Thousand Islands, Ontario, Canada


Sunrise in the Thousand Islands

08/04/19 – 08/13/19 (Remember you can click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

We were excited to begin exploring the Thousand Islands with whatever time we could spare before making our way back to the US. We had heard from several cruising friends how beautiful it was. The Thousand Islands area really encompasses more than 1,000 islands. We heard it was more like 2,000, with another 1,000 just below the surface. Part of the region was in Canada, with the southern islands in the US.

The water was still high in the area, (the St. Lawrence Seaway was the highest ever, topping the mark set in 2017) and though most docks were usable, some were still underwater. Through friends Steve and Di, we planned to meet their 20+-year friends, Jack and Ruth Keeler, who owned a house on Howe Island with a dock at which they used to park their 44’ DeFever plus room for several other boats. They even had 30A power we could use!  We looked forward to meeting them.

Before leaving our anchorage in Navy Bay, we dinghied to Cedar Island to explore. A 25-minute hike took us around the island, through the campground, and up to the Martello on the hill. There was a beautiful view of the water and of Fort Henry (see Kingston blog).

Upon our return to the boat, we discovered the naval students from the Royal Military College of Canada were out in full force learning sailing skills. There were 50 sailboats, with 2 sailors per boat. The wind was brisk, maybe 10-12 mph, and we watched many capsize. Weaving through them on our way out of the bay was a little too exciting. In addition, cannons were being fired from the fort above, making it all a bit unnerving. We were glad when that was all behind us.

It was only a 90-minute cruise to the Keller’s dock. Along the way, we noticed how much bigger and more substantial most of the docks in front of the beautiful houses (“cottages”) were than what we had seen before. Many had room for 3-5 boats. About 5 minutes before we arrived at Keeler Landing, we called Frank, and he was waiting on the dock, ready to direct us in. There was a shallow spot we had to avoid and he gave great directions. Perfect landing. We went up to the house to meet Ruth, who, unfortunately, was battling cancer and unable to come down the steep steps. (Please pray for her healing.)  What lovely people they were – so generous and welcoming and we talked quite a while about their boating experiences and memories. We picked their brain about the Bahamas, a future destination for us, we hoped. (Note the chart of the Bahamas on the wall behind them.) They had taken their boat there 19 winters!  Though we wanted to provide supper for them on our boat, instead Ruth cooked a delicious meal for us and we dined in their beautiful house, which Ruth designed. They also helped us plan some more Thousand Island destinations for the coming days. It was really helpful!

The next morning, we took a walk around their beautiful island, said our goodbyes, and continued north. When we arrived at the Town of Gananoque (pronounced “gan-an-ah-quay”) Municipal Marina at 10:00, we were told we could not dock until noon so we hung out in an anchorage nearby. As we had experienced in Navy Bay, the anchor came up with a huge ball of mud and grass, requiring more than just a few minutes to free the anchor from the entanglement (see picture right; the grass ball is so huge you can’t even see the anchor at the bottom of the chain).

Gananoque, more commonly called “Gan” by to the locals, was a small town of 5,200 winter residents (with many more enjoying summers there). The marina was within walking distance of everything we needed. Around town, there were beautiful murals – one of the people attending the church in Half Moon Bay, which we later attended. We made plans right away to take the Gananoque Boat Line tour to Boldt Castle. Though we could have taken our boat there, we decided we would enjoy hearing the history of the islands enroute with the commercial tour.

Leaving the driving to someone else, we really enjoyed the cottages enroute, especially “Millionaire’s Row.” Almost every island big enough to build a house on it had one. We passed a tall observation tower we were told had a great view of the Thousand Islands region. And we went under the international Thousand Island Bridge which had 5 spans over the water and joined the Canadian islands with those in the US. A 5’ statue of St. Lawrence was atop the cliffs of Ivy Lea located just east of the bridge. There was one cottage with a walkway bridge to its adjacent island, supposedly with the house in Canada and the bridge to the island in the US. If the couple had a spat, one of them could leave the country until things settled down!

George Boldt immigrated to the US from Prussia alone at the age of 13. With excellent organizational skills, daring, and imagination, he became the most successful hotel magnate in America, managing and profit-sharing at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC. In 1876, George was appointed steward of the Clover Club in Philadelphia and William Kehrer, steward of the Philadelphia Club asked George, 28, to come work for him. There he met Louise Clover, 14, already very experienced in hotel management. Love blossomed and in 1877, they married. They had 2 children, George Jr, and Louise Clover. Here’s their love story  (but don’t read it yet; read it after you finish the next 2 paragraphs). They eventually opened their own hotel. George was the first to say, “The customer is always right,” and made restaurant visits popular when having guests to one’s home was considered the “right way” to entertain, and was the first hotel with room service. With visits to the Thousand Islands, they fell in love with the area and purchased 6 islands and over 3,000 acres, the largest being Wellsley Island. Thousand Island dressing and the Waldorf salad are attributed to the Boldts.

