As a nautical hitchhiker, I've explored the Thousand Islands by tall ship, cruise ship, power boat, canoe skiff, Sea-Doo, and classic antique boats.
Yet one of the best ways to enjoy the St. Lawrence River and all the beauty it has to offer is up close by kayak and the Brock Isles provide a scenic and accessible backdrop of public islands just a short paddle away from the mainland.
Brockville owns sixteen public islands off its shores for boaters and campers. Paddling along Brockville's shores dotted with church steeples and Blockhouse Island offers a relaxing view of the waterfront. You can enjoy a nautical parade of Sea-Doos, powerboats, sailboats and ships passing by while enjoying the scenery peacefully at your own pace, paddling close to osprey nests, around the shores of islands, or watching a majestic ship gracefully glide through the channel.
I had the opportunity to kayak in the Admiralty Group last summer with Scott Ewart, owner of the 1000 Islands Kayaking Company, spending a day with his guides touring Wanderer's Channel and its charming cottages and islands with names like Stonesthrow. We glided over the remains of the scuttled schooner off the shores of Mudlunta Island and paddled into the idyllic crescent cove of Half Moon Bay, a place of worship for boaters in the area every summer for over the past century.
I decided to purchase a kayak this year and start enjoying the waters closer to home and soon discovered it gives you a much different perspective of the River. I found a natural born paddler in my dog Stella who joined me in my first few adventures. I bought her a fluorescent green dog lifejacket and started taking her for 'water walks' with the kayak during some of the humid stretches of summer when it seemed like a much more civilized way to exercise. Or as civilized as any outing with Stella can be.
Kayaking along Brockville takes you past historic waterfront homes and parks including the century-old St. Lawrence Park, a popular public beach and spot for dive boats where visiting kayakers can launch for a paddle throughout the area.
There's lots to explore. The Brock Isles lie at the easterly end of the Thousand Islands starting from Morristown N.Y. where 70 islands and 60 shoals comprise the Brockville Narrows group. The River narrows considerably here to a width of only 1.4 kilometres.
The city of Brockville purchased a total of 29 islands and one barren reef for park purposes in 1933 for $3,631. Today, 16 of those islands have been developed for the public. They include Twin Sister Islands, North Twin and South Twin, Molly's Gut Island, De Rottenburgh Island, Battersby Island, Snake Island, Black Charlie Island, Little Black Charlie Island, Sparrow Island. Harvey Island, Chub Island, Refugee Island, Mile Island, Skelton Island, McCoy Island and Cockburn Island.
The Brock Isles - like Brockville which is one of Ontario's oldest cities - are steeped in history. In fact, most of the names of the islands can be traced back to the War of 1812. Many are named after officers who fought in the British campaign under the command of the community's namesake: Sir Isaac Brock.
The federal government offered Prescott, Brockville and Gananoque the opportunity to buy undeveloped islands in the late 1800s when some of the islands were being evaluated for as little as $15. Brockville was the only community to take advantage of the offer, leasing the Brock Isles and later buying them.
One of the Brock Isles, Cockburn Island was the site of the wreck of the J.B. King, a dynamite-laden drill boat which was struck by lightning on June 26, 1930. Thirty of the crew members were killed and seventeen of them were never found. A memorial plaque is mounted on granite at the site of the tragedy on the island. Stovin Island, the most easterly gateway to the St. Lawrence Islands National Park, is also located in the Brockville Narrows.
The City of the 1000 Islands is becoming billed as Brockville-on-the-River as a mecca for recreation and 'resort living' with new waterfront development projects including Tall Ships Landing and the Maritime Discovery Centre of the Thousand Islands.
Kayaking in the Thousand Islands is just another way to showcase the area to day trippers, tourists and locals who haven't had a chance to explore the River and all its public parks which is being touted as 'Paddlers' Paradise.' Stella, for one, seems to agree.
By Kim Lunman
Kim Lunman has been writing about the Thousand Islands since her return to her hometown of Brockville in 2008. In fact, we have published more than 35 of Kim’s articles in TI Life. At the beginning of May 2010, Kim's new company, Thousand Islands Ink, distributed 25,000 copies of Island Life, as an insert in eastern Ontario with distribution through the EMC papers and in New York through the Thousand Islands Sun. This summer she gathered new material for next year’s magazine - stay tuned…