Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands

Thousand Islands, a group of more than 1,800 islands and 3,000 shoals in the St. Lawrence River, E of Lake Ontario, N N.Y. and S Ont., stretching c.50 mi (80 km) along the U.S.-Canada line. Most of the islands are in Canada; Wolfe Island, Ont. (48 sq mi/124 sq km), is the largest. The islands are part of a belt of metamorphic rock connecting the Adirondack Mts. and the Canadian Shield; they were formed at the end of the Ice Age, when the St. Lawrence River became the chief outlet of the Great Lakes. The forested region is a popular summer resort; many of the islands are privately owned, and some have castles built by former wealthy owners. There are numerous parks on the islands, including Canada's St. Lawrence Islands National Park. The five-span Thousand Islands Bridge and highway (7 mi/11 km long; opened 1938) between the New York and Ontario mainlands crosses several islands and channels.

Group of about 1,500 small islands extending 80 mi (128 km) in the Saint Lawrence River between New York state, U.S., and Ontario, Canada. Some islands belong to Canada and some to the U.S. The Thousand Islands include summer resort facilities and the Canadian St. Lawrence Islands National Park, which was established in 1904 and covers 988 ac (400 ha). The Thousand Islands International Bridge, which contains five spans linking some of the islands and is 8.5 mi (13.7 km) long, connects New York and Ontario.

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The Thousand Islands is the name of an archipelago of islands that straddle the U.S.-Canada border in the Saint Lawrence River as it emerges from the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. They stretch for about downstream from Kingston, Ontario. The Canadian islands are in the province of Ontario. The U.S. islands are in the state of New York. The islands, which number 1,793 in all, range in size from over to smaller islands occupied by a single residence, to even smaller uninhabited outcroppings of rocks that are home to migratory waterfowl. The number of islands was determined using the criteria that any island must be above water level for 365 (366) days per year, bigger than one square foot (roughly 930 cm²), and support at least one living tree. The area is very popular among vacationers, campers, and boaters, and is often referred to as the "fresh water boating capital of the world".

The area is frequently traveled by large freighters traveling the St. Lawrence Seaway, but is so riddled with shoals and rocks that local navigators are hired to help the vessels 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. The area features several shipwrecks and is a great place for diving. Although most of the wrecks are over 100 feet (30 m) underwater, some are a mere 15 feet below the water's surface and can be seen by looking overboard.

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 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 Robert Moses State Park - Thousand Islands, located on an island in the St. Lawrence.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century 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, which is slowly being restored.

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, 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, New York retains one of the world's major collections of recreational freshwater boats.

The Thousand Islands Bridge connects New York State and Ontario by traversing Wellesley Island at the northernmost point of U.S. 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 closer to 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.

The Thousand Islands gave their name to the popular Thousand Island Dressing around the turn of the twentieth 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.

The towns most associated with the Thousand Islands are 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 non, and several boat ramps and docking facilities for a boater-friendly park.

Popular boating, fishing and vacationing locations

  • One of the only beaches in the Thousand Islands, Potter's Beach on the American Grindstone Island has a fine, shallow sandy bottom with a very gradual slope, perfect for boaters that want to stretch their legs or socialize.
  • A popular location for swimming or anchoring out of the wind, the Lake of the Isles is a secluded area cut off from the rest of the St. Lawrence River by Wellesley Island and neighboring Canadian Hill Island. Access is limited through two narrow passages.
  • Known for its fishing, Eel Bay is a shallow bay just southwest of Wellesley Island. From the air, the bay can resemble the Caribbean with a turquoise-tinted crystal clear water and sandy bottoms.
  • Boldt Castle, a testament of one man's love of his wife, has been under renovation by its owner, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority since 1977, and can be visited by boat or tour cruise. This 120-room mansion and surrounding grounds are available for touring, and is also available for wedding ceremonies.
  • The Antique Boat Museum in Clayton houses exhibits antique wooden boats used or built in the region. The museum also features exhibits on the region's maritime culture and is home to the LaDuchess, George Boldt's luxury houseboat.
  • Though not as famous as George Boldt's Castle, Singer Castle on Dark Island is privately renovated and is open to tourists. Frederick Bourne had his castle constructed with secret passageways so that he could spy on his guests.

Curiosities

  • In the Saint Lawrence River, about two miles (3.2 km) north of Alexandria Bay, there is an island called Deer Island which is owned by the secret society of Skull and Bones.
  • There is a pair of islands near Rockport called the Zavikon Island. A popular but incorrect tale among the local tourist guides is that the bigger island is in Canada, while the smaller one is in the USA, and the foot bridge between them is the shortest international bridge in the world. The Zavikon Island is located in the Canadian territory and belongs to the Leeds and Grenville municipal unit.
  • There is only one artificial island in the entire region, Longue Vue Island.
  • Thousand Island dressing was named for the chain of islands by the actress who popularised the dressing, May Irwin.

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