In November 1901, Richard Standish Williamson acquired an island in the St. Lawrence River. Standish, born in 1877 and was raised in Gananoque, was a marble cutter.
Under signature of John J. McGee, Superintendent General of Indian Affairs (Ref. 13009, Sale No. 387), he purchased a small island whose original owners were the Mississauga Indians. When the Mississauga surrendered the islands, they were held in trust by the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs, and eventually they were sold to buyers like Standish. The moneys from the sale were held in trust for the Mississaugas.
Standish’s island was described as “Containing one tenth of one acre being the same more or less.” It was identified in 1883 by the surveyor, Walter Beatty, as Island 33G. It was lying close to the three Sister Islands and soon became known as Willow Island.
Prior to construction of the 1000 Islands Parkway (c. 1937) access to the island was from the former Highway #2. A dirt road, east of Cunningham Road, led to the shoreline of the Chisamore farm where a skiff and oars were hidden in the tall grass.
'A nondescript island producing little vegetation, by 1903, the island had a one-room cabin and as the willow trees grew, so did the island! Williamson knew his rocks and he wanted to strengthen his shoreline. So, with the help of relatives, friends, and the occasional hire, he rowed to and from Gordon Island to gather rocks. In those days, said gathering was an acceptable practice, unhindered by government regulation.
Eventually additions were made and the little cabin soon boasted a kitchen, living room and one bedroom on the lower level as well as the landmark ‘cupola’ that remains today, perched on the roof. A loft over the living room eventually provided additional sleeping space and was accessed by a series of rungs nailed to the studs. The cottage contained a six-foot, hand-built table with legs made from trees selected for their natural curve. (It was retired with much respect and began an afternoon of story telling).
Prior to 1926, another building served as a Camp Store and was operated by Mrs. Nettie (Hamilton) Williamson. The store provided ice blocks, canned goods and bread for campers and islanders. Williamson made daily trips, by rowboat, to Gananoque to fetch supplies. On the mainland, at Grey’s Creek, he kept chickens and grew vegetables. Eggs and milk came from Walter Grey’s farm.
Kerosene lanterns provided lighting and a cook stove was used for cooking and heating, all to be later replaced by propane lights and appliances. The outhouse maintained its rightful place until government regulations were put into place.
Harold White, Sr. told tales of evenings, spent with friends, singing to their hearts content and accompanied by Clifford “Darb” Lucy on a pump organ. In 1965, Willow’s title passed to its current owner Harold D. White, a great-nephew of Williamson. Taxes in 1965 were $26.78! By 1975 a regulation holding tank, electrical, and telephone services had been installed.
The island is a popular subject for artists and photographers be they on land or water. Pictures appear frequently in the Kingston Whig Standard and the island has been seen in the August ’73 edition of the “National Geographic”, the July ‘76 Issue of “Town and Country News”, Kingston’s Jack Chiang’s two books, “Thousand Islands”, and “ Kingston”, and in “Ontario” by Josef and John Hanus.
Tales of family gatherings, fish frys, camp fires, superb sunrises and sunsets, mingle with memories of curling up with a novel on a cold-winter’s day, midnight paddles, and the twinkling lights of summer that say “Welcome” to river travelers.
Spring marks the beginning of “Ice Watch” - as the ice goes out, mainland neighbors call to spread the news, island docks are put in and the summer migration begins. Finally, as the Canadian flag is raised with the same pride as the Union Jack of years-gone-by, Willow announces that the family is in residence.
Standing proudly in the St. Lawrence River, Willow looks forward to the next one hundred years and the families that follow.
By Beth White
The Whites move to Willow Island in early May, staying late in the fall, weather and water level permitting. They spend the winter months at home in Gananoque where Beth is an elected member of the Gananoque Town Council. Beth has a business background in transportation. She is also the family historian/genealogist/story writer. She is currently developing a history of Chisamore Point and is the author “The Point” (Chisamore) newsletter. She is also an accomplished “role player”, annually assuming the role of Mrs. Claus (26 yrs) and as Mrs. Joel Stone and Elizabeth Barnett during Heritage celebrations at the Arthur Child Heritage Centre. Having married into the White family 15 years ago, she reports, “she has adapted to the life style of an islander - to becoming a confident boater, to being adept in grocery/supply planning - to accepting the rights of water snakes and consequences of becoming lax in constraining water use and holding tanks!”