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Lost Villages, Another Perspective


Editor’s Note:  This is an excerpt from an early draft of Ian Coristine's coming non fiction book "One in a Thousand." It finds him flying up the St. Lawrence with two close friends, Maurice Patton and Maurice Vinet in three Challenger floatplanes over the Lost Villages section on a flight in 1992 which would lead to his discovery of the Thousand Islands.  Our appreciation to Ian for sharing this glimpse of his future book with us.


Civilization reemerges along with a bridge and a massive wall looming ahead. Throttles forward, we climb from the macro view to an expansive one as we hop over a massive complex that spans the River. Cornwall sits on one side with Massena, N.Y. on the far bank. Between are two dams and immense locks which raise and lower giant ships across the height of land. A spider’s web of high tension cables and tall towers radiate out in every direction.

Two neighbors are separated by the River and an international border, but joined by the bridge and the cooperation that now holds back Lake Ontario, over a hundred miles away.

For centuries this area was impassible due to rapids, preventing ships of any size from reaching the Great Lakes and the heart of the continent. The St. Lawrence Seaway changed all that while generating power from the largest reservoir of fresh water in the world. Long envisioned, this massive project was finally completed in 1958, literally changing the face of the earth, or at least this part of it.

We drop back down to water level, skirting forested islands that once were hilltops with the altimeter revealing this side to be 80 feet higher.

“What’s this?” I ask.

“I haven’t got a clue," answers Vinet.

“Looks like a channel.” Patton suggests.

DSCN1472a
To say we were baffled by this inexplicable channel, doesn't quite capture it. Why would anyone put so much effort into clearing such a perfect path through the weeds leading absolutely nowhere?
Photo by Ian Coristine © www.1000IslandsPhotoArt.com.

Perhaps ten feet below the surface we can clearly see a path about a wingspan wide perfectly cut through weeds growing on the bottom. As we follow it, geometrically perfect rectangles and squares appear here and there nearby.

“They’ve got to be man-made but what the heck are they?” I’m stumped.

The others are too. It never cuts deeper than the river’s bottom, is usually straight but occasionally arcs off one way or the other, going absolutely nowhere.

“Who or why would anyone want to go to so much trouble when it doesn’t go anywhere?”, asks Patton.

“No idea,” Vinet answers. “And it’s not as though there isn’t enough depth for most motorboats to move around here above the weeds.”

Determined to figure out what it is, we follow it intently for miles. Finally a small island lies in its path.

“This must be the destination because it’s going straight for it.” Patton sounds sure, but I’m not.

“There’s nothing here but brush and a few ducks.”

Lost Village
 
Known as the “Lost Villages”, ten communities were sacrificed to the Seaway, houses literally jacked up off their foundations and moved to higher ground before the inundation created Lake St. Lawrence.
Photo by Ian Coristine © www.1000IslandsPhotoArt.com.

The “channel” rises up to meet the island, sweeps across it and back into the water on the other side in a smooth gray ribbon.

“Was that a faint line painted down the middle?”, asks Patton as we pass.

It was. Faded but visible, the realization is instantaneous.

Painted 40 years before, it is the centerline of what once was a two lane highway which ran along the shore of a very different River. Foundations of forgotten houses, barns and buildings are the shapes we’ve been seeing.

It is a haunting realization, like discovering another Atlantis, if not quite so ancient. While boaters might catch a glimpse of this if they stopped long enough to let the water calm, it would be difficult to understand what they are seeing from the surface. I am reminded of our privileged view.

Known as the “Lost Villages”, ten communities were sacrificed to the Seaway, houses literally jacked up off their foundations and moved to higher ground before the inundation created Lake St. Lawrence. (http://www.lostvillages.ca/)

DSCN3139
Photo by Ian Coristine © www.1000IslandsPhotoArt.com.

