No trip to Gananoque, just 20 minutes east of Kingston, is complete without taking in a scenic cruise through the central part of the 1,000 Islands of the St Lawrence River. Some longer cruises offer one a stop-over at historic
Boldt Castle on Heart Island, and there is even a helicopter option, but today, we decide on a short, one-hour cruise aboard the "1000 Islander," a three-decker ship captained by Tim Brooks and Ryan Riddell, both Gananoque natives.
Leaving at 10.30 am., they manouever amidst myriad islands, large and small, actually a total of 1,855 islands. Tim explains that the ship's small 5.5 feet draw, allows access everywhere, even into the shallows, the waters quite crowded this sunny morning with motor boats, sailboats, cruisers and a squadron of brave kayaks.
The private cottages set amidst the islands are 5th and 6th generation, owned by fortunate people indeed who include business and political leaders from Canada and the U.S. and even a few university professors.
We venture through narrow channels of the Admiralty and Navy group of islands, viewing small lighthouses and watching for great blue heron, osprey and geese. We pass by several parks including the St. Lawrence Highlands National Park, and McDonald, Forsythe, Hay, Lindsay, Leek and Bostwick Islands. The St. Lawrence Highlands is 23.5 sq. km. and includes 24 islands, 90 inlets and shoals, and is the site of the preserved hull of a British gunboat from the War of 1812, raised from the St. Lawrence River near Mallorytown Landing.
The (incorrectly-named) 1,000 islands stretch for about 50 miles (80 km) downstream from Kingston, Ontario bordering Ontario and New York State. They range in size from over 40 square miles (100 km2) to those occupied by a single residence, or uninhabited outcroppings of rocks that are home to migratory waterfowl. Water clarity improved noticeably in the mid-1990s with the arrival of zebra mussels, which feed on algae. The area has several shipwrecks, and although most are over 100 feet (30 m) deep, some are a mere 15 feet (4.6 m) down, seen from the surface.
Tim and Ryan report that muskellunge are the most prized fish in these waters, the remarkable record, just one ounce short of 70 pounds; however, 20-30 pounders are much more common. There are also pike, pickerel, bass and several other species abundant here.
An odd factoid is that
Thousand Island dressing was named for this chain of islands by May Irwin, an actress who popularized the dressing, stating that she thought the chopped vegetables in the dressing looked like the Thousand Islands region.
Towards the end of the cruise we come upon an unusual sight off our starboard. Upon a minuscule island, there is a cottage and boat parked at the dock and wedged miraculously between the two, a small helicopter that I would surely like to watch get into and out of its remarkable postage-stamp sized pad.
Returning to the dock, we enjoy a great view of
The Gananoque Inn and Spa where we stay for the night in Room 108, with big windows and a beautiful view of the harbour and its 3 cruise ships. The Inn enjoys its own long dock, and comfortable Adirondack chairs are scattered strategically about for patrons to leisurely relax and observe myriad boat action out there in the St. Lawrence.
We try the restaurant, enjoying steak sandwiches along with the local lager beer, Naughty Otter, produced by Thousand Islands B&B owner Bruce Davis (with a Niagara connection) who founded the
Gananoque Brewing Company, which has been brewing heritage and specialty beers since 2011.
In the evening, we walk to the Firehall Theatre, one of two in The Thousand Islands Playhouse (the other: The Springer Theatre) to watch
Jake's Gift - A journey to Juno Beach, a one-woman play written and performed by Julia Mackey, who alternates between two principal characters, Jake, a crusty Canadian war vet, who, for the first time in 60 years, returns to Juno, one of the five beaches in the Normandy WWII landings on June 6, 1944 and Isobel, a young Bernières-sur-Mer girl whose class undertakes the task of tending to the 2048 (her favourite number) Canadian graves. It's a poignant play that Mackey has performed across Canada, and I feel a tear roll down my cheek a mere 10 minutes into it. In the lobby, military artifacts help set the mood. The stage itself is bare save for a bench, table and box.
Gananoque boasts a little over 5,000 year-round residents, but there are some charming historic buildings along the waterfront, including shops, museum, and an art gallery. It's an attractive, inviting town, and we will return soon.
1000 Islands Gananoque Boat Line
1000 Islands Gananoque Boat Line and Gananoque
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.