Thousand Islands

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Sunset over one of the smallest of the Thousand Islands, which supports one tree and two shrubs.

The Thousand Islands constitute an archipelago of 1,864 islands that straddles the Canada-U.S. border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. They stretch for about 50 miles (80 km) downstream from Kingston, Ontario. The Canadian islands are in the province of Ontario, the U.S. islands in the state of New York.

The 1,864 islands range in size from over 40 square miles (100 km2) to smaller islands occupied by a single residence, or uninhabited outcroppings of rocks that are only home to migratory waterfowl. To count as one of the Thousand Islands these minimum criteria had to be met: 1) Above water level year round; 2) Have an area greater than 1 square foot (0.093 m2); and 3) Support at least one living tree.[citation needed]


Aerial view of Boldt Castle and some of the Thousand Islands.

Large freighters frequently ply the Saint Lawrence Seaway, but the area has so many shoals and rocks that vessels sometimes hire maritime pilots to help them travel through the hazardous waterway. Under the Canadian span, a vessel just less than 25 feet (7.6 m) offshore can find itself in over 200 feet (61 m) of water. Similarly, rocks and shoals less than two feet (61 cm) underwater can be found in the center of channels 90 feet (27 m) deep.

Because of the great number of rocks and shoals just above or below the water's surface, it is unwise to travel the waters at night, unless one stays in the main channels and has charts, a chart plotter, or knows the area well. The water is so clear in some areas, that a rocky bottom can be observed in 80 feet (24 m) of water. Before the advent of the zebra mussel, visibility of only ten to fifteen feet was usual, slightly decreasing as the years passed. Water clarity improved markedly in the mid-1990s with the arrival of zebra mussels, which feed on algae. The area has several shipwrecks, and although most of them are over 100 feet (30 m) underwater, some are a mere 15 feet (4.6 m) down and can be seen from the surface.

Geologically, the islands are located where a branch of the Canadian Shield runs south across the river to join with the Adirondacks.

Around twenty of these islands form the Thousand Islands National Park, the oldest of Canada's national parks east of the Rockies. The park hosts campgrounds, inland walking trails, annual family events, as well as a national heritage building. [1]

The Thousand Islands-Frontenac Arch region was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2002. The U.S. islands include numerous New York state parks, including Wellesley Island State Park, and Robert Moses State Park - Thousand Islands located on an island in the St. Lawrence.

Powerhouse, Heart Island (Boldt Castle)

The Thousand Islands Bridge connects New York State and Ontario by traversing Wellesley Island at the northernmost point of Interstate 81 in Jefferson County and meets Highway 137, which leads to Highway 401. The Thousand Islands Parkway provides a scenic view of many of the islands.

The Thousand Islands Bridge.

The largest island in the group, Wolfe Island, is located entirely in Ontario. Adjacent to Wolfe but part of New York is Carleton Island, the site of a ruined fort, Fort Haldimand, built in 1779 by the British during the American Revolutionary War. The island was captured by three American soldiers during the War of 1812 and remains part of the United States today.


The Thousand Islands is a corridor for nature lovers, and both Ontario and New York have government-regulated parks along the waterfront. The waterfront is served by New York State Route 37 and by the Thousand Islands Parkway in Ontario. Ontario also has the Waterfront Trail alongside the Parkway for cyclists who wish to see the area in an alternative way.

The Thousand Islands gave their name to the popular Thousand Island dressing around the turn of the 20th century when Sophie LaLonde, of Clayton, New York who served the dressing at dinner for guests of her husband, a popular fishing guide, gave the recipe to Clayton hotel owner Ella Bertrand and New York City stage actress May Irwin.[citation needed] Irwin shared it with hotel magnate George C. Boldt.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many distinguished visitors made the region widely known as a summer resort. Several grand hotels provided luxurious accommodations while steamboats offered extensive tours among the islands. Wealthy and middle-class summer residents built summer homes. Some masonry "castles" remain as international landmarks. The most famous extant examples are "The Towers" on Dark Island, now called Singer Castle, and the long-neglected Boldt Castle on Heart Island, much of which has been completed over the recent decades in accord with Mr. Boldt's original plans – hitherto, it had been left unfinished for over 75 years upon the untimely death of his wife. The original plans were updated to incorporate numerous current technological conveniences.

