John McQuarrie spent an entire summer living aboard his boat, mooring at marinas in Kingston, Gananoque and Brockville in order to capture nearly 5,000 images of the Thousand Islands. From these, he selected more than 400 to appear in his 232-page book “1000 Islands Then & Now,” his fifth in the “Then & Now” series. For more information, e-mail McQuarrie at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.creativeshake.com/johnmcquarrie.com.
Ian Coristine is one of the most iconic photographers in the Thousand Islands, known worldwide for his remarkable aerial photos. To date, he has published five best-selling books, including his groundbreaking interactive eBook “One in a Thousand.” Coristine’s work was profiled in Lakeland Boating’s October 2012 issue (p. 40). His photography and information about his books, including “One in a Thousand,” are available on his website, www.1000islandsphotoart.com.
Boating on the Border
There are customs reporting requirements for boaters in the Thousand Islands visiting both the U.S. and Canada. The most important rule of thumb is to call ahead to either customs office to learn if your port is accessible. It’s important to know your reporting requirements and to always carry your passport and acceptable identification, even for short trips.
• U.S. Customs: 315-482-2261
• Canadian Customs: 613-659-2301
• Alexandria Bay Coast Guard Station: 315-482-2574
• U.S. Border Patrol: 315-482-7556
Websites for up-to-date reporting requirements
• U.S. Customs and Border Protection: www.cbp.gov.com
• Canada Border Services Agency: www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/menu-eng.html
How to report your entry to Canada
Planning to “land” your vessel on Canadian soil, or you’ve left Canadian waters and landed on U.S. soil? Call the Telephone Reporting Center (TRC) at 888-226-7277.
All private boaters who intend to land on Canadian soil, or who have departed Canadian waters and landed on U.S. soil, are required to report to a CBSA-designated marine reporting site, such as the one located in Brockville and other coastal communities including Rockport along the St. Lawrence River. Upon arrival at a CBSA designated marine reporting site, call the TRC at 888-226-7277 to obtain clearance.
Not planning to “land” your vessel, or you’ve left Canadian waters but did not land on U.S. soil? You still need to report to the CBSA. Certain recreational boaters may contact CBSA by calling TRC at 888-226-7277 from their cellular telephones upon arrival in Canadian waters. This includes: Canadian citizens and permanent residents who have not landed on U.S. soil; and U.S. citizens and permanent residents who do not plan on landing on Canadian soil.
Trusted Traveler programs
The CBSA’s Trusted Traveler programs streamline the border clearance process for pre-approved, low-risk travelers. NEXUS and CANPASS members can provide advance notice to CBSA at least 30 minutes (minimum) and up to four hours (maximum) prior to arriving in Canada by calling the NEXUS Telephone Reporting Center at 866-99-NEXUS and 888-CANPASS, respectively. For more information on how to apply for NEXUS and CANPASS, as well as the full requirements and benefits of the programs, visit www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/nexus/menu-eng.html for NEXUS, or www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/prog/canpass/menu-eng.html or CANPASS.
Failure to report
Failure to report may result in detention, seizure or forfeiture of your vessel and/or monetary penalties. The minimum fine for failing to report to CBSA upon entry to Canada is CAN$1,000. — K.L.
Welcome to Island City.You won’t find it in the tropics or at the end of a mythical voyage in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie sequel. But boaters can find it at the eastern gateway to the amazing archipelago known as the world-famous Thousand Islands. Brockville, “The City of the 1000 Islands,” is located in Ontario directly across from Morristown, New York on the St. Lawrence River. The very first European explorers on the St. Lawrence came across Three Sisters Islands off the shores of Brockville as the first of what they discovered to be Les Mille-Îles, translated from French into English as “the Thousand Islands.” That was just the beginning. There are actually 1,865 islands dotting a 50-mile stretch of the river between Brockville and Morristown and Kingston and Cape Vincent.
There’s a breathtaking beauty to these islands, scattered like jewels across this majestic stretch of the St. Lawrence on both sides of the border. Many are privately-owned, some with historic cottages, others with grand summer estates, storybook bridges and even castles. While some islanders take up residence on their islands six months of the year, most are content to enjoy dockside living at their cottages during the summer. That’s when the river really comes alive as an unparalleled boaters’ paradise.