Boldt Castle was built by George on Hart Island (which he renamed Heart Island, and slightly modified the island into the shape of a heart) as a love present to his cherished and beloved wife of 26 years. George spared no expense to build the love of his life a castle fit for a princess. Beginning in 1900, 300 workers labored 4 years, spending $2.5 million. Hearts, as well as clover motifs, abounded in the structure. The rockwork, from a quarry George purchased on an island nearby, was beautiful. Each stone was hand cut and reportedly not one of them had to be recut after being transported to Heart Island.

Sadly, Louise died suddenly. That day, workers were told to leave the property and George reportedly never returned to the island. After George’s death, their children sold the estate to Edward Noble, Beechnut owner and inventor of lifesavers who opened it up for tours. However, he did nothing to maintain it and, in disrepair, it became the property of the Thousand Island Bridge Authority. Over the past 26 years, they have spent over $32 million to restore and complete the castle, bringing much tourism to the Thousand Islands; 200,000 people visit Boldt Castle annually. The estate is now worth $20 million.

There was a wonderful free Boldt Castle app to download  and we listened to information as we wandered from room to room in the castle. It was originally to have 127 rooms (including 30 bathrooms) to accommodate 100 guests on 6 floors. Floors 3 and 4 were open to the public, unrestored, to show the disrepair of the whole castle when restoration began. A beautiful stained-glass dome included hearts and clovers.

George and Louise loved to entertain. Guests entered by boat through a peristyle archway. There were at least 6 other structures on the island, including the powerhouse, bird aviary, a gazebo, shell fountain, and the “playhouse” for adults (with a bowling alley and pool room). Gardens sIMG_1024urrounded the castle, and we really appreciated the lovely Italian Garden. On an adjacent island was their boathouse with some of George’s 60 boats, including a 104’ houseboat. Unfortunately, due to high water, we were not allowed to visit the boathouse.

That evening, we were invited to the condo of the Gananoque AGLCA Harbor Host for “docktails,”  only not on a dock. We enjoyed a visit with Jim and Lesley who had recently moved into this lovely space overlooking the marina, along with Anton Pachkine, a fellow DeFever owner and Looper who was docked next to us. Jim and Lesley were Gold Loopers themselves and we admired the 3 books they had published of their journey. We have often been asked if we were going to write a book on the Great Loop. Our answer was always, “No.”  But, these books were their blogs in bound form and they were beautiful. After seeing theirs, we thought, “We might do that!” Ashley kindly gave us homemade butter tarts (a Canadian delectable) to take back to the boat with us.

While in Gananoque, we enjoyed the 1000 Islands History Museum, the Woodchuck Gallery (with beautiful fine art), and Confederation Sculpture Park, one of the largest outdoor contemporary art parks in Ontario.

On Thursday morning we loaded up the scooter (Anton’s boat on the left) and headed NE though the Canadian Middle Channel with a good push by the current in the St. Lawrence Waterway, seeing speeds of up to 10.3 mph. Late morning, we saw a border patrol zip by us. About 10 minutes later, they pulled up beside us and asked to board. Onboard was a Canadian police officer and also a Canadian Customs official. They wanted to see some documentation and check life jackets and the like. When they ran a search on their database, they asked Tom if he had ever used a different middle name. Seems there is a bad guy Tom Vail with the same exact birthdate as Tom…only a different middle name. Apparently, he lives in Florida. After about 30 minutes, they were gone. We cruised north for 14-miles to anchor in Club Island Bay, a quiet spot amongst a few cottages, docks, and boats. A thunderstorm was forecast but turned into a severe weather watch (mostly west of us) in the early afternoon. One storm passed with rain and winds about 20 mph but our anchor held secure and we had a lazy day on the boat.

When we arrived at 12:25 at the Brockville Municipal Harbor Marina, as the biggest boat in the marina, we were given the primo spot right in front of the office. Even got complimented on our docking (and there was wind)!

We quickly walked to get fish and chips to take to the park overlooking the SLW as was suggested to us by Ruth. The couple who took our picture asked where got it and we told them and said we were told it was the best place in town, eh? Ironically, the wife’s mum owned a fish and chips spot in England and we were informed the fish and chips from Manoll’s was better!  Oh well.

We happened to be at Brockville at the right time, for Ribfest was set up for the weekend!  There were different vendors than at the Ottawa Ribfest. We liked Dinosaur Ribs from Little Rock, AR. After we walked the shops in town, we walked through the 1,753’ long Brockville Tunnel. It was the oldest railway tunnel in Canada, and though trains ran through it for over 110 years, it was now open only for walking traffic, with colored lights and historical signs. Afterward, we returned for a rib dinner and ironically ate with a local who the previous year had eaten with folks from AZ. After dinner, we enjoyed a country band before we walked the waterfront and heard 2 college gals play steel drums. They were quite good (click on picture for a sample)!

