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Fifty Ways to See the River…


In Paul Simon’s 1975 hit song, he suggested there are fifty ways to leave your lover. I’m not about to give any advice to the lovelorn, but I would like to share with you the many ways I’ve become familiar with the River, the St. Lawrence River.

Ready_at_RockportThe first was in early 1967. I was en-route from Toronto to check out the potential of Expo 67 as a week-long field trip for my grade six class. The drive along the Thousand Islands Parkway from Gananoque to Brockville was a refreshing change from the mind-numbing 401. I resolved to come back some day

In 1975 I left TO behind and took my then wife and one-month-old son to live in the Williamstown area, next to the Raisin River, a tributary of the River. We often took advantage of being closer to the Thousand Islands area to see more of it. The boat tours out of Rockport, Gananoque and Alexandria Bay became memorable family outings.

The tour boat operators’ narratives give some enlightenment about the geology, history and culture of the river. Parks Canada also offers interpretive programs about the River. The numerous blue and gold plaques that dot the Parkway and Highway 2 also tell of shipwrecks, explorers and military skirmishes.Keesha

Even better than a map is a flight in an aircraft over the River. As a working journalist, I’ve flown over the River in a Canadian Coast Guard Bell 206 helicopter. Based in Prescott, it was making navigation aid maintenance stops all along the River, as far west as the Wolfe Island lighthouse and as far downstream as Montreal.

A CCG Douglas DC-3 also took me over the length of the River, and as far upstream as Lake Huron. The crew was doing pollution patrols surveillance of the tankers and freighters that ply the Great Lakes.

When my sons grew up, we went on a Williamstown to Kingston multi-day bike ride. It’s quite an experience to crisscross the River by bicycle. We rode across the bridges at Cornwall, Johnstown and Ivy Lea. Unlike the non-stop crossings by car, there were opportunities to pause, to gaze at the ships as they passed far below

UmbrellaOn most Mondays, you may have noticed the Cessna 172 that makes a weekly pipeline patrol of the Trans Northern route that parallels the River. I’ve occupied its right-hand seat as an observer dozens of times. Seeing the River from less than a thousand feet, during spring, summer, autumn and winter provides a fascinating window on its many seasonal changes. The ice-breaker works its way up the river in the spring. In the summer, recreational jet-skis look like water beetles as they cavort around the plodding ships that carefully make their way along the navigation channels. In autumn the islands are ablaze with red and gold.

As recently as a year ago, in early spring, I went through the Thousand Islands area aboard a CCG icebreaker as it crashed its way through thick ice to open the navigation season. Another year I had travelled aboard a CCG vessel that was making the painstaking re-installation of the channel marker buoys in hand-freezing cold.Hitchhiking

What’s the best way to explore the River’s many features? It’s not by car, cabin cruiser, tour boat, ice breaker, bicycle, helicopter or Cessna. Beyond any doubt, it’s by canoe.

Juliet, my wife, and I have paddled the River from Cape Vincent and Kingston all the way to Cornwall. We do it the easy way, one-way, taking advantage of the sometimes brisk current, paddling where necessary and using a golf umbrella as a sail when the wind is favourable. We’ve explored the islands,

Shallows and rocks lurking just below the water’s surface are of no significant danger to a canoe. Our slow speed and shallow draught save us. We have no prop to damage, but we have accumulated many inconsequential scratches on our canoe’s Kevlar hull.

On most trips, we travel one-way. Paddling upstream against a prevailing headwind and steady 6-knot current is not for us. When we reach our day’s destination, Juliet gets to stay with the canoe. I hitchhike out, holding up a sign that indicates where I’m trying to get back to. At my side is my paddle. I usually wear a bright, reflective safety vest. It doesn’t take very long for any perceptive motorist to figure out what I’m up to. Bingo! I have a ride. I’m soon back at my pickup truck and off to pick up my wife and canoe.

There! You now know about the various ways I’ve become familiar with and enjoyed, the River, the fascinating St. Lawrence River.

There Are Many Ways…

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NO PROBLEM – Whether they’re wind-driven waves or the wakes from vessels large or small, our 16-foot Scott Kevlar canoe handles it well.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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MUCH TO DISCOVER – Fascinating sunken remains have been revealed thanks to the work of the invasive zebra mussels. Shallow waters are no hazard to a canoe.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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“IN GOES THE SPAR BUOY” – I have been aboard several Canadian Coast Guard vessels as they ply the River during spring, summer and autumn.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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NOTE-TAKING – Travelling with the CCG provides a wealth of opportunities to learn about the River.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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PACK ICE, THEN OPEN WATER – The CCG icebreaker has no trouble with this accumulation. The Thousand Islands waters will soon become populated with vessels large and small.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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WE PUSH THE SEASONS – Autumn on the River is spectacular, bug free. The seasonal lag phenomenon of the water extends the canoeing season, but the air can be chilly.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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PUSHING THE SEASON – I mistakenly thought we could venture onto the River one more time, before winter set in.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

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HAPPY TO OBLIGE – Pilots like company when they fly, and they enjoy having a mission. That’s how I’ve had the privilege of reconnoitering the River many times.

Photo by Nick Wolochatiuk

By Nick Wolochatiuk

Nick Wolochatiuk and his wife attended the special service held at Half Moon Bay on August 9, 2017 in their Canoe which is covered with decals from their dozens of excursions. We asked him to share his story with TI Life. A teacher for more than 30 years and an accomplished writer as a reporter with the Cornwall Standard Freeholder and he remains a regular columnist for Cornwall’s Seaway News. We found a most interesting blog post too: The Travels of Nick and Larry — Chasing the Fairchild C-119. We also learned Nick has flown in 356 different types of aircraft, ranging from ultralights to commercial to military, including vintage and modern, as varied as blimps, gliders, aerobatics... - and is always looking for new types .Next summer we look forward to their coming back often to our part of the St. Lawrence River.

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