 

FOOTNOTE: Portions of the submerged roads can also be seen in satellite views on Google Earth (look between Cornwall and Ingleside, Ontario), though few (but you) would understand what they’re seeing.

By Ian Coristine, ian@thousandislandsbooks.com

Ian Coristine, the preeminent photographer of the Thousand Islands, produces Thousand Islands pictures professionally. His books and prints are available throughout the region, and as a community service Ian generously shares his images here in Thousand Islands Life.  If you want to see more of his work, please see his website [http://www.1000islandsphotoart.com/] and we encourage you to subscribe to his Wallpapers, where he shares Thousand Islands scenes to use as screensavers. Each winter month you will receive a view of our River and our Islands – helping to build greater pride in our special section of the mighty St. Lawrence River.

 

Posted in: History, Places
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Comments

lori
Comment by: lori ( )
Left at: 8:55 AM Sunday, August 16, 2009
wow that is cool, never heard about it and thrilled that Ian is writing a novel, that is exciting ! thanks
Lori Moose
TIP/Canandaigua NY
Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson ( )
Left at: 9:01 AM Sunday, August 16, 2009
Ian, once again you provide a view that needs very few words.
This is the first time that I have seen just how the villages connect!
It wasn't until just recently during my interviews that I discovered the impact the seaway construction had on the people of the 'lost villages' and their way of life. Sure, things change, but how many of us can truly say we can never go home again?
Terrific article!
Brian Johnson

Michael Laprade
Comment by: Michael Laprade ( )
Left at: 2:51 PM Sunday, August 16, 2009
Ian,

when I grow up, I want to be just like you... Great story, I can hardly wait to see it.
Ian Coristine
Comment by: Ian Coristine ( )
Left at: 11:55 PM Sunday, August 16, 2009
Michael,

If you grow up, you never will be...
Ray Kowalski
Comment by: Ray Kowalski ( )
Left at: 1:50 PM Thursday, August 20, 2009
The History Channel's series, Modern Marvels, did an episode on the St. Lawrence Seaway about 5 years ago. It covered the flooding of the Lost Villages and contained footage of houses being moved as well as poignant interviews with villagers. I have this video available for viewing at our summer cottage so that our first-time guests can gain an understanding of what they're seeing and how it came to be. I'm now looking forward to adding Ian Coristine's novel to the reference shelf.

Ray Kowalski
Fairfax, VA / Thousand Island Park, NY
Jan Gilbert
Comment by: Jan Gilbert ( )
Left at: 9:56 PM Thursday, August 20, 2009
Ian,

Once again you have given us a wonderful gift. To be able to view this area from the air as you have and that you share the beautiful vision with all the world is beyond words. Looking at your photos always makes me feel good.

Thanks again.

Jan Gilbert
Douglassville, PA
Art Merkley
Comment by: Art Merkley ( )
Left at: 9:26 AM Monday, September 7, 2009
Hi Ian. Great coverage. Brings back memories I was born and raised in Morrisburg and enjoyed the once-mighty St Lawrence River prior to the flooding. Fishing was great, swiimming and boating ditto. Thx for the memories.
Art Merkley
Rockport
judith walpole de swaaf
Comment by: judith walpole de swaaf ( )
Left at: 11:29 PM Saturday, January 16, 2010
my father frank arnold walpole was born in the town of dickinsons landing in 1894. I have never been there, but I did visit Ingleside, and saw the family monument which was moved there. Also saw the church I believe he attended - Our Lady of Peace.
I am particularly appreciative of all the efforts which have been/are being made to maintain the history of this area. My father died when I was four years of age, and the maintenance of what was mean that I have some connection to my paternal history.
Thanks to all who participate in this.
Frank Hazelwood
Comment by: Frank Hazelwood
Left at: 10:17 AM Monday, May 30, 2016
i have been driving past this area an no one ever mentioned it to me. I kind of remember something but could not positively say when and where. Have been to small towns that the border ran right through, but never about that road way.

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