I first discovered the Thousand Islands three days into a CYA sailing course that was basically a boat camp for sailors.

It was the end of September. We’d been underway twenty-four hours a day. Our skipper/instructor finally took mercy on us – no doubt persuaded by the odiferous crew – and instructed us to tie up to a dock at Mermaid Island in St. Lawrence Islands National Park.

The leaves were just beginning to turn – blushing maples, oak leaves gilded in gold.

I dove into crystal waters, floating lazily, staring out at the sun falling into the west, its rays burnishing the waters of the St. Lawrence.

Looking for respite from both the peccadilloes and the aroma of my crewmates, I towelled off, changed into warmer clothes and climbed a granite ridge. I found a spot atop a fifteen-metre cliff and watched the day decay into night, lights on the cottages on the nearby islands twinkling like Santa’s eyes.

I was smitten.

If I’d ever needed a reason to come back to the Thousand Islands, I’d just discovered it in no uncertain terms.

A thousand good reasons, to be precise.

Fast forward to a perfect August morning, my wife and I trudging along a gravel road above Chippewa Bay in the eastern reaches of the island chain. The road turns back and forth on itself, at last opening up on a rolling meadow.

On the right side of the road tall grasses sway in the breezes scurrying along the river, twenty shades of green punctuated by an explosion of wildflowers. Purple loosestrife, goldenrod, white lady’s slippers.

It is the perfect foreground for a perfect picture.

And one more good reason.

Background is a necklace of islands carved from granite, strewn like jewels across sapphire waters. The current etches a mosaic of patterns onto the surface. Blue skies and inverted pine and cedar trees are mirrored in the places the current bypasses.

A rustic cottage dominates one island. A Victorian mansion with dormered windows, wraparound porches, a massive boathouse, teal-painted clapboard facades with butter-coloured trim and twin towers, capped by candle-snuffer roofs, holds court on another.

A castle with turrets rises up from Dark Island, boasting an electrical plant designed by Thomas Edison, secret passageways, a dungeon. A slice of Europe snugged down in the current of one of North America’s premier waterways, a body of water as full of history as it is full of boaters.

And as full of surprises.

Anywhere else in North America a castle would be an anachronism. Anywhere else the juxtaposition of blue water, green forest and these turrets would jar the senses.

But not here. Here the castle works. And there’s even a nautical connection. Gilbert Bourne, one-time president of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, commissioned its construction. He was once the commodore of the New York Yacht Club.

And Singer Castle isn’t the only – or even most famous castle – here. Boldt Castle, near Alexandria Bay, sees more yearly visitors and is a quick cruise from Alexandria Bay or Gananoque.

Nor are these fairy-tale constructs the only startling anomalies.

One morning we see two sea kayakers, one green, one yellow, sharing wind-ruffled waters with a three-hundred-metre-long freighter, beside a sailboat, beside a mahogany runabout riding the wake of a great white tour boat.

All on a thousand-kilometre water route known as the St. Lawrence. Gateway to Canada, guardian of North America.

But it’s not just the sheer scope of the river that makes the area such an attractive cruising ground. This waterway cradles more than a millennium of islands.

“They’re the extremely ancient roots of mountains,” says Don Ross, a Hill Island resident and the author of Discovering the Thousand Islands. They form a geological bridge that connects the heights of the Canadian Shield to the Adirondacks, an arch of granite that almost, but not quite, blocks the easterly flow of water from the Great Lakes.

“Actually closer to eighteen hundred islands,” says former Thousand Islands tourism representative, Suzanne Bixby. “Some we haven’t even counted. Supposed to have two trees and supposed to be above water all year.”

One day, Ron Mowers, a resident of Tennis Island and skipper of a beautifully-maintained Egg Harbor 33’ named “19th Hole,” pilots us on a nautical tour of the archipelago. From the flying bridge, Mowers points at a little island near Boldt Castle. It has one tree.

“Doesn’t qualify,” says Bixby, who’s come along for the ride.

But more than a thousand do.

On another journey here we ply these waters in a runabout skippered by Don Ross himself; I discover even more reasons to love the place.