Brockville’s historic harborfront is a welcoming port with downtown dockage, but the city also offers boaters the chance to visit some of its own municipally-owned islands in the scenic Brock Isles. There are two full-service marina operations with community overnight dockages and support services. But these city-owned islands offer serene getaways for boaters and are located only minutes from Brockville’s shoreline. The Brock Isles make up the most municipally-owned islands in Canada. The city purchased a total of 29 islands in 1933 for $3,631. Today, 16 have been developed for the public, some with trails, campsites and dockage for overnight boaters. Most of the Brock Isles were named after British officers in the War of 1812 who fought under General Isaac Brock, the city’s namesake. The islands offer a perfect place to picnic, swim and watch ships silently slide through the Brockville Narrows. The freighters seem so close to the shores, you feel as though you can almost touch them. Some of the islands in the Brockville Narrows are private, including Royal and Prince Alfred islands.
A secret gem
Brockville is somewhat of a secret gem among the Thousand Islands, located a relatively short distance from major Canadian cities including Toronto and Montreal. The nation’s capital of Ottawa is only an hour’s drive to the north, while Syracuse, New York is a two-hour drive to the south. Today the city is enjoying a renaissance on the river with several residential waterfront developments underway, as well as a new anchor tourism attraction: The $21-million Aquatarium, which fully opens in March 2014. The Aquatarium (aquatarium.ca) and the marine interpretive center’s initiative called RiverQuest (1000islandsriverquest.com) will cast a spotlight on wonders of the Thousand Islands region. The Aquatarium will include a live otter exhibit as well as displays about the area’s Gilded Age, pirates, shipwrecks and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
“The Aquatarium essentially will tell the story of water and history relevant to our region,” says David Paul, Brockville’s director of economic development.
In June, Brockville hosted a War of 1812 Tall Ships festival as the First Port of Call for the provincial event, attracting 13 historic vessels from across North America and Norway in a 16-port tour across Ontario.
Simon Fuller, the Ottawa developer behind the Tall Ships Landing Condominium Resort on the city’s waterfront who spearheaded the private-public Aquatarium project, describes Brockville’s waterfront as a Thousand Islands’ treasure.
“Brockville is an idyllic port of call to experience the best of the Thousand Islands dockside lifestyle,” says Fuller. “Whether moored at one of the 16 municipal-owned islands or within the Tunnel Bay Harbour, all of the historic charm, cultural attractions and modern amenities that you could expect at a ‘Niagara of the River’ are available to you within walking distance.”
Fuller’s great-grandfather, Thomas Fuller, was Canada’s chief architect. He designed some of Canada’s Parliament buildings in addition to 160 government buildings across the country, including in Brockville. Fuller came across Brockville quite by accident when he learned his great-grandfather’s building in the city’s Court House Square was for sale on eBay. His company, the Fuller Group of Companies, bought and restored the building, renaming it the Thomas Fuller Building. Fuller went on to build the Tall Ships Landing Condominium Resort on the city’s waterfront, which offers slips to residents and a panoramic view of the Brock Isles.
Fuller sailed tall ships as a youth along the St. Lawrence. His father, the late naval war hero known as the “Pirate of the Adriatic” built the tall ship Fair Jeanne in his family’s Ottawa backyard. The Fair Jeanne, one of the tall ships participating in the recent tall ship festival here, frequently sails throughout the Thousand Islands and was used as a floating stage to shoot a music video of the critically-acclaimed Toronto band The Great Lake Swimmers.
Island culture and attractions
Brockville has lots to offer visiting boaters, including downtown shops, restaurants, patios, farmers’ market and The Brockville Arts Centre, one of the finest heritage performing arts theatres in Canada. The oldest incorporated city in Ontario has historic landmarks and picturesque Victorian mansions line its streets and waterfront. The city also has Canada’s oldest railway tunnel and pristine parks and walking trails.
“People here of all generations don’t lose their passion for the river,” said Bonnie Burke, the curator of the Brockville Museum. “Everybody has a connection to the river.”
Brockville boasts some of the world’s best freshwater diving to explore the area’s historic shipwrecks. The port city is also linked to the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve as a United Nations environmental and historical designation.
Tourists in Brockville shouldn’t miss the opportunity to visit Fulford Place, the grand summer estate built and once owned by Senator George Fulford I, which is now operated as a museum by Ontario Heritage Trust. The museum has a room dedicated to an exhibit on the yacht that Fulford named Magedoma, using a combination of the initials of his wife and children’s names. Today the vintage vessel is known as its original name, The Cangarda. The refurbished 1901 steam yacht made a comeback to the city after a visit here two years ago. The remarkable $12-million restoration of Cangarda by California venture capitalist Dr. Rob McNeil is a story in and of itself and tells much about Fulford.