Off and on during the day, we had dark stormy skies, rain, and then increasing wind until there were whitecaps on the river. The next morning, before leaving, we got a few goodies at the farmer’s market. There was still some wind and enroute we had some whitecaps. It was slow going against the strong SLW current, as slow as 4.6 mph with lots of swirling action. We were told near the Thousand Islands Bridge, there was an underwater waterfall, something we had never heard of. Evidently, through this unique narrow section of the river, there were small deep holes that dropped more than 100 feet. This caused essentially underwater waterfalls and the currents were quite pushy with many whirlpools. We manually steered as the autopilot could not react quickly enough.

Our destination was Dark Island, on which Singer Castle was located. We had to wait for a docking space but ended up with a primo spot. And because we had to wait so long, they didn’t charge us for the tour! It was the only castle ever completed and inhabited that still existed in the Thousand Islands. It was built by Frederick Bourne of Singer sewing machine fame. All tours of the castle included a guide and we had a very good one, amazingly only a high school senior is his second summer of guiding at the castle. Unlike Boldt Castle, which had been wonderfully restored, Singer Castle had been bought by a European corporation and Paula was distressed by the fact that it was actually deteriorating because of lack of protection – tourists walked on the original carpets, draperies were threadbare, etc. Money was simply being made off of it. (You could even stay overnight with 8 guests.)  Nonetheless, we were glad we stopped at their private dock. Intriguing were all the secret passageways for servants who were not to be seen unless needed.

Leaving Singer Island, we cruised another hour to anchor off Grenadier Island. Storms were all around and we waited them out before we inflated our kayak and explored the bay.

The next day was Sunday, and we were very excited about our plans for the day. Ruth had told us about an afternoon ecumenical church service in Half Moon Bay on the southeast end of Bostwick Island just off Gananoque, which could only be attended via watercraft. We were headed there!  We tried to anchor 3 times at Beaurivage Island but could not get the anchor to hold so backtracked to the Rockland Island anchorage. Time was getting close!  Success. The anchor held the first time. We hurried to get the dinghy off and were on our way.

We were the third boat to arrive in this “church” with the “world’s tallest cathedral ceiling” (the sky) which began in 1887!  By 4:00, there were about 10 small craft and we later learned the attendance of 40 was the high for the season. Hymnbooks were distributed from a canoe, a choir led the singing, and the message was delivered by a nun who had entered the novitiate 60 years prior. We’d heard better messages, but praising God in the beautiful crescent-shaped bay by dinghy was a first and will be remembered.

Then it was off to reenter the US after 2 months plus 3 days in Canada. We were very sad to leave, both because we loved the people and their beautiful land, but also because it seemed to signal our “summer” was coming to an end. Yes, it was only August, but we were headed south to outrun the cooler weather that would be coming all too soon.

Our destination was Clayton, NY, which we had heard about while on the Rideau Canal when we met 3 couples who summered there each year. We couldn’t get into their marina, but within minutes of getting in our slip at the municipal marina, Gary and Connie dinghied over in their new dingy (its maiden voyage) to visit. Tom was busy checking us in with customs via the CBP Roam app and didn’t get much time with them but when we biked over to their marina the next day, we were able to spend a few minutes with all 3 of the couples.

Clayton was a town of about 5,000 with many more during the summer months as visitors came to enjoy the Thousand Islands. We easily biked the main area of town and had a wonderful breakfast at Bella’s Café and Bakery. Then it was off to the renowned Antique Boat Museum with the largest collection of antique and classic boats in North America, also the site of the antique boat show. As a matter of fact, that’s really how it began…with a few boaters gathering together who loved to show off their old boats!  There was a separate hall for racing boats, one for canoes and skiffs, as well as the workshop where boats were restored. And George Boldt’s 106’ La Duchesse houseboat, purchased and donated by the McNally family, was also open for tours. We spent over 2 hours there and enjoyed it greatly!

We walked town, enjoying the shops (especially the River Rat Cheese store) and the many murals in town. Then it was back to the boat to prep for our departure the next day. The forecast for Lake Ontario was for scattered clouds with swells less than a foot. Perfect for crossing a large body of water.

Our plan was to retrace our steps southward through the Oswego and Erie Canals to the Hudson River, through NYC, and via the Atlantic Ocean to Cape May, NJ;  then up the Delaware Bay and into the Chesapeake, where we would have Life’s TraVails hauled out in Deltaville, VA to inspect, clean, and likely re-paint the bottom and do some other maintenance work before we continued on to FL and the Bahamas for the winter. After that, we anticipated selling our beloved DeFever 44 and ending our cruising. But…the more we cruised, the more we loved it. Only God really knew at this point.

Sunset in the Thousand Islands



  1. Bravo, another great blog! The pictures are beautiful and it sounds like you thoroughly enjoyed your trip — with the possible exception of being boarded by the Canadian border patrol!!!

  2. Awesome pictures and description of the Thousand Islands area… they remind me of some of my photos from visits to Boldt Castle and Clayton, many years ago.
    The Brockville ribfest looked fun & yummy, too. 🙂

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