pm. Casual, Licensed waterfront patio with spectacular view of the Kingston skyline. Homemade burgers, fresh cut fries, beer battered fish and chips and lots more! Live music Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons through July and August. A true Island summer getaway! $5 to $25.  edit


The Thousand Islands are home to two distinct dialects of English, depending which side of the St. Lawrence River you're on.

On the American side, residents speak American English with an accent colored by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (as in Rochester, Syracuse, or Chicago), along with a little bit of Canadian Raising absorbed from north of the border. Essentially, this means that:

  • the short "a" as in "can" (/æ/) sounds like "eea" ([ɪə]) before nasal consonants /m/ or /n/;
  • the long "ah" sound in "father" or "God" (/ɑ/) is shifted towards the short "a", ending up as [a] (sounding close to "Gad");
  • the "aw" sound in "law" or "bought" (/ɔ/) is moved towards an open "ah" sound ([ɑ]);
  • the "uh" as in "cut" or "mother" (ʌ) has moved further back, closer to where the "aw" sound was ([ɔ]);
  • the short "e" in "bet" (/ɛ/) is close to, but not quite, a schwa (rather close to the New Zealand short "i", [ɘ]);
  • the short "i" sound in "milk" or "hit" is closer to the former short "e" ([ɛ]), except in the "-ing" verb ending, which sounds like "een" ([in]).
  • and the long "i" sound in "right" or "like" (/aɪ/) is pronounced something like "uh-ee" ([ʌj]). This last one also means that locals can still tell the difference between pairs like "writer" and "rider", even if they sound identical to you.

For a sample sentence in eye-dialect: "Oh my Gad, I kyan't believe you wint fesheen at nuyt and cot so mawch!" Honestly, though, it's not nearly as difficult to understand as all this explanation makes it out to be, and unless English isn't your first language it shouldn't give you any trouble. There is little vocabulary deviation from General American; in terms of word preference, locals call sugary carbonated drinks "soda" and when they say "the City", they usually mean Watertown (or Syracuse, if they're feeling daring).

Speech on the Canadian side is much closer to a generalized Canadian accent (with a few regional peculiarities), perhaps best exemplified by Hockey Night in Canada commentator and Kingston native Don Cherry.

In spite of the bilingual French/English signs on the Canadian side of the river (and the French heritage on the American side), actual Francophone speakers in the Thousand Islands region are few and far between, being far more populous downriver in Québec. Pronunciation of French-named landmarks tends to hew closer to actual French pronunciation on the Canadian side, while in the North Country it is heavily localized ("Chaumont", for example, is pronounced "sh'-MOE", while "Frontenac" is "FRAHNT-'n'-ack").

In spite of these wide differences, there are still points of commonality. In terms of weather, "Lake Effect" is heavy snowfall due to the influence of nearby Lake Ontario (though relatively few travelers come to this area during the winter), while "the Ice Storm" was an event in January 1998 that felled many trees and knocked out power across much of the North Country and Eastern Ontario. Be prepared to be outclassed in nautical terminology unless you grew up near a body of water. And of course, don't forget that "the River" is always the St. Lawrence River, no exceptions.

Routes through Thousand Islands
Ends at  N noframe S  WatertownSyracuse
OshawaGananoque  W noframe E  BrockvilleMontreal
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