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Grenadier Island and its Unofficial Mayor


GRENADIER ISLAND: June Hodge was born in a houseboat on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands on a bitter cold January day 90 years ago.

She still swims in the river every morning during the summer months, off the shores of this tranquil island she has called home all of her life.

"I have that thing where I have to go into the water every day," she says. "I haven't missed a day yet. I used to go in five times a day," she adds with a girlish giggle. "Now if I go in twice a day, that's enough."

June Hodge, Grenadier Island
Photo by Kim Lunman © Recorder and Times
June Hodge, 90, is the "oldest" resident and unofficial mayor of Grenadier Island. She has lived there her entire life and year-round until the age of 73 when she moved into a trailer near Rockport for the winter months.

Hodge is the oldest and longest-living resident on GrenadierIsland, the last of the winter people who stayed year-round here back when there were farms, a hotel and a one-room school house that still stands but was closed more than four decades ago.

The great-great-grandmother is the last surviving matriarch of seven generations of S

enecals who grew up on this Canadian island in the St. Lawrence River across from Rockport.

She was born on the St. Lawrence River near Alexandria Bay on Jan. 24, 1918, one of 12 children to Hazel and Paul Senecal, an island caretaker doing maintenance work in the winter in the area at the time of her birth.

"I came all the way back squalling to Grenadier," recalls Hodge. "When spring came, I probably came with it."

Hodge is short with snow-white hair that frames her face like a cloud. She doesn't waste any time recalling her many years on Grenadier Island while sitting at a picnic table outside her historic cottage on one of the community's oldest properties. A life preserver with the words "Gramadear Island" hangs on a tree at the river edge near the dock.

Hodge knows this island better than just about anyone else, this place she has lived year-round until she was 73 and now returns to as stubbornly and predictably as the first spring thaw.

Grenadier Island is in her bones. Her life has followed its trajectory just as certainly as its only township road stretches nearly 10 kilometres from "from tip to tip," as she puts it, and along its curves past the schoolhouse, the lush green golf course where her late husband Fred worked and the place it all started at Senecal Bay.

That's where Hodge's grandfather, Joseph Senecal, a glassblower from Redwood, New York, built the Anglers' Hotel, a fishing and hunting lodge, in 1871 that would later gain popularity in the Thousand Islands, especially during the prohibition years.

Many of her ancestors are buried in the small graveyard overlooking the river under the shade of old-growth trees with emerald-shade leaves. Now, the island, once a pastoral farming community known for its famous Grenadier corn sold at market in Brockville and other nearby communities, is primarily a place for the island's summer people. Today it is better known for its cottages, national parks property and the Grenadier Island Country Club and golf course.

When asked about her title around the small community as the "unofficial mayor of Grenadier Island," Hodge retorts without a beat: "Ha. That's a joke and a half."

"I'm second in charge," says her son Phillip Hodge, who took a break in mowing the lawn to join his mother at the picnic table.

"We also call her the chairman of the board."

He wears a piece of the island's native ancestry - an arrowhead he found along with other artifacts, including an Iroquois pot - around his neck on a chain.

 

A child of Grenadier, June Hodge attended its one-room schoolhouse and was raised around the Anglers' inn. She married her husband Fred Hodge at 17 and they had five children. All of them went to the island's schoolhouse, which closed in 1962. At one time more than 100 people lived here all year. They survived as caretakers and maintenance workers for summer residents and through farming and trapping muskrats, beaver and raccoons.

When asked what she likes most about life on Grenadier Island, Hodge replies: "It's in the Thousand Islands," quickly adding: "But what's better than Grenadier?"

Hodge chooses to simply bask in its quiet and untroubled breezes. "Nobody ever bothers you over here," she says, surveying the view from her waterfront yard as laundry lazily sways on the clothesline. "You're your own boss."

Fred worked at the island's golf course for more than 50 years before he died in 1990.

That's when she had to be convinced by her children to leave the island for the first time in her life to live on the mainland and move into a trailer in Rockport. But she's still back to Grenadier every summer to swim.

"I've lived here all those years," she says. "All my children were brought up here."

A mother of five, Hodge has eight grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild she calls my "great great" who has been to the island already once at the age of one.

Hodge is a living history of Grenadier Island.

"Oh dear," she says with a laugh. "To get old, to get old. I still move though. I move slowly, very slowly."

But she keeps busy visiting friends and family on the island. "I love to play games," says Hodge. "Scrabble. Cards. Rummy cubes. These games keep your head working."

She has childhood memories of people fishing and hunting at the Anglers' Hotel and gathering on its front porch.

But its business suffered when people started going to the Thousand Islands' grander hotels and it burned down in 1929.

"It was something else," recalls Hodge. "It's long gone now. All that's left is a windmill."

Kathleen Burtch, a sixth-generation resident of Rockport and a retired Parks Canada employee who has extensively researched and written about Grenadier Island, says many U.S. residents came to the Thousand Islands in the early part of the 1800s, but not all were Loyalists.

"They were river people," she says.

There were 14 farms on the island in 1818. Its current existing township road that runs east to west across the island is now a pristine hiking trail while summer residents rely on golf carts to get around.

Grenadier Island
Photo by Ian Coristine © www.1000IslandsPhotoArt.com
Grenadier was once a pastoral farming community known for its famous Grenadier corn sold at market in Brockville and other nearby communities, is primarily a place for the island's summer people.

There was a lighthouse keeper who operated the government lighthouse - now Parks Canada property - between the 1870s and 1940s. For years, Heffernan's restaurant, which was famous for its fried chicken and apple pie, was a popular island landmark.

