Thousand Islands

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Thousand Islands
French: Mille-Îles
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Thousand Islands
Images top to bottom, left to right: 1898 touring map, Batterman's Point in Thousand Islands National Park, Thousand Islands Bridge, Boldt Castle, Singer Castle, Sunset over one of the smallest of the Thousand Islands
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Map of the Thousand Islands region
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Thousand Islands
Thousand Islands in North America
Coordinates: 44°20′N76°00′W / 44.333°N 76.000°W / 44.333; -76.000
Largest city

The Thousand Islands (French : Mille-Îles) constitute a North American archipelago of 1,864 islands [1] 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 and the U.S. islands in the state of New York.


The islands range in size from over 40 square miles (100 km2) to smaller islands occupied by a single residence, or uninhabited outcroppings of rocks. To count as one of the Thousand Islands, emergent land within the river channel must have at least one square foot (0.093 m2) of land above water level year-round, and support at least two living trees. [2] [3]


The Thousand Islands archipelago is at the outlet of Lake Ontario at the head of the Saint Lawrence River. The region is bisected by the Canada–United States border and covers portions of Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties in the U.S. state of New York, in addition to parts of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville and Frontenac County in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Geologically, most of the islands are where a branch of the Canadian Shield, known as the Thousand Islands – Frontenac Arch region, runs south across the river to join with the Adirondacks. This region was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2002. [4]


The Thousand Islands Bridge connects New York State and Ontario by traversing Wellesley Island at the northernmost point of Interstate 81 in Jefferson County and meets Highway 137, which leads to Highway 401. The waterfront is served by New York State Routes 12 and 37 and by the Thousand Islands Parkway in Ontario. Ontario also has the Waterfront Trail alongside the Parkway for cyclists who wish to see the area in an alternative way.

Seawaymax lake freighters often ply the Saint Lawrence Seaway. As is usual in inland waters of the United States and Canada, vessels must use maritime pilots to help them travel safely. [5] [6] In places, a vessel less than 25 feet (7.6 m) offshore can find itself in over 200 feet (61 m) of water. Conversely, rocks and shoals less than two feet (61 cm) underwater can be found in the center of otherwise deep waters. Due to the great number of rocks and shoals just above or below the water's surface, navigation outside of the marked channels at night can be dangerous.

Before the introduction of the zebra mussel, visibility of only 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m) was usual, slightly decreasing as the years passed. Water clarity improved markedly in the mid-1990s with the arrival of zebra mussels, which feed on algae. The water is so clear in some areas a rocky bottom can be observed in 80 feet (24 m) of water. The area has several shipwrecks, and although most are over 100 feet (30 m) underwater, some are a mere 15 feet (4.6 m) down and can be seen from the surface.

Population centers

The single largest city in the region is Kingston, Ontario, which has a metropolitan population of more than 170,000 (2021). The city marks the western end of the region in Canada, while Brockville, Ontario, to the east, is the other large population center. The American region along the river is much less dense; the largest city is Watertown, New York with a population of 25,000 (2020) and is twenty miles (32 km) inland. There are a number of seasonal communities which grow significantly in the summer, like Thousand Island Park in New York.

In New York, United States [7]

This region is within Jefferson County:

In Ontario, Canada [7]

This region includes the southern areas of Frontenac and Leeds & Grenville counties:

Notable islands

Detailed map of the Thousand Islands ThousandIslands2022OSM.png
Detailed map of the Thousand Islands


O boating on the rivers,
The voyage down the St. Lawrence, the superb scenery, the steamers,
The ships sailing, the Thousand Islands, the occasional timber-raft
and the raftsmen with long-reaching sweep-oars,
The little huts on the rafts, and the stream of smoke when they cook
supper at evening.

