Thousand islands are a North American archipelago made up of 1,864 islands located in the North. They are located along 80 miles of the St. Lawrence River. They stretch for 80 miles on the border between Ontario (Canada) and New York (USA).
To be considered one of the thousand islands, emergent land within the riverbed must be at least one square foot (0.093 m2) of land above water level year-round and support at least two living trees.
The islands range in size from over 40 square miles (100 km2) to smaller islands occupied by a single residence or uninhabited rock outcroppings.
History of Thousand Islands
Before the arrival of the Europeans, this region was inhabited by the Iroquois community and the Ojibwa people. Back then it was known as Manitouana or the “Garden of the Great Spirit.”
Battles took place in this area during the 1812 war against the British. Many sites bear witness to those battles, such as Fort Wellington in Prescott and the garrison on Chimney Island in Ontario.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it became an important summer resort for distinguished families in the United States. Mostly wealthy people from New York, Chicago or Cleveland. Several luxury hotels were built and excursions between the islands were offered by steamboats.
A little later, both wealthy and middle-class American and Canadian families began to build summer residences on the islands.
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Visiting Thousand Islands
Among all the islands there are several that are noteworthy. These are:
Heart Island (USA): on it we find Bold Castle, a large masonry castle built at the beginning of the 20th century. It was commissioned to be built by George C. Boldt, owner of the luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel as a token of love for his wife, Louise.
During its construction, in 1904 Luoise died and George C. Boldt ordered to stop the works. Without his beloved, the fairytale castle ceases to make sense. He never sets foot on the island again.
In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired ownership of the island and restored the remains of the castle, deteriorated after 73 years of neglect.
Hub Island (E.E.U.U): another of the islands that caught our attention. Maybe the most. Also called Just Room Enough Island.
It is the smallest inhabited island of all. Purchased by the Sizeland family in the 1950s, the island has a house, a tree, shrubbery, and a small beach. When we visited it, the water level was so high that there was no beach or land.
Due to the small size of the island, in 2010 the Washington Post declared, “One false step and you’re swimming.”
Wolfe Island (Canada): It is the largest island of all and is at the entrance of the river in Lake Ontario.
The island was part of the traditional hunting lands of the Tyendinaga Mohawk people and the island’s original name is Kawehnóhkwes tsi kawè:note. In 2021, the Municipality of the Frontenac Islands officially voted to accept the name Kawehnóhkwes tsi kawè:note. He added it to signs welcoming visitors to Wolfe Island.
The French called it Grande île (Big Island). In a proclamation by Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada John Graves Simcoe on July 16, 1792, the island was renamed Grand Island to Wolfe Island, after British General James Wolfe.
Deer Island (USA): The island is located near Boldt Castle and can be seen up close from several Canadian and American tour boats that operate in the local waterways. The island’s land is heavily overgrown, with a small cabin on the southern corner of the island.
It is wholly owned by the Russell Trust Association and is used as a Skull and Bones retreat.
Grenadier Island (Canada): The island is named after the British Grenadier Guards regiment.
During the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), Captain Francois Pouchot of the French Navy visited Grenadier Island.
The island remained under native control until United Empire loyalists arrived in the early 19th century. During the War of 1812, Grenadier Island housed a lookout post. By 1818, several farms had been established.
Since the early 1870s, Grenadier Island has become a popular summer retreat.
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Longue Vue Island (USA.): It is the only artificial island in the region.
The original owner of the house was Hudson Rose, a lumber merchant from New York City. The island was originally named Rossette after Rose.
The house was purchased in the mid-1920s by Temple Berdan and sat vacant from 1932 to 1939. Lewis Dollinger purchased the house from the Berdan estate. It was later owned by the Dollinger Corporation and, after tax laws were changed in the 1970s, was owned by Dollinger Corporation founder Lewis Dollinger’s son, F. Leslie Dollinger for many years. It was sold in 1994 to Arizona businessman Al Wareing, who is the current owner.
How to get
We can visit the Thousand Islands through cruises that pass through the islands.
If you are on the Canadian side, you can take the cruises from the cities of Kingston, Gananoque or Rockport. We did it from Gananoque.
If you are on the US side, you can take the cruises from Clayton or Alexandria Bay.
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