So Many Islands

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As you cruise through the Thousand Islands area of the St Lawrence Seaway, you are struck by the fact that there really are a lot of islands out there, but are there really 1000 of them? The answer is no. There are more. There are in fact 1,864 islands in total, with the definition of an island being that it has to be above water 365 days a year and it must support at least two living trees. That's a lot of islands!

We visited the township of Gananoque on the way home from Ottawa to see some of these islands for ourselves. Gananoque claims to be the gateway to the Thousand Islands area, but then again, so do the neighbouring townships of Kingston and Brockville, and I'm guessing Alexandria Bay on the US side of the river probably makes the same claim too. Regardless of who might be the real "gateway", the Thousand Islands area sure is a beautiful place.

The St Lawrence river/seaway is a whole history lesson in itself. The entire history of the birth of Canada, and to a slightly lesser extent the United States, revolves around the St Lawrence River. In one sense, the early days of North American settlement were based on the idea that whoever controlled the St Lawrence controlled the continent, so history abounds on this vast waterway. It connects the five Great Lakes to the North Atlantic Ocean, and was instrumental in opening trade from the Old World to the New World. And the section where it grows wider and transforms itself from being a river to becoming Lake Ontario is populated with, literally, thousands of islands.

We took the opportunity to cruise with the Gananoque Boat Line out into this maze of islands. Just like the Cottage Country of Muskoka, the Thousands Islands area also plays host to some interesting history and some very wealthy folk and their summer homes. And when I say wealthy, I don't just mean get-a-good-payout-when-you-retire wealthy. Oh no. No, this wealthy is more of a stinking-filthy-rich, got-more-money-than-you-know-what-to-do-with sort of wealthy! There are some amazing places out along the river, huge summer mansions that belong to the uber-rich of New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Wealthy business people like John Astor or George Boldt, famous names like Helena Rubenstein and Kate Smith, and talented artists like Irving Berlin and Charles Dickens. Yes, there is a lot of history here. What about the the man who was supposed to have been involved in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln but was found dead in his island home? Or the stories of piracy and rum running up and down the river? It's all here in the Thousand Islands. When I came here to visit I expected to see beautiful scenery and pretty islands, but the history, the people and the stories that abound here in the seaway are equally fascinating.

We cruised from Gananoque down to Boldt Castle just near Alexandria Bay, and back again, giving us about 3 hours on the water. Apart from our rather abrupt and paranoid treatment by the US Customs officials at Heart Island it was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. We spent some time looking around Boldt castle, but I will blog that seperately. It's another fascinating story...

As we neared the dock back in Gananoque, I struck up a conversation with a fellow from Virginia who just happened to be another technology teacher, so we had a good chat about school, teaching and technology education in general. It was interesting, as we seemed to have quite a lot in common. As we finally pulled back into the wharf, the heavens let go with a huge thunderstorm and a torrential downpour of rain, giving a strange eerieness to the river.

Most of the Canadians I've spoken to have told me that the Thousand Islands are a nice place to visit and well worth seeing, yet funnily enough very few of them had actually been there themselves. They're right... it IS a nice place, and I just hope they take my advice and go see it for themselves. :-)

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