I’m a history buff. This is history’s haven.

The Battle of the Thousand Islands was waged here in 1760 between the British and the French. Ross skippers us into a serpentine channel bedecked by granite boulders and wind-crippled pines. “The French lured the British into this passage,” he says. “The British lost the wind and steerageway. The French pounded their ships.”

The island names are eloquent testimony to that bellicose past. The Navy Islands bear the names of ship captains from the British Navy; the Admiralty group memorializes different admirals. Death Dealer, Camelot, Dumbfounder and Endymion are all named for British warships. The Brock Island group and Wolfe, the biggest island here, are both named for British generals.

But the islands themselves only tell part of the history.

Kingston offers it up like a gourmet meal. Tour a penitentiary museum, learn the art of war at a Martello tower, a fortification unique to this region, and visit Old Fort Henry or the Bellevue House, the restored one-time residence of John A. MacDonald. Check out the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes right on the shores of Lake Ontario and stroll through a Coast Guard ice-breaker.

Alexandria Bay on the American side began life as a lumber trade site. It sported a wealth of wharves around the 1830s and was recognized as a tourist must-do when Ulysses Grant visited nearby Pullman Island in 1872.

Explore the Cornwall Brothers store, built in 1829 and now an interesting museum, or take a historic walking tour of this village down by the riverside.

Clayton, also on the American side, offers a wealth of period architecture, much of it reflecting the importance of the river to trade. Store fronts are refurbished to period authenticity and are uniquely positioned: open to the water as much as to the street, boasting plate glass windows at both ends – street side and water side. A variety of patios and balconies overlook the river. These buildings offer a multitude of delights to shoppers – from gift shops to antique galleries to a couple of great art galleries.

Take a historic walking tour here or visit one of the three museums. The Antique Boat Museum offers unforgettable glimpses of the history of boating in general and insight into the role that recreational boating has always played on these waters.

But a love of history isn’t the only – or even the best – reason to go ashore.

Alexandria Bay – locals call it “A Bay” – boasts more than its share of establishments offering up liquid libations to a multitude of boaters – and a party atmosphere that makes it well worth a visit. Just make sure you book an overnight berth. You will not want to leave until morning – if then.

Sip a cool one in the Caribbean ambiance of the lounge at Dock by the Bay or stretch out on the patio beside the pier beneath brightly coloured umbrellas. Stroll across the street and admire the view from Top of the Bay with its battleship-grey railings and two-leveled deck and its own small dock. Check out The Islander or Pirates’ Pub. Or pull into Skiffs, with its horseshoe-shaped bar and a Jolly Roger flag hanging over the bandstand, where you can get a glass of wine and a large beer with free peanuts – and receive change from your ten-dollar bill. “Just throw the shells on the floor,” quips the bartender.

Then there’s Kingston. Hit ten different pubs in one night, each a walk from your berth at Confederation Basin. Sip beer brewed onsite at Kingston Brewing Company or sample one or two or three from a selection of thirty different whiskeys at Tir nan Og.

Next morning redeem yourself by imbibing in a bit of culture. Kingston’s got its own symphony orchestra, a blues festival, the annual Buskers’ Rendezvous.

Or head east to Gananoque – locals call it “Gan” – and catch a live show at the Summer Playhouse Theatre.

But the best reasons to visit here are still nautical: all else is but icing on the cake.

Last summer we ventured here yet again, to be regaled by the sight of a conflagration of white sails, graceful and plentiful as a flock of seagulls, the entire horizon line decorated with a plethora of dinghies participating in the annual CORK Regatta off Kingston.

It’s incontrovertible evidence of this area’s primacy as a boater’s playground, if not one of the world’s best freshwater cruising areas.

During our boat ride with Don Ross we pass an anchorage at Endymion Island. Ross slows the boat. Set against a background of evergreen forest, three or four mooring balls bob in the gentle waves. A heron stands in the shallows like a Renaissance statue.

“This is what it’s all about,” says Ross. “More anchorages than dock spaces. Maybe three hundred transient berths. More than two thousand anchorages.”

