Search This Blog

Monday, June 23, 2014

Gananoque River Cruise

Dear Blog. We plan to spend this summer traveling back and forth between Toronto and New Haven. We just finished up a very busy four week stay in the Toronto area and are working our way south.  The halfway point between the two cities is the Thousand Islands Region on the St. Lawrence River, which separates New York and Canada.  Our first stop - Mallorytown, Ontario.

Much of the Canadian side of the St. Lawrence River in this area is part of the Canadian Thousand Islands National Park. The islands, over 1,850 of them, are actually the worn-down tops of ancient mountains. Since much of the park is in the middle of the river, we decided a boat tour was in order.

We started our adventure on Sunday, June 22, 2014, with a drive down to the port town of Gananoque (pronounced gan-ə-nok-way by the Anglos in the area, but the traditional French way - gan-a-NOKE - by the French Canadians). We couldn't have asked for better weather. Here is the view from the boat dock looking over to the Gananoque Inn.

We had about an hour to walk around town before the boat was scheduled to depart.  We stopped at the Heritage Museum to learn a little about the area. During the War of 1812, U.S. troops crossed the St. Lawrence and attacked British troops just outside Gananoque. The War didn't last long and, before you know it, Canada and the U.S. were best buds again. We still share the longest undefended boarder in the world. Here is the outside of the museum.

We also walked down to the marina and watched as the kids played on the beach. The St. Lawrence River is one of the largest fresh water rivers in the world.  The river runs 1,900 miles from the farthest headwater to the mouth.  The farthest headwater is the North River in the Mesabi Range at Hibbing, Minnesota.

After a very nutritious lunch of ice cream (for Dave) and hot sausage (for Kathy), we boarded the boat for our three hour tour.  (Mind you the tickets said 2.5 hours, but when questioned about it, the ticket lady admitted they don't like to call it a three hour tour because they are superstitious.  (I can't imagine what they mean, Little Buddy.) We realized that we didn't actually get a picture of our boat, so we found one on the Internet. (I love Google image search.)

Once we had gotten underway, an audio program played in both English and French talking about the islands as we passed them.  There was also a video of the various shipwrecks we passed over.  However, we didn't get to see the video, as we chose to sit on the top deck and soak up the sun, just like these cormorants.

We loved the dozens of little lighthouses.

Many of the first settlers in the area built houses on the small islands in the river. We learned that in order to be counted as an island (not a shoal), you must have two trees.  It is obvious that this homeowner wanted island status, so they planted a second tree in front of their house.

This lighthouse has a great story.  Pirate Bill Johnston was one of the ring leaders of the Canadian Rebellion of 1838. He and his so called patriots plundered a British Steamer and burned it near this lighthouse on this island that once was called Rock Island. A large reward was offered for his capture. After the rebellion, Pirate Bill went to Washington to seek a pardon. President Van Buren said no, but a few months latter President Harrison agreed. In 1853, Johnston was appointed keeper of the Rock Island Lighthouse.  Ironically, the same government that offered a $1,000 reward for this pirate, was now paying him $350 a year to take charge of one of its most important lighthouses, in the exact spot where he pirated the British boat.

We also learned the story of Boldt Castle.  George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, and his family enjoyed summers in a cottage on Hart Island (the Boldts renamed the island from "Hart" - meaning male deer or stag - to "Heart").

 In 1900, the Boldts launched an ambitious construction campaign to build a huge masonry structure, one of the largest private homes in America. They engaged the architectural firm G. W. & W. D. Hewitt and hundreds of workers for a six-story "castle", a major international landmark. In addition, four other masonry structures on the island are architecturally notable. The Alster Tower, in the fore ground, was purposely constructed with slanting and uneven walls, ceilings, and roofs. This was the kids' play house:

The construction of Boldt Castle ceased abruptly in early 1904 after the death of Boldt's wife, Louise Kehrer Boldt. For 73 years, the castle and other stone structures were left exposed to the harsh winter weather and occasional vandals. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired Heart Island and the nearby yacht house in 1977, for one dollar, under the agreement that all revenues obtained from the castle operation would be applied towards restoration, so that the island would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. In the two decades after acquiring the property, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority spent some fifteen million dollars for restoration and improvements here, and work continues annually. We decided not to take the tour this trip, as Kathy still has her boot.  We'll wait until another trip after the boot comes off.

This is a view of the island's Power House:

Equally distinctive is a huge yacht house on a neighboring Wellesley Island where the Boldts had another summer home and a vast estate, incorporating farms, canals, a golf course, tennis courts, stables, and a polo field. The huge Yacht House is unique, warranting a visit by means of another small fee and a shuttle boat connecting it to Heart Island. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

The 1969 children's novel Secret Castle by Anne Colver is about the castle and Alexandria Bay. Pictured below is part of the original entrance gate. You can just make out the three stags, or harts, on top. If you look closely, you may also be able to see a heart carved over the archway. Boldt Castle was to be a valentine gift to his beloved wife.  Hearts of all all sizes were included in the woodwork, masonry and gardens.

Over the course of the three hour tour, we saw a number of houses, both great and small. We look forward to doing a little more exploring.  Of the thousands of islands that we saw today, we think this is the one for us.

Tomorrow, we have another bike ride planned.  Chat at you later.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.