The romance and grandeur of Canada’s 1000 Islands was forged by ice, water, and larger-than-life characters. Explore this peaceful paradise along the border between New York State and south-east Ontario, find out why it’s one of Canada’s vacation hot spots, and discover the secrets behind the world-famous 1000 Island salad dressing.
Halfway between Ontario’s cities of Toronto and Ottawa, on the edge of the St Lawrence and Gananoque rivers, lies the picturesque town of Gananoque, the gateway to the 1000 Islands. For a tiny town, this place possesses a huge wow factor. From historic museums, world-class performing arts, and cute boutiques, to endless water sports and outdoor pursuits, Gananoque is the perfect base for an unforgettable 1000 Islands adventure.
Cruise Millionaire’s Row
To really get a handle on this stunning archipelago, you need to soak it up on the water. Jump on a Gananoque Boat Line cruise and delve into the legends of the Islands, brimming with romance, tragedy, and incredible feats of engineering.
It’s easy to see why Indigenous Peoples called the 1000 Islands Maitoana, meaning ‘garden of the Great Spirit’. As you cruise the narrow channels around pristine, lush green isles with tiny, secluded beaches, you’ll pass fifth and sixth generation family cottages, as well as the luxurious homes of the rich and famous on Millionaire’s Row. The finest of these is Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay, an imposing landmark worthy of a pit-stop.
Stroll the grounds of Boldt Castle and listen to the incredible tale of George C. Boldt, proprietor of the world-famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel. At the turn of the century, Boldt decided to build a fairy-tale castle on aptly named Heart Island for his beloved wife Louise.
No expense was spared as 300 workers shed blood, sweat, and tears to create the 120-room, six-story castle. Tragedy struck in 1904 when Louise passed away suddenly, before the castle was complete. Heartbroken, Boldt left the island, never to return, leaving the half-built castle behind as a tribute to his wife.
The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority took on the mission of completing the task Boldt began at the turn of the century, fashioning Boldt Castle to its full glory.
Secrets of a salad dressing
We can thank Boldt not only for the grandest castle in the 1000 Islands region, but also for the invention of the world-famous mayonnaise-based Thousand Island salad dressing. It was on Heart Island that Boldt’s steward, Oscar Tschirky experimented with the secret ingredients that make up the Thousand Island dressing to this day. And Tschirky was no one-hit-wonder. He went on to become maître d′ of the Waldorf hotel and is credited for the creation of the famed Waldorf Salad and Chicken Oscar.
A helicopter ride is the best way to fully appreciate the 1864 islands that make up one of Canada’s most spectacular natural wonders. This is a photo opportunity like no other, as you glide over historic sites like Fort Henry, endless enchanting woodlands, inlets, and crystal waterways dotted with boats, stand-up paddleboards, jet skis, and kayaks.
On a clear day, you might even be lucky enough to spy a shipwreck lost to a rough sea more than 200 years ago, a glimpse into a lost world forever preserved in the sparkling waters of the St. Lawrence River.
Choose your own adventure in the Thousand Islands National Park, made up of 21 different islands in the St. Lawrence River and three mainland properties. Hire a bike and cycle the quiet roads that frame the shore or take advantage of the network of hiking trails that run through the parks, perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing during the winter months.
Paddle a kayak along the meandering waterways, or head to the nearby Black River where thrill seekers can test their nerves on Class III and Class IV white-water rapids.
The 1000 Islands is the ultimate playground for scuba divers. It’s known as one of the world’s best fresh-water shipwreck diving destinations, and for good reason. More than 200 sunken ships rest at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, with wrecks to explore for all skill levels. Novice divers and snorkellers will love discovering the lost ships found in the crystal shallow waters, while accomplished divers can challenge themselves in the depths exceeding several hundred feet.
Prefer to keep your head above water? Join the latest stand-up paddleboard craze, or simply swim freely. Whichever way you choose to explore Canada’s picturesque 1000 Islands, one thing is certain – you’ll never want to leave.