The 20,000-square-foot Edwardian mansion, perched on a hill above the river overlooking Three Sisters Islands, is a testament to the rich and famous of the region’s Gilded Age. Fulford hired the landscape architect firm that created New York City’s Central Park to design his Italianate garden. The mansion was built as a summer home in 1901. Fulford made his millions marketing “Pink Pills for Pale People.” Just across the river, Morristown was known for the famed patent medicine, “Dr. Morse’s Indian Root Pills.”
And this is just the start of a voyage through the fabled Thousand Islands. The river shares two countries and islands with idyllic names like Fairyland and Mermaid island or menacing monikers such as Deathdealer and Bloodletter island. There’s popular boating destinations like Lake of the Isles, the Lost Channel and the International Rift — a famously narrow passage between Canada’s Hill Island and America’s Wellesley Island. Boats can cruise under the Thousand Islands International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this August, and by the watchful eye of a statue of the Saint Lawrence perched on the Canadian waterfront cliff near Ivy Lea.
Exploring the islands
Tourists from around the world flock here to take daily boat tours of the Thousand Islands from Brockville, Rockport, Gananoque and in New York’s Alexandria Bay and Clayton.
Escape day to day routine with a vacation you’ll remember for a lifetime. Diane Kirkby of 1000 Islands Luxury Tours Inc. offers one-week guided tours of the region with an insiders knowledge of the stories and people who helped shape these islands. Experience the “best of the best” and discover the area’s rich history, unparallelled beauty, attractions and “hidden treasures.”
Some popular tours take visitors to see Boldt Castle on Heart Island and Singer Castle on Dark Island in New York. Waldorf-Astoria hotelier George C. Boldt built Boldt Castle at the turn of the last century for his wife, Louise. Heartbroken, he halted construction of the 120-room castle on the heart-shaped island when she died in 1904 just before her 42nd birthday. Remarkably, the castle sat vacant for seven decades before it was taken over as the region’s major tourism attraction by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977. The castle was covered with vandals’ graffiti, some of which still remains on the walls today. The castle has since undergone a $34-million Cinderella-story makeover one room at time to bring it to life.
Dark Island’s Singer Castle, the region’s only lived-in castle, is also a major tourism attraction located near Chippewa Bay, New York. The 28-room castle, with secret passageways, tunnels and even a dungeon, was built by Frederick Gilbert Bourne, a president of Singer Sewing Machine Company, in the early 1900s as a hunting and fishing lodge. Bourne, who owned a 110-room mansion on Long Island, New York, was among many wealthy industrialists to build in the Thousand Islands during the region’s Gilded Age. Today visitors can book the castle’s royal suite to stay overnight on Dark Island as “king and queen for a night,” complete with a guided tour of the secret passageways.
A voyage upriver from Brockville will take you by islands near Rockport, Alexandria Bay, Ivy Lea and towards the Admiralty Group near Gananoque and the aptly-named Wanderer’s Channel. You can even attend a floating church service at Bostwick Island’s Half Moon Bay, where boaters have been worshipping in the tranquil cove at Sunday sermons every summer since 1887. Deep waters here are ideal for anchoring and there are many islands that have state, provincial and national parks for dockage and camping.
A stop at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York is a must-see for boaters with many classic wooden boats on display, along with the lavish houseboat La Duchesse, donated by the McNally family of Wellesley Island and Chicago, Illinois, as one of the exhibits.
Fine dining can be found dockside at the Ivy Restaurant and Marina at Ivy Lea, with slips for boaters to stop in for lunch or dinner. There are plenty of patios and restaurants on both sides of the border, along with shopping, museums and tourism sites. Wolfe Island, near Kingston, is the largest Thousand Island with 1,400 year-round residents, across the River from Cape Vincent. The coastal village is known for its annual French festival in July, an homage to its French heritage and the fact French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to live in exile here.
A storybook escape
These shores offer an appealing escape for many. There’s something timelessly enchanting about the Thousand Islands. British novelist Charles Dickens penned these words after a taking a trip aboard a steam boat here in 1842: “The beauty of this noble stream at almost any point, but especially in the commencement of this journey, when it winds its way among the Thousand Islands, can hardly be imagined.”
A voyage throughout this “noble stream” today calls for a visit to the port of Brockville to discover the treasures of Island City.