Wispy puffs of cloud drift across an otherwise deep blue sky. A fresh breeze blows by and puts a few baseball caps in peril as the Gananoque Boat Line tour boat cuts across the chop. Nearby tiny islands—a few of the 1,864 outcrops that dot this stretch of the river, roughly between Kingston and Brockville, Ontario—look like illustrations from a children’s book: some with a modest cottage or two, some with opulent homes, some with just a few trees, at least one with a lighthouse.
Somewhere around the point, we pass under the Thousand Islands International Bridge, the boat slips into American waters. Not surprisingly, the islands look pretty similar to those on the Canadian side. The main perceptible difference is that the flags flapping from cottage flagpoles morph from the Maple Leaf to the Stars and Stripes.
Soon, we disembark at Boldt Castle, a sprawling mansion built in the early 1900s for George Boldt, who ran the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. When his wife Louise died suddenly in 1904, the grieving Boldt abandoned his incomplete summer home, which eventually became a museum. With its grand staircase, colourful gardens and storybook-cute Power House (a medieval-style structure complete with tiny footbridge), it’s well worth a visit.
However, even without the museum stop, the boat trip itself captures the unique appeal of this region hinged between New York State and Ontario. From the 1000 Islands in the east to Ontario’s Prince Edward County in the west, it’s a place defined by boats and water, by the rich who have come here to retreat from the world and the not-so-rich who have lived here for generations, by two countries that have found a peaceable way to share a gorgeous landscape. I love it here. Here are a few reasons to make it your next weekend getaway destination.