The Gananoque cruise boat waiting to take us to the 1000 islands
The next day dawned fine and warm as we stumbled to the bus at 5.30am for the drive to the Thousand Islands and a cruise on the Gananogue, where we had breakfast. The weather was light rain as we set off, but it soon became fine so we could enjoy the cruise around this fascinating and beautiful area. The Thousand Islands constitute an archipelago of 1,864 islands that straddles the Canada-US 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.
Glorious display of autumn trees at The Thousand Islands
Boldt Castle, located on Heart Island , is a major landmark and tourist attraction in the region. 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 an earlier frame cottage on Hart Island (the original island’s name) for several summers, which they greatly expanded. In 1900, George Boldt launched an ambitious construction campaign to build a huge masonry structure, one of the largest private homes in America. He built a six-story “castle” as a present to his wife. In addition, four other masonry structures on the island are architecturally notable. Equally distinctive is a huge yacht house on a neighboring 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 majestic Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands is now being restored to its former glory
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 $15 million for restoration and improvements here, and work continues annually.
Quaint houses on islands long the St Lawrence River
Our coach then drove us on to Ottowa, the capital of Canada, for a flying visit. We were able to spend about an hour and a half there, time for a Subway lunch and a wander around the city. Parliament Hill with its three impressive buildings around a square (one building is undergoing restoration and was covered in scaffolding) containing the Centennial Flame commemorating Canada’s 100th anniversary as a Confederation.
The main Parliament building with the Centennial Flame in the foreground
Our next stop, where we would stay overnight, was the beautiful city of Montreal, where about 50% of the population speak French (most citizens speak both English and French) and most of the signs are in French. The Olympic Games were held in Montreal 1976 and most of the buildings constructed for the Games have been converted to other uses, including the Bio Dome which was our first attraction. The Bio Dome is a unique museum of the environment. Live collections with more than 4,800 animals of 230 species and 750 plants species in four ecosystems from the Americas, each with a different climate. We wandered through the rain forest area, the Arctic area with the penguins, and saw some beautiful tropical birds.
As if two towers were not enough, now it was time to ascend the Olympic Tower, much smaller than the other two, and this time with the elevator again on the exterior of the building so one can view the city on the way up. We could look down on the Bio Dome that we had just left, and see out over the whole extent of the city, including the building where the athletes were housed during the 1976 games.
The spectacular view over Montreal showing some of the Olympic arenas, and the colourful autumn trees
The Olympic Tower with the elevator half way to the top
Our group was to have dinner at a French restaurant in Montreal (including escargot for those who wanted to try snails!) and it was delicious. The staff at La Maree looked after us very well and the dinner was delicious. It was fine and beautiful walking back to our coach in the evening watching Montreal turn on its lights as the night closed in.
Lots of fun and good food at La Maree restaurant (left) and the twinkling lights of Montreal
Time then to head to our motel for the evening, as we have another early start tomorrow as we head back to New York after 3 fabulous and busy days in Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.