By : Dennis Stein
One of the most beautiful waterways in the world lies only a short distance from most of us, its 1,864 islands beckoning boaters, fisherman, and divers to explore a wealth of picturesque bays, channels and beaches. Geologically, the Thousand Islands is a piece of the Canadian Shield which runs across the river into New York State to meet the Adirondack mountains. The largest Island is Wolfe Island, on the Canadian side of the river, and the smallest is little more than a rocky shoal just above the water, providing home for a single small tree. The islands were formed during the Great Ice Age, as glaciers retreated across land, carving out the Great Lakes and the St.Lawrence river, slowly eroded and changed by billions of liters of water in constant motion toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Native Canadian and American legends have several stories of how the Thousand Islands were created, one legend involving a battle between two Great gods, one good, and one evil, hurling rocks at one another across the river. Good finally prevailed, and the rocks which had landed in the river became islands, and was ever after known as Manitonna, or 'Garden of the Great Spirit'. During the American Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812, the islands became the site of several battles between the Americans and the British, and a large fort was established on Carleton Island by the British, Fort Haldimand, to guard the entrance to the St.Lawrence river from Lake Ontario. It was later captured, and remains part of New York State to this day. Legends of buried treasure on some of the islands, and sunken French pay ships in the channels persist, and have made the waterway a popular tourist destination.
In the early part of the 1900's, the islands became a summer resort for the wealthy, and entered into what is commonly known the 'golden age'. During this period, several 'castles' were built by noteworthy businessmen such as George Boldt, and Frederick Bourne. Boldt castle has been restored, and like Singer Castle, can be toured by the public during the warm months of the year. It was during this period that the area lent its name to a salad dressing first served by a woman named Sophie Lalonde, for guests of her husband at dinner. The recipe was later shared with New York City stage actress May Irwin, who in turn shared it with George Boldt.
The Thousand Islands is also a world class diving destination, with shipwrecks in as little as 15 ft. of water. Thousands of divers come to this area every year, exploring famous wrecks such as the Keystorm. The clarity of the waters has been greatly improved thanks to an invasive species, Zebra Mussels, which came to the St.Lawrence seaway and the Great Lakes in the 1990's in the ballast tanks of large ships. St. Lawrence Islands National Park is made up of approximately 20 of the islands near Mallorytown Landing, and is Canada's smallest National Park. The entire area was declared a UNESCO world biosphere reserve in 2002. Campsites and beaches also lure tourists during the summer months, and the Brockville group of islands on the very east end of the formation offers seasonal campsites, washroom facilities and boat docking. The Lake of the Isles is another popular destination for swimming and anchoring, it shallows are sheltered by two large islands, and it can be accessed only by two narrow channels. Eel bay is well known for its fishing and this bay can resemble the caribbean from the air with its sand bottom and turquoise waters.
Authors, Photographers, poets and famous people have used their craft to document this waterway, and its beauty is unlike any other area on earth. Whatever way one decides to explore the Thousand Islands, it proves to be rich with history, culture, and biodiversity.