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The River's Keepers


The Professor

I was writing about the Thousand Islands for just a few months when photographer Ian Coristine introduced me to Paul Malo, a professor of architecture at Syracuse University and the founder of TILife.com, nearly six years ago. The author of three Thousand Islands books was in hospital on his death bed suffering from pancreatic cancer. He was frail but spoke passionately about his favourite subject: The Thousand Islands. The Clayton native was instrumental in preserving Thousand Island Park on Wellesley Island with its 19th-century gingerbread cottages lining idyllic streets with names like Paradise and Rainbow. He spoke of the regions' other islands, castles and cottages with the zeal of a pastor from the pulpit. Calumet, Heart, and Carleton Islands to name a few. He spoke of Carleton Villa, a once grand retreat during the region's Gilded Age at the turn of the last century, reduced to rubble and vacant for over 7 decades. He said the Thousand Islands needed to be appreciated more for it to prosper and returned to its forgotten splendour. He spoke of unfinished stories like that of the steam yacht Magedoma, once owned by Brockville's Senator George Fulford I. Malo died a few weeks later. He was 78. When I boarded the restored Magedoma, sailing under its original name: Cangarda back to Brockville's Fulford Place three years ago, I thought of Professor Malo's last lecture. Buildings can be preserved with bricks and mortar but stories are preserved in the telling and retelling by the people who live them. Meet just a memorable few I've encountered on my voyages through the Thousand Islands.

The Grand Lady

Mary Hewitt, of Tar Island, took me on a ride in her mahogany boat The Santa Maria in the summer of 2010. The regal River matriarch recalled summering on St. Lawrence Island most of her life. She told me about the history of the three colourful totem poles at Tar Island's Totem Point. Her family was active in the Rockport community and the nearby Grenadier Island Country Club. Parks Canada even named a juvenile bald eagle after her as part of a monitoring program. She had a long memory. She recalled returning home to her family's cottage at Brockville's Heather's Point as a young child a day after the dynamite-laden drill boat J.B. King was struck by lightning in 1930. Thirty of the 42 crew members died. Hewitt died in 2011 at the age of 94.

The Survivor

Captain Everett Snider was one of the 12 people aboard the J.B. King to survive the deadly blast that killed 30 crew members. I met Snider in the spring of 2009. He walked to the Brockville waterfront near his home with the aid of two canes and recalled the explosion, featured in a documentary called H20 Secrets: J.B. King, released that same year. The retired River pilot guided tours aboard the Miss Brockville. For years, he presented slides of historic photographs of the River. He renewed his driver's licence at 98. He was never far from the site of the explosion near Cockburn Island which he survived as a young man on June 26, 1930. Seventeen of the bodies were never recovered. Capt. Ev was the last living survivor. He died Dec. 3, 1909 at 98.

The Island Doctor

When Dr. Dick Withington told me to look out for the "ugliest boat on the River," when I met up with him at Clayton's public dock in 2010, I was skeptical; until I spotted his tug boat named Stormy. "Doc," as he is known, lives year-round on Round Island at his century-old sprawling retreat named Rivercroft. Doc and his wife Roseanne purchased the 1888 property in the late 1970's. The island was home to a 300-room New Frontenac Hotel until it burned down in 1911. Its iconic dockside post office remains. A retired orthopedic surgeon from Watertown, Doc is a volunteer member of the Clayton Fire department, responding to calls on neighbouring islands during medical emergencies aboard a boat named Last Chance. He also writes about his island life on Round Island in TILife.com.

The Sheriff

I was told George Peterson was known as "The Sheriff" of Prince Regent Island, near Gananoque, before I met him. He sure looked the part; dressed in a straw cowboy hat and jeans, with an bald eagle ornament festooning both bow and stern of his boat, the former Marine and World War II veteran toured me around Prince Regent, in the spring of 2010. "Coming back here every spring is like coming home again," he said. "The Sheriff" has been coming to Prince Regent for nearly 70 years. He was introduced to it by his late wife Virginia Jahn, through the American Canoe Association of Sugar Island. The 91-year-old retired phone company consultant from Suffern N.Y. and Gananoque, is a story teller who loves local lore. He knew Muskie Jake Huntley the famous fishing guide for the Gananoque Inn and the island's last lighthouse keeper, Tom Glover.

The Commodore

Larry Zuk, a former Commodore of Sugar Island, claims he was conceived there and was named after the St. Lawrence River. "Please don't insult me," he told me sternly, when I inquired if he slept in one of the cabins or in a tent on the rugged island near Gananoque. For the record, the answer was 'tent.' Zuk, 90, of Colorado, has been coming to this island since he was a baby. The American Canoe Association (ACA) has owned this Canadian island since 1901. Zuk has sailed canoes here since he was a child and built many of the vessels. Some are displayed by the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. To this day, Sugar Island attracts international canoe racers from around the United States to compete in annual regattas.

The Mayor

June Hodge is known as the Mayor of Grenadier Island for a reason: She's lived there longer than anyone else. I first met June in the summer of 2008 at her cottage on Grenadier Island near Mallorytown. June, 95, has been a familiar fixture on Grenadier Island, swimming several times a day in the summer and playing card games on her porch with many visitors. Her love of the island is steeped in its historic shores. She lived there year-round until she was 73 when she started wintering in Rockport. Many of her ancestors on this island - once a farming community known for its corn and an angler's inn, went to the closed school here and are buried in the cemetery.

By Kim Lunman,  www.islandlifemag.ca

Kim Lunman is the owner/publisher of Island Life Magazine www.islandlifemag.ca.  A profile of the past five years was published in our November 2013 issue of TI Life.  Her company, Thousand Islands Ink, is based in Brockville. Lunman is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in the Boat U.S. Magazine, Lakeland Boating, Reader's Digest, Globe and Mail, and The National Post.

To see all of Kim Lunman’s TI Life articles click here, and to read a more complete biography see our About page.

Posted in: Places, People
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Comments

Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine ( )
Left at: 10:24 AM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Kim, who knew that day in 2008 when you met Paul that he was passing the torch? You (and Susie Smith) have carried it far more effectively, building a far greater appreciation for this place, than anyone could have imagined. I can assure you that Paul would be VERY proud of all you and Susie have accomplished, and continue to accomplish. Certainly, I am. Thank you.
Ken Larson
Comment by: Ken Larson ( )
Left at: 10:46 AM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
There certainly are great people on the River! The longer I live on the River the more I come to realize that my love of the place is equal parts the natural beauty and the character of the inhabitants.
I think that's the neatest and cleanest I've seen Stormy's wheelhouse!

Kim Lunman
Comment by: Kim Lunman ( )
Left at: 6:31 PM Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Thank you Ian and Ken. All the islanders I've met seem to be Keepers of the Islands - so it's a much longer list than this. It would certainly include Ian and Susie for all their efforts in keeping Paul Malo's vision for bringing thousandislandslife.com alive. To see it have grown to what it is today is amazing and a credit to your dedication (Susie even spends vacations editing the monthly edition in hotel rooms!) along all the wonderful contributors on both sides of the border - more River Keepers sharing their stories and photographs of this incredible place.
Janice Laprade
Comment by: Janice Laprade ( )
Left at: 9:43 AM Saturday, January 18, 2014
Kim, you have done it again, captured our hearts and imagination with your interviews and descriptions of this magical region. 1,000 Islanders are a breed apart, those who have chosen this River to be theirs, and who have in turn been also chosen by the River to be forever changed as well.
Many thanks for such pleasurable reading..home soon.

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