During the half century (1874–1912) of the resort's greatest prominence, most wealthy vacationers came from New York City, joined by prominent families from Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other cities of the United States and Canada. The region retains a historically important collection of vacation homes from this time. The Thousand Islands have long been a center for recreational boating. Large steam yachts, many designed by Nathanael Herreshoff required distinctive yacht houses. The region was known also for innovative power boating during this period.

Three local yacht clubs hosted the Gold Cup Races of the American Power Boat Association for nine consecutive years. The Antique Boat Museum of Clayton retains one of the world's major collections of recreational freshwater boats.

The region was also a part of the War of 1812 between the British Empire and the United States. Many sites from the war can be found, such as Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario and the garrison on Chimney Island, Mallorytown, Ontario. Museums about the war can be found on both the Canadian and American side of the river.

Popular boating, fishing and vacationing locations[edit]

Thousand Island House, ca. 1900
Singer Castle.

Aviation / Airport[edit]

Passenger air service to the 1000 Islands region is available in both Ontario and New York. Watertown International Airport (ART) in Watertown, New York has daily service on American Airlines connecting through Philadelphia (PHL). Norman Rogers Airport (YGK) in Kingston, Ontario offers daily service on Air Canada connecting through Toronto Pearson. Both airports also offer private aviation services.

Other private aviation airports include: Maxson Airfield (FAA LID: 89NY) is a privately owned, private-use airport located two nautical miles (4 km) south of the central business district of Alexandria Bay, a village in Jefferson County, New York, United States. This general aviation airport is situated in the Thousand Islands region. It once had commercial service provided by Mohawk Airlines. At that time, the airport bore the IATA airport code AXB. Maxson is available to the public by Maxson Airfield, LLC.

Brockville-Thousand Islands Regional Tackaberry Airport (IATA: XBR, TC LID: CNL3), also known as Brockville Municipal Airport,[3] is a registered aerodrome located in Elizabethtown-Kitley Township, 4.8 NM (8.9 km; 5.5 mi) northwest of the city of Brockville, Ontario, Canada.

Notable islands[edit]


According to The Oxford Companion of Food and Drink, "the name presumably comes from the Thousand Islands between the United States and Canada in the St. Lawrence River."[7] In the Thousand Islands area, one common version of the dressing's origins says that a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde, made the condiment as part of her husband George's shore dinner[when?].[8] Often in this version, actress May Irwin requested the recipe after enjoying it.[when?][9] Irwin in turn gave it to another Thousand Islands summer resident, George Boldt, who was building Boldt Castle in the area. Boldt, as proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, instructed the hotel's maître d'hôtel, Oscar Tschirky, to put the dressing on the menu.[when?][10] A 1959 National Geographic article states, "Thousand Island Dressing was reportedly developed by Boldt's chef."

In popular culture[edit]

One of the islands is the origin site of the Master, one of the seven original vampires (mainly referred to as Ancients) and main antagonist in The Strain trilogy, a novel by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ >Parks Canada, Parks Canada, retrieved 2013-05-21 
  2. ^ Clarke, Jay (1983-07-17). "Retreat to the river on the St. Lawrence islands". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. I09. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  3. ^ Shortest International Bridge, Twelve Mile Circle, retrieved 2011-10-15 
  4. ^ Chan, Elise D. (2007). Jefferson County. Arcadia Publishing. p. 58. ISBN 978-0-7385-3547-0. 
  5. ^ "The Venice of America". The Hindu Business Line. 2000-03-13. Retrieved 2007-09-09. 
  6. ^ "ONTERM GeoNames Index: Zachary Islands — Zigzag Island". Government of Ontario. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 
  7. ^ "Geographical Name Search Service (search for Zavikon Island)". Canadian Geographical Names Natural Resources Canada. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 

External links[edit]

Tourism offices

Coordinates: 44°20′N 76°00′W / 44.333°N 76.000°W / 44.333; -76.000