In the 1960s, Parks Canada started buying up land on the island to preserve the property and protect the ecosystem.

"I just love the island," says Burtch. "When I go over there, I don't want to come home. It's so peaceful. It's almost like there are ghosts there telling you to bring their stories back."

American resident Bo Collins, whose family has had property on Grenadier Island since 1900, learned how to milk cows there and recalls farms with pigs and chickens.

Collins, who makes Grenadier home every summer with his wife Joan, a Gananoque native, spent 25 years in the U.S. navy and worked in the Pentagon in Washington D.C. when President Richard Nixon was in office.

Grenadier Island, one of the wildest and largest of the Thousand Islands, has always provided a peaceful retreat.

"Grenadier is a diamond in the rough," says Collins.

Grenadier Island Golf Club
Photo by Kim Lunman © Recorder and Times
The Grenadier Island Gold Club is popular with islanders from both Canada and the United States.

And perhaps the island's most treasured gem is June Hodge, its unofficial mayor, chairman of the board, and most importantly, Gramma Dear.

"She's full of life," says her nephew, Glen Senecal.

Senecal was born on Grenadier Island 48 years ago in January and had to be transported over the ice by sled to the mainland to hospital. It was an early introduction to the hardships of winters here.

"It was not an easy life," he recalls of going by airboat in the winter to catch a bus to high school in Gananoque. His family of six children froze garden vegetables in the summer to get them through the winter months. He moved off the island more than 20 years ago but still lives nearby on the Thousand Islands Parkway near Mallorytown.

Hodge herself has never ventured much farther than the river on which she was born and this spot of land on the water where she was raised. She keeps close to its welcoming shores when she swims every day in the summer.

"I stay put on my own little island," she says. "I don't go very far."

It is where she wants to stay forever. She wants to join her ancestors in the island's cemetery overlooking the water one day close to all her memories and the island she will always call home.

"That's where I'll be buried," she says with a wistful smile. "It's a good place."

June Hodge, 90, is the oldest resident and unofficial mayor of Grenadier Island. She has lived there her entire life and year-round until the age of 73 when she moved into a trailer near Rockport for the winter months.

By Kim Lunman kimlunman@thousandislandslife.com

Kim Lunman is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Reader's Digest, The Calgary Herald and other newspapers.  Kim included this article in a series on the Thousand Islands called “Island Treasures” published by Recorder and Times as a souvenir magazine in September 2008.

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Comments

Bob May
Comment by: Bob May ( )
Left at: 12:52 PM Monday, December 15, 2008
I feel that the article was very interesting and well written illustrating the life style of bygone days. As I am reading the article, it made me stop to reflect on what it was like at the various stages of June Hodge's life and how different from our day-to-day lives today. I must admit that she is very fortunate to have been able to surround herself with the beauty of the 1000 Islands, the area that we love.
Todd Jones
Comment by: Todd Jones ( )
Left at: 11:04 AM Friday, December 19, 2008
I love her quote- "Oh dear. To get old, to get old..."

What a wonderful life. I can envision with admiration and curiosity the many changes that she has wittnessed during her life. I admire folks of this nature- those that have had the opportunity and perseverence to lead a life of which I dream, but do not have the courage to practice.

My hat is off to June. May she live another 90.
Hamlet
Comment by: Hamlet ( )
Left at: 2:11 PM Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I love that description of her hair like a cloud. The writer, as always, shines through the journalism. I would love to see Grenadier Island someday.
Gloria Bradbury Cruppi
Comment by: Gloria Bradbury Cruppi ( )
Left at: 4:48 AM Friday, January 2, 2009
Simply a lovely description of June and the Island. It's a wonderful, peaceful place. I'm fortunate to have had many opportunities to see Grenadier.
My mother, June's cousin, was born on the same houseboat 1910.
Thanks for sharing!
Sally Burwood
Comment by: Sally Burwood ( )
Left at: 8:06 PM Wednesday, April 1, 2009
What a lovely surprise to open up my laptop and see my Anut June smiling back at me. Such a wonderful lady, then, now and always.
Wilma Grootegoed
Comment by: Wilma Grootegoed ( )
Left at: 8:08 PM Tuesday, September 1, 2009
When the "locals" told June she was on the internet she wanted to know how that could happen - and by the way, what is the internet? Bob and I just spent the weekend there (Late Summer, 2009) and played Scrabble and Rummikub with her (she is very competitive) and we had a great time swimming with her while the water temperature (~69°) was warmer than the air (~66°). June is a wonderful lady with memories that will fill your vessel and she is not shy about calling it as it is! She certainly is the mayor (or boss) of Grenadier Island and we love her just the way she is. This is a magical island where the most important thing is listening to the loons sing and understanding that life is a wonderful gift. Thank you June, for being a wonderful part of our lives. We love this lady. Wilma and Bob Grootegoed
Valerie Alker
Comment by: Valerie Alker ( )
Left at: 1:56 PM Friday, November 13, 2009
Nice article! I never know where google will lead me. This was great. My great grand parents lived on Grenadier Island and my Grandfather, Leon Senecal was born there. I guess that makes Ms. Hodge a cousin. And it was really neat to see a photo of my actual great great grandparents!

My brother has been fostering the idea of a Senecal family reunion on the island for years...I'll send along this link. It might inspire him.
Gloria Bradbury Cruppi
Comment by: Gloria Bradbury Cruppi ( )
Left at: 3:45 AM Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I never tire of looking back again at this article and reading the comments.
I cherish the memories of visiting the Island, having the opportunity to visit with June and sharing her memories. My mother, Louise, June's cousin has been gone for almost five years and I can't help remembering how she enjoyed "going back" and sharing times