Other local favourites include Thwart way (Leek) Island, Brakey Bay south of Howe and the east side of Mulcaster. Then again, given the numbers Ross tosses around, you’ll have no trouble finding your own.

If you’re looking for a compromise you “could still find a dock in great natural settings,” says Bixby. “On the Canadian side a number of spots in the St. Lawrence Islands National Park offer dockage with some facilities. You can berth at a marina at Wellesley Island or Keewaydin State Park.”

Or simply drop the hook in a bay to call your own, get out your book, hoist your hammock, then while away an evening soothed by the scent of pine.

We spend the last evening of our last visit here ensconced on a balcony overlooking the parade ground at Old Fort Henry. It’s the Wednesday sunset ceremony, held all summer in the limestone citadel guarding both the approaches to Kingston itself and the vanguard of a regiment of islands scattered to our east.

From the ramparts on the fort’s southeast walls you can see trees clinging desperately to barren lichen-painted humps of granite on Cedar Island, defined by the red roof and squat walls of a defensive Martello tower, fortified companion sentinel to the fort itself.

We’ve already been serenaded by a local community band; we’ve had ringside seats to a mock conflict, the flashes from muskets like fireflies in the night sky. Cannon blasts have reverberated across the square, swathing the red-coated soldiers in blue-grey smoke.

And now the lights dim, leaving a lone spotlight focused on a bagpiper standing high on the fortress walls.

The eerie lament causes a sudden tightness in my chest, a sense of pride in my heritage, a sense of awe at the sights we’ve seen, at the richness of this archipelago we’ve experienced this week – a microcosm of all that is Canada itself.

The piper launches into an eventide hymn. The flag is lowered, a bugle calls out.

The crowd is silent here where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence, where a smattering of out islands – Howe and Wolfe and Amherst – melds seamlessly into a thousand others.

The crowd rises as one person. We sing “O Canada” in harmony.

The last stirring chord echoes through the walls of the citadel.

I realize, listening to the last dying tones, that I have discovered yet another great reason – but one more in a multitude of convincing excuses – to come back to the Thousand Islands.

Again and again and again.

By Mark Stevens Photographs by Sharon Matthews-Stevens

Just 10 shopping days to Christmas, so what to get for the boater who has everything? How about a solar cooker? Judging from these two short videos the guys at Stright-MacKay seem pretty excited about their new product. 
The Crescent Custom Yachts workforce represents ...
I am fortunate to have the ability to work from ...
The Boating Skills Virtual Trainer (BSVT) allows ...
whether you choose power or sail (or both) ...
Your boat is tucked away for the winter, but ...

Destinations

  • Prev
The Moorings has just announced the launch of its newest Caribbean destination, Antigua. 
Toronto sailor and former RCYC coach/sailing instructor Ryan May is now a US coast guard captain ...
Just before the weekly party at Shirley HeightsSunsail staffer Chris Donahue conducts our chart ...
Chartering in the Caribbean conjures up images of turquoise sea, palm fringed beaches and great ...
Since anyone who opens an independent bookstore is at least as brave as a small boat shop owner, I ...
You’re on your way east to the 1000 Islands or the Trent-Severn. By entering north of Prince ...
I have lived in Ontario my whole life but have only recently had the pleasure of visiting the City ...
My trip to the Northwest Passage started long before I boarded the flight to Kangerlussaq with ...
During the summer of 2016, my wife and I cruised through the North Channel in Lake Huron on our ...
It’s like we’ve waved a magic wand and disappeared into a picture perfect painting, our ...

The Middens of Galiano Island

By Catherine Dook

We motored our way into Montague Harbour along a twisted channel with our engine muffled by the leaning trees.

“This is peaceful,” I told my husband, John.

“Look,” I pointed to an eagle sitting on the top of a tree overlooking the channel entrance like a sentinel giving permission for us to pass. Dignified, unruffled, his impassioned gaze noted and then dismissed us, as uninteresting and perhaps unworthy. I was tired. We’d pulled up anchor at Portland Island that morning, and the grind of the diesel engine had worn me down.

Read More of the Middens of Galiano Island.....

 

 

 

 

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Your boat is tucked away for the winter, but there may still be a few un-invited guests.
In the world of yachting, it is increasingly becoming the case that Canada is no longer the small ...
Ho-ho-ho. Our Photo of the week comes from Sunday’s Santa Parade. Clowning around was Paul ...
This Photo of the Week sequence from Chris Chahley and Kathy Coyle explains the whole boat thing. ...
The off season is suddenly upon us. Yikes! We need your photos more than ever to keep us thinking ...
One of our most enthusiastic contributors, Rob Dunbar sent us this photo from Halifax.   ...
Checking back into the US was quick and painless. We made the call to Customs but we needed to ...
Two-hundred-year-old homes are what ghost stories are made of, and Beaconsfield Yacht Club (BYC) ...
This time our photos come from Gimli where Katie Coleman Nicoll was on the scene. She’s an ...
Recently we celebrated our country’s 150th anniversary, and in true form thousands of ...

 

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
Commodore’s Boats is a full service shipyard with over 50 years of generational history and ...
Cruisers Yachts debuts the all-new 42 Cantius. The sporty, luxury cruiser will make its first ...
Once again, the designers at Jeanneau have outdone themselves with the innovative new Leader 10.5 ...
The introduction of X-Yachts’Xc range in 2008 has proven itself to be something of a game changer ...
Hull #1 ZINNIA, the all-new, twin outboard MJM 35z left Boston BoatWorks on July 5 for Newport and ...
Following a 10-year hiatus, Richmond, BC-based Crescent Custom Yachts is once again launching ...
According to the folks at Fraser Yacht Sales, you couldn't ask for more - the new Azimut Atlantis ...
During those cold, cold, sunless, dreary months of January and February, I want to remember the fun ...
The Rossiter 23 Classic Day Boatis both a logical extension of the Canadian-built Rossiter line and ...
It's rare for Canadian Yachting magazine to report on the same boat twice, but that is how ...

 

Cruisers Yachts Cantius 50

Cruisers Yachts Cantius 50By: John Armstrong and Andy Adams
Photos: Cruisers Yachts Inc.

Almost a decade ago, Cruisers Yachts Inc., launched an entire line of express cruisers called “Cantius” (named after company owner KC Stock’s grandfather) that began with the 48Cantius then came the 54, the 60 and now the Cantius 50. In the fall of 2017, we will be at the debut of the 42 Cantius at the Fort Lauderdale International boat show.

These designs have a strong family resemblance withhandsome and distinctive linesand with a design philosophy that you could say, pioneered the new version of the express cruiser. 

Read more of new Cruisers Yachts Cantius 50.....

 

 

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Water has a funny way of making its way into a boat: through through-hulls, stuffing boxes, leaks, ...
 Since the initial article of this column we have identified a wide range of apps and ...
Since the initial article of this series we have looked at the iPad and its use as a marine ...
The moment we all dread. It’s a warm sunny day and you’re out for a cruise. Suddenly ...
For most of us – this is the time to make the most of the boating season – launch and ...
Question: Is it possible to mount, protect and charge your iPad during marine navigation. ...
  Is iNavX the superlative marine navigation app?    
Question: Can I buy generic automotive parts or products for my boat, or should they specify ...
  There is a good deal of hesitancy and lack of understanding as to whether an iPad can ...

Marine Products

  • Prev
Just 10 shopping days to Christmas, so what to get for the boater who has everything? How about a ...
I am fortunate to have the ability to work from just about anywhere. A cellular signal and a Wi-Fi ...
Out here on the West Coast with boats in the water year-round, there is one constant activity and ...
As I sit looking out my window at the snow that is slowly piling up it is easy to be downtrodden by ...
In the last edition of this column we took a close look at iRegatta and the advantages it can bring ...
With all the devastation in the eastern Caribbean a natural question to ask is ‘is our boat in that ...
During the heat of summer, many boat owners turn on their air conditioning units. Whether portable ...
A milestone has been reached. The new D13-1000 sees Volvo Penta move into the 1000hp marine leisure ...
  Still looking for the perfect slip for your boat? Look no further!    
Canadian Yachting traveled to Newport to review and sea trial the new MJM 35z.     ...