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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.
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.
Around twenty of these islands form the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, the smallest of Canada's national parks. 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.
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 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 Haldiman, 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.
Towns most associated with the Thousand Islands include Alexandria Bay, New York, and Gananoque, Ontario. On both sides, free dock-space is available to boaters who wish to come ashore and walk through the towns, with souvenir shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors, pizza shops and arcades located nearby.
Another popular American vacation spot is the Wellesley Island State Park on Wellesley Island, which sports hundreds of camping sites, both powered and not, and several boat ramps and docking facilities for a boater-friendly park.
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. 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.
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 Chicago O'hare. 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, 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.
Gananoque Airport, (TC LID: CNN8), is located 4.3 NM (8.0 km; 4.9 mi) northwest of the town of Gananoque, Ontario. It is currently a major centre for skydiving.
Thousand Island dressing was named for the chain of islands by the actress who popularised the dressing, May Irwin, stating that she thought the chopped vegetables in the dressing looked like the Thousand Islands region.
Thousand Islands near Ivy Lea, Ontario
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