One of the best ways to see a spectacular string of islands known as the Admiralty Group in the St. Lawrence River is up close by sea kayak.
The 1000 Islands Kayaking Company offers tours of islands just off of Gananoque including some of St. Lawrence Islands National Parks of Canada.
This isn’t just an outdoor adventure. It’s an opportunity to see the River from another perspective and to glide through channels that take you past historic cottages, boathouses, over a ship wreck and into Half Moon Bay where Sunday worshippers have attended prayer services on boats for over a century in what is known as “The World’s Tallest Cathedral.”
I recently joined a group of National Parks interpreters and kayaking guides for a day-long adventure in the Admiralty Islands. Our tour started out at Gananoque’s town marina.
We were led by Scott Ewart, owner 1000 Islands Kayaking Company. Ewart, who has a degree in outdoor education and in marketing education strategies, led us in warm-up stretches before helping us climb into our sea kayaks.
The 28-year-old Seeley's Bay native, a former sea kayaking guide in Tofino B.C., Lake Superior and Georgian Bay, has returned to his river roots here to take paddlers on Thousand Islands tours.
“We’re trying to help people access this place,” said Ewart explained as we paddled away from Gananoque towards a tranquil cove for some ‘Kayaking 101’ lessons. “It’s a great way to connect people and the place.”
The kayaking company’s guides are all nationally certified and are schooled in the region’s history and nature for day-trips and three-hour tours geared towards eco-tourism with a first-class fare of gourmet meals.
“Eco-tourism has morphed into sustainable tourism,” said Ewart.
The first stop for lunch and a trail tour is McDonald Island, formerly used for farming, then as a youth camp by the Rotary Club and Sea Cadets. Lunch includes exotic French cheeses, fresh bread and gourmet cold cuts. Most of the food served on the kayaking company’s tours is purchased from Local Flavours, a regional food supplier supported by the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve that specializes in local produce and cuisine.
The paddling outfit also offers programs at Brockville’s St. Lawrence Park. It’s an extension of its Gananoque programs, which includes corporate retreats and group packages.
Jim Franchetto, general manager of 1000 Islands Kayaking Company, said the company is attracting paddlers who want to experience the Thousand Islands from a different perspective.
“We have a broad spectrum of people who take advantage of our programs young and old,” he said while kayaking through the Admiralty Islands during the day-long tour. “Paddling has a place on the River.”
That perspective becomes very clear as we can float up to the small island with a house called Stone’s Throw and can literally touch the remains of the shipwreck poking out of the water near the shores of Mudlunta Island.
The Briton, a derelict double mast sailing ship, was brought ashore in 1920 and subsequently sunk after its demolition. No diving gear is necessary for this historic ship wreck, one of many along the St. Lawrence. You can glide over it in a kayak and see its remains under the surface.
Today’s tour also includes another favourite picnicking and camping stop for boaters and paddlers on national park islands: Beaurivage (translated as beautiful shoreline) Island which has been popular since the park’s inception in 1904 as well as Mermaid Island with its pink granite rock shaped like a sheep’s back.
The trek continues with a paddle through crescent-shaped Half Moon Bay off of Bostwick Island. Weekend worshippers have faithfully gathered here since the 1880s for non-denominational Sunday prayer services in skiffs, canoes, motorboats, sailboats and Sea-Doos.
There’s something to be said for seeing the River by kayak, dwarfed by passing tour boats and in the wake of Sea-Doos and motorboats speeding past. You can imagine early settlers and previous generations gently rowing past the same scenery in their canoes and St. Lawrence skiffs.
You can take less traveled waterways through charming coves with tree branches that hang from granite outcroppings like overgrown limbs. You can see islands with storybook cottages and get close to islands without names or residents.
And you can really admire the smallest of the Thousand Islands here. Is an island an island if it’s just a slab of salmon pink granite and a pine tree or two? Does it have to be on a nautical map to count as one of the 1,865 Thousand Islands? Who cares? Out here on the River in a kayak, if you can paddle around it, it’s an island.
And the Admiralty Group with its winding Wanderer’s Channel, St. Lawrence ship wreck, National Park sites, Half Moon Bay, and the tiniest of the Thousand Islands, is simply a paddler’s paradise like no other.
By Kim Lunman firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright Kim Lunman 2009, All Rights Reserved
Kim Lunman is an award-winning Canadian journalist who contributes each month to TI Life and is a member our editorial team.
Kim was the former national correspondent for the Globe and Mail's Victoria and Ottawa bureaus, and has also worked as a reporter for the Calgary Herald and Saint John New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Brockville Recorder and Times. Kim is the recipient of a National Newspaper Award for feature writing and received a National Newspaper Award citation of merit for enterprise reporting. Kim was also was nominated for a Michener Award, the highest honor in Canada for public service journalism. Her freelance writing has appeared in the Kingston Whig-Standard, the National Post, South China Morning Post, VIA Destinations and Reader's Digest.