Walt Whitman,"A Song of Joys", from Leaves of Grass (1855)

Prior to European colonization, the Thousand Islands region was home to, or visited by, members of the Iroquois Confederacy and Ojibwa people. Their name for the islands was Manitouana or the "Garden of the Great Spirit". [19]

The region was a part of the War of 1812 between the British Empire and the United States. Many sites from the war can be found, such as Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario and the garrison on Chimney Island, Mallorytown, Ontario. Museums about the war can be found on both the Canadian and American side of the river.

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Historical postcard views of Alexandria Bay (left) and a steamboat touring Lost Channel, c.1900

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many distinguished visitors made the region widely known as a summer resort. 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, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other cities of the United States and Canada. Several grand hotels provided luxurious accommodations while steamboats offered extensive tours among the islands. Wealthy and middle-class summer residents built summer homes, and the region retains a historically important collection of vacation homes from this time.

Among the lavish homes built during this time were several masonry "castles", some of which remain as international landmarks. The region's first castle, Castle Rest, was built in 1888; it was destroyed in the mid-20th century. [20] The most famous extant examples are "The Towers" on Dark Island, now called Singer Castle, and the previously long-neglected Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which had been left unfinished for over 75 years upon the untimely death of George Boldt's wife. It has since been completed over the recent decades in accord with Boldt's original plans.

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.[ when? ]


Public parks

To be considered an island, a piece of land must stay above water throughout the year and support a living tree. Many of the islands are publicly owned. A group of 21 islands [21] form the Thousand Islands National Park, the oldest of Canada's national parks east of the Rocky Mountains. The park hosts campgrounds, inland walking trails, annual family events, as well as a national heritage building. [22]

Thirty New York state parks are managed as part of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's Thousand Islands Region, [23] including many on river islands or along the New York shore. Many of these river parks were established in the late 19th and early 20th century as part of the St. Lawrence Reservation, [24] and were among New York's earliest land acquisitions for the purpose of preservation and recreational development. [25] Among the larger parks are Wellesley Island State Park, which includes the largest camping complex in the region, [26] and Robert Moses State Park.

Other boating, fishing and vacationing locations

Powerhouse, Heart Island (Boldt Castle) Day51d1000island27.jpg
Powerhouse, Heart Island (Boldt Castle)

Aviation and airports

Passenger air service to the Thousand Islands region is available in both Ontario and New York. Watertown International Airport (ART) in Watertown, New York has daily service on American Airlines connecting through Philadelphia (PHL). Norman Rogers Airport (YGK) in Kingston, Ontario offers service on FlyGTA Airlines connecting through Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport as well as service out of Montréal–Trudeau International Airport via Pascan Aviation. Both airports also offer private aviation services.

Maxson Airfield (FAA LID: 89NY) is a privately owned, private-use general aviation airport two nautical miles (3.7 km; 2.3 mi) south of the central business district of Alexandria Bay, a village in Jefferson County, New York. It once had commercial service provided by Mohawk Airlines. At that time, the airport bore the IATA airport code AXB. Maxson is available to the public by Maxson Airfield, LLC.

Brockville-Thousand Islands Regional Tackaberry Airport (IATA: XBR, TC LID: CNL3), also known as Brockville Municipal Airport, is a registered aerodrome in Elizabethtown-Kitley Township, 4.8 nautical miles (8.9 km; 5.5 mi) northwest of the city of Brockville, Ontario, Canada.

Thousand Island dressing

According to The Oxford Companion of Food and Drink, the name for Thousand Island dressing "presumably comes from the Thousand Islands between the United States and Canada in the St. Lawrence River." [30] However, several different versions of the dressing's origin exist. [31] One common story describes how a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde, made the condiment as part of her husband George's shore dinner. [31] Often in this version, actress May Irwin requested the recipe after enjoying it. [32] Irwin in turn gave it to another Thousand Islands summer resident, George Boldt, who built Boldt Castle between 1900 and 1904. Boldt, as proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, instructed the hotel's maître d'hôtel , Oscar Tschirky, to put the dressing on the menu in 1894. [33] [31]

Sociologists attempting to determine the true origin of Thousand Island dressing found several conflicting origin stories exist, and they vary between the various islands and villages of the Thousand Islands region. None appear to have any strong written evidence to support their specific claims. [31]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jefferson County, New York</span> County in New York, United States

Jefferson County is a county on the northern border of the U.S. state of New York. As of the 2020 census, the population was 116,721. Its county seat is Watertown. The county is named after Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States of America. It is adjacent to Lake Ontario, southeast from the Canada–US border of Ontario.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alexandria, New York</span> Town in New York, United States

Alexandria is a town in the Thousand Islands region of the U.S. state of New York, within Jefferson County. The town's population was 4,061 at the 2010 United States Census. The town is named after Alexander LeRay, the son of an early developer. The village of Alexandria Bay is within the town.

Alexandria Bay is a village in Jefferson County, New York, United States, within the town of Alexandria. It is located in the Thousand Islands region of northern New York. The population of the village was 1,078 at the 2010 United States Census. It lies near the Thousand Islands Border Crossing of Canada and the United States.

Orleans is a town in Jefferson County, New York, United States. The population was 2,789 at the 2010 census, up from 2,463 in 2000. The town is located in the northern part of the county and is north of Watertown. Orleans is named after the commune of Orléans in France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brockville</span> City in Ontario, Canada

Brockville, formerly Elizabethtown, is a city in Eastern Ontario, Canada, in the Thousand Islands region. Although it is the seat of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, it is politically independent of the county. It is included with Leeds and Grenville for census purposes only.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thousand Islands National Park</span> National park in Ontario, Canada

Thousand Islands National Park, formerly known as the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, is a Canadian National Park located on the 1000 Islands Parkway in the Thousand Islands Region of the Saint Lawrence River. The islands are actually the worn-down tops of ancient mountains. This region, the Frontenac Axis, connects the Canadian Shield from Algonquin Park in Ontario to the Adirondack Mountains in New York.

Cape Vincent is a town in Jefferson County, New York, United States. The population was 2,765 at the 2020 census.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clayton, New York</span> Town in New York, United States

Clayton is a town in Jefferson County, New York, United States. The population was 5,153 at the 2010 census. The town is named after John M. Clayton, a federal political leader from Delaware.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gananoque</span> Town in Ontario, Canada

Gananoque is a town in the Leeds and Grenville area of Ontario, Canada. The town had a population of 5,383 year-round residents in the 2021 Canadian Census, as well as summer residents sometimes referred to as "Islanders" because of the Thousand Islands in the Saint Lawrence River, Gananoque's most important tourist attraction. The Gananoque River flows through the town and the St. Lawrence River serves as the southern boundary of the town.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thousand Islands Bridge</span> Bridge linking Canada and the U.S.

The Thousand Islands International Bridge is an American-maintained international bridge system over the Saint Lawrence River connecting northern New York in the United States with southeastern Ontario in Canada. Constructed in 1937, with additions in 1959, the bridges span the Canada–US border in the middle of the Thousand Islands region. All bridges in the system carry two lanes of traffic, one in each direction, with pedestrian sidewalks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wellesley Island State Park</span>

Wellesley Island State Park is a 2,636-acre (10.67 km2) state park located on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River in the Town of Orleans in Jefferson County, New York. The park is divided into sections that are on different parts of the island. It has the largest camping complex in the Thousand Islands region, including wilderness campsites on the banks of the St. Lawrence accessible only by foot or boat. The park is open year-round.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Boldt Castle</span> Landmark in Thousand Islands, New York State

Boldt Castle is a major landmark and tourist attraction in the Thousand Islands region of the U.S. state of New York. Open to guests seasonally between mid-May and mid-October, it is located on Heart Island in the Saint Lawrence River. Heart Island is part of the Town of Alexandria, in Jefferson County. Originally a private mansion built for American millionaire George Boldt, it is now maintained by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority as a tourist attraction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eastern Ontario</span> Secondary region in Ontario, Canada

Eastern Ontario is a secondary region of Southern Ontario in the Canadian province of Ontario which lies in a wedge-shaped area between the Ottawa River and St. Lawrence River. It shares water boundaries with Quebec to the north and New York State to the east and south, as well as a small land boundary with the Vaudreuil-Soulanges region of Quebec to the east.

Fishers Landing is a hamlet and census-designated place (CDP) in the town of Orleans in Jefferson County, New York, United States. It is just southwest of Grass Point State Park in the Thousand Islands region of New York. As of the 2020 census the community had a population of 119.

King's Highway 137, commonly referred to as Highway 137, is a provincially maintained highway in the Canadian province of Ontario that connects the northern end of Interstate 81 in the U.S. state of New York with Highway 401 via the Canadian span of the Thousand Islands Bridge. While this road connected to the international bridge when it opened in August 1938, it was not designated as a King's Highway until 1965. Highway 137 passes through a portion of the Canadian Shield, a geographic feature which aided construction of the three Canadian spans of the Thousand Islands Bridge. These bridges, all of different designs, travel 538 m (1,765 ft) across the Saint Lawrence River. Highway 137 is 4.3 km (2.7 mi) in length and is located entirely within the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.

The Thousand Islands Parkway (often written as 1000 Islands Parkway) is a scenic parkway in the Canadian province of Ontario. It extends easterly from an interchange with Highway 401 in Gananoque for approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) to rejoin Highway 401 near the community of Butternut Bay, west of Brockville. The parkway follows the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, and was formerly designated Highway 2S (S for Scenic) until 1970. It passes through the communities of Gray's Beach, Halsteads Bay, Ivy Lea, Darlingside, Rockport, Narrows, La Rue Mills and Mallorytown Landing, as well as providing access to the three inland properties of the Thousand Islands National Park. Highway 137, which meets the parkway near its midpoint, provides access to the Interstate 81 in New York via the Thousand Islands Bridge.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Front of Yonge</span> Township in Ontario, Canada

Front of Yonge is a township found in the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville in Ontario, Canada. It is the location of the Thousand Islands National Park and Brown's Bay Provincial Park, as well as a number of private campgrounds, the Jones Creek walking trail system, and the 1000 Islands Waterfront Trail’s walking/bike path which runs from just beyond the township’s eastern boundary to neighbouring towns. The predominance of the Canadian Shield produces scenic and diverse landscapes which include exposed rock formations and heavy tree cover, as well as wide fields and beaches.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brockville Police Service</span>

The Brockville Police Service provides policing services for Brockville, the community of the Thousand Islands region on the St. Lawrence River in Eastern Ontario, Canada. Known as the "City of the 1000 Islands", Brockville is located directly opposite Morristown, New York on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, about half-way between Cornwall in the east and Kingston in the west and a little over an hour from the nation's capital, Ottawa.

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowlands, or simply St. Lawrence Lowlands, is a physiographic region of Eastern Canada that comprises a section of southern Ontario bounded on the north by the Canadian Shield and by three of the Great Lakes — Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario — and extends along the St. Lawrence River to the Strait of Belle Isle and the Atlantic Ocean. The lowlands comprise three sub-regions that were created by intrusions from adjacent physiographic regions — the West Lowland, Central Lowland and East Lowland. The West Lowland includes the Niagara Escarpment, extending from the Niagara River to the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island. The Central Lowland stretches between the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River. The East Lowland includes Anticosti Island, Îles de Mingan, and extends to the Strait of Belle Isle.

Calumet Island is an island on the St. Lawrence River, located in the Town of Clayton in Jefferson County, New York. The island formerly featured one of the earliest examples of the large castles built in the Thousand Islands region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, of which Boldt Castle is a surviving example.


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