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The Top of the World For Sale... …


Enterprising, accomplished, and a passionate champion for the Thousand Islands, Leonard Stratford is literally on top of the world. He has spent the last 28 years as owner and operator of the acclaimed 1000 Islands Skydeck, sharing the magnificent 1000 Islands region from 400 feet above the St. Lawrence Seaway to visitors from all over the world.

North America, South America, Mexico, Europe, Asia, Australia; tourists from just about every country imaginable have been to see all 1865 Islands (give or take a few) from way high up in the sky. “I will never forget this couple from Ohio…they said they had been all over the world and had never seen anything as beautiful as this” he remembers. “It truly is one of the nicest views in the world.”

A cherished pinnacle of the islands, the Skydeck is visible for miles, located in Canada on the Canada US border at Hill Island. Now noted for being a part of the United Nation’s Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, the tower has always been a huge promoter of our unique 1000 Islands ecosystem and ecological history. From its apex at the top, it is not unusual to see grand birds fly by like Ospreys, Eagles, Hawks and the prized American Bald Eagles. Gorgeous sunsets and sunrises, brilliant fall colours, and even triple rainbows are abundantly up for show.

Leonard comes from a long line of Hill Islanders; his father was John R. Stratford, a supervisor and foreman for the Canadian Bridge Company and instrumental in the building of our International Bridge in 1938. Enamored with the area, Mr. Stratford Sr. chose to settle on Hill Island, where he owned and operated Stratford’s Gift Shop since 1941.

 

In 1966 Leonard and his brother Jack took over the shop from their father and expanded it. That was the beginning of Leonard’s passion for building great projects. Over the years, a number of opportunities arose for Leonard to develop on the island. He became proprietor of the grand exhibit hall which housed an arctic museum, wax museum, and aquarium, Never Never Land, home to a children’s fairyland featuring Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, Hansel and Gretel, and The Three Little Pigs to name a few, and of course now operates the iconic 1000 Islands Skydeck.

Leonard purchased the tower from the McAlpine Construction Company in 1983, but its history goes back further…to the dream of a man named John David, a promoter from Czechoslovakia. During the 60’s Mr. David bought the property around the island from local residents with the intention of building a fantastic new tourist attraction for the 1000 Islands.

It took just over a year to build, with a foundation of 491 cubic yards of concrete, 164 tons of steel in the shaft, and 22,000 man-hours to complete. Leonard remembers the construction company’s subcontractors constantly over borrowing tools from him at Stratford’s gift shop. It was an ambitious project with an exciting future that Leonard was thrilled to watch unfold but nevertheless surprised to find that they needed to borrow tools!

First a foundation dug and enforced, then form was fabricated and erected on top of the foundation. Steel rods were fixed into the foundation and concrete of a special pre-calculated mix was poured in and around to retain the steel rods. As the concrete poured into the form, hydraulic jacks moved the form up an inch at a time almost continuously.
Photo courtesy Leonard Stratford
The concrete column was finished off 311’ above the ground. Raised like a sleeve above was the steel triodetic pod of the observation deck, bringing the structure another 50’ higher, which made the whole structure 375 feet above the ground and 425 feet above the St. Lawrence River.
Photo courtesy Leonard Stratford

The steel machinery room was built above the concrete shaft, which measures 18 feet in diameter.
Photo courtesy Leonard Stratford

Workman with a view.

The thickness of the tower walls is 18 inches thick, and the triodetic pod width is 52 feet at its widest point.
Photo courtesy Leonard Stratford
Finished product. The outside stairs were hoisted in sections and secured. The buildings at the base progressed, the elevator was installed, the interior finished and landscaping completed.
Photo courtesy Leonard Stratford

At the time of opening June 15, 1965 , The 1000 Islands Skydeck had the smallest width to height ratio of any building in the world.

That same year the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls was built, testimony to the power of towers, and their value to us to see nature's work from a bird’s eye view.

Tower Tales:

On the  Skydeck's trademark external staircase: One local guide jokingly tells visitors that the external staircase that surrounds the tower resembles a screw…. Not just for emergency exit but it is of dual purpose: because in the winter it gets very icy cold in the tower here in the islands, Leonard Screws the tower into the ground to keep it secure. Then in spring, he simply unscrews it back up again!

Want to get married? A very popular spot to pop the question is at the top of the tower, with the spectacular beauty of the islands below. Then, couples make a tradition to return on their anniversaries. It is truly a magical and romantic place to be.

 

One day, a mischievous employee decided to pull a prank on the visitors to the tower. He stuffed a dummy person into overalls and subsequently tossed it off the top of the tower. What a shock for everyone to see a body plunge from the heights, and great relief when they discovered it was all in fun.

From time to time airplanes can get a little close; so keep your radar on when you are at the peak of the tower. Also, there is a wireless Internet provider with an antenna up there, so that may be where your home Internet comes from!

During the Ice Storm of 1998, huge sheets of ice froze all down the sides and on the top of the tower. As they began to fall, immense damage ensued, including right through the restaurant's roof. It was January, so luckily the tower was closed at the time.

Skydeck Now For Sale

Now in his 80’s the time has come for Leonard to enjoy retirement. It has been a wonderful experience to be the keeper of the tower for so many years, but it’s time for someone with new ideas and enthusiasm for the 1000 Islands to take over.

With almost 10 acres for sale including the Skydeck, 2 gift shops, currency exchange, 10,000 sq. ft. exhibit hall, ice cream shop, more retail space, storage buildings and parking for 100, it is a terrific opportunity.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that has come around again, last time it was for Leonard, this time for the right person who loves this region as much as he does. Thank you for everything Leonard. It’s been a wonderful time in the islands with you.

What is your vision for the Skydeck and those 10 acres? Your ideas are welcome…a zip line adventure, a tower restaurant in the sky? Tell us what you think and we’ll pass it along.

By Michelle Caron

Michelle Caron is a tourism product development consultant. She moved to the Thousand Islands region in 1989. Michelle and her husband Lou, are passionate about the Thousand Islands region and both have dedicated careers in tourism. They were so enamored with the river, they were married on a boat just next to Boldt Castle (where they had their first date) and then hosted a family wedding picnic on Heart Island. A favorite pastime of hers is "always exploring 1000 Islands history, people and places." They live on the Canadian mainland with a view of Chimney Island.

In 2005 when Paul Malo created Thousand Islands Life.Com he did so with a hope that much of the "past" would be appreciated.  He wrote at that time: "In the interest of finding appreciative stewards of historic properties, Thousand Islands Life presents some real estate of exceptional importance when offered for sale.”  The Skydeck is certainly one of those properties.  It is part of the past and certainly ready for the future.   For more information on the Skydeck, please contact Michelle Caron at 613-803-7779 or michellecaron09@gmail.com.

Do you remember climbing the tower or visiting the Tower?  Do send us photographs and/or leave a comment below.

 

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Comments

Bill Munger
Comment by: Bill Munger ( )
Left at: 10:23 AM Friday, July 15, 2011
Surely hope this attraction will be kept going by someone with a vision of offering a point where memories of the islands can be continued to be shared by all who visit the area.

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