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Island Wanderer, Name for the Ages


Have you ever noticed that, in particular cases, something has a name which is just so spot on? Like a big, friendly Golden Lab named “Buddy”, or a cute, cuddly kitten named “Fluffy”. Well, in the case of Thousand Islands tour boats, one very apt name keeps popping up; “Island Wanderer”, or a slight variant thereof. From before the turn of the twentieth century there have been many local excursion boats which have carried that name. Let’s take a look back at these wonderful old tour boats from the past.

The first instance of a local tour boat named “Island Wanderer” dates back to 1879, when Captain Elisha Visger of Alexandria Bay built a new boat to replace his current steamer at the time, “Cygnet”. A larger boat was required because Captain Visger’s scenic “rambles” through the islands were gaining in popularity so quickly that he needed a new vessel to accommodate the larger crowds of passengers who wanted to share in the local beauty.

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Captain Visger's "Island Wanderer” built in 1879 - The illustration is from the book, "Meanderings among a thousand islands".
Photo: Tom King Collection

A few years later, Captain Visger decided that he needed a newer, larger boat to compete with the other steamers that were entering in the local tourist business. In 1887 he formed the “Alexandria Bay Steamboat Company” with the purpose of raising capital for the new boat. The “New Island Wanderer” was launched in 1888 and Captain Visger’s son, Walter, was her first captain. After the Alexandria Bay Steamboat Company went bankrupt in 1900, the “New Island Wanderer” became part of the Folger Line’s famous “White Squadron”.

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The steamer “New Island Wanderer” built in 1888 by the Alexandria Bay Steamboat Company as a replacement for Captain Visger’s original “Island Wanderer”
Photo: T.R. King Historical Collection ©

The original “Island Wanderer” was renamed “Island Belle” in 1894 and was lost in a fire at Buffalo, in 1930. The “New Island Wanderer” was renamed “Jeannette R.” in 1920 and was reported as “dismantled” in 1925.

We now jump ahead to the late 1920s when several of the tour boat operators in Alexandria Bay decided to join forces and create the “Combined Thousand Island Boat Tours” Company. The last group to join the new consortium was Captain Clifton Ward and his son, Glenn. When they joined the new boat line in 1930 they brought with them a fleet of small, wooden tour boats, one of which was named “New Island Wanderer”. When the boat line changed its’ name to “Uncle Sam Boat Tours” in the early 1950s, the Ward’s “New Island Wanderer” became the “Uncle Sam V”. I have never found a record of whatever became of this boat.

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Captain Clifton Ward’s tour boat, “New Island Wanderer”. This boat was later renamed “Uncle Sam V”.
Photo: T.R. King Historical Collection ©

A brand-new “Island Wanderer” began service on the Canadian side of the border when Sam Sedgwick took over the ownership of the 1000 Island Boat Line, shortly after World War II ended. The boat line needed a more modern vessel to remain competitive in the marketplace, so Sam ordered the new tour boat from Rockport boat builder Clifford Hunt.

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Sedgwick’s 1000 Island Boat Line’s brand-new tour boat, “Island Wanderer”, built by Clifford Hunt of Rockport.
Photo: T.R. King Historical Collection ©

Several of the other old wooden 1000 Island Boat Line tour boats were renamed as “Island Wanderers” after the boat line changed hands in the mid-1940s. The “Courier” became “Island Wanderer II” and the “Sun Dance” became “Island Wanderer III”, and so forth. Time eventually caught up with this fleet of single deck boats and they were retired from service and left to rot away on shore.

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Several of the old Gananoque single deck, wooden “Island Wanderers” on the hard.
Photo: Gananoque Historical Society Archives ©

According to U.S. Coast Guard records, the former “Just Brown IV”, which was operated out of Clayton by the Brown Boat Line for many years, and subsequently renamed “Gloria”, was sold into Canada in the early 1950s with a registration number of 192694. This number matches the one on the Canadian registration record in 1953 for the “Island Wanderer VIII”, presumably of the Gananoque Boat Line, which had bought out Sam Sedgwick’s tour boat business in the late 1940’s.

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The old “Just Brown IV” was sold to the Gananoque Boat Line in the early 1950s and became the “Island Wanderer VIII”.
Photo: T.R. King Historical Collection ©

 

The latest incarnation of the “Island Wanderer” tour boat name belongs to a vessel built in 1971 by Blount Marine for Uncle Same Boat Tours of Alexandria Bay. The latest”Island Wanderer” was a replica of an old Mississippi River paddle wheeler and joined another similar boat, the “Alexandria Belle”, in the Uncle Sam fleet.  Although the original “Alexandria Belle” was sold and replaced by a larger boat of the same name, the “Island Wanderer” is still doing daily duty for Uncle Sam.

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Uncle Sam Boat Tour’s replica paddle wheeler, “Island Wanderer” was built in 1971.
Photo: Uncle Sam Boat Tours, Inc.

With a rich history that dates back well over one hundred years, it is very likely that another Thousand Islands tour boat will carry on the esteemed name “Island Wanderer” at some point in the future.

By Tom King

Tom King and his wife Marion have lived in Milton, Ontario for the past 30 years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children; Kris, Mike and Becca. Tom still has a strong attachment to the Thousand Islands, having grown up in Gananoque and being a “river rat” from a very early age. The family tries to return to the islands every summer and for the past several years have been renting a cottage on Sampson (a.k.a. Heritage) Island, just out from Gananoque.

Editor’s note:  The King family is well known in the region as the “J.W. King Water Filtration Plant”, which stands on the shore of the St. Lawrence River, in the Gananoque Marina Basin, was named after Tom’s father, in recognition of the contributions that he made to the upgrading of the Town’s water system, while acting as Chairman of the P.U.C.   Click here to see all of Tom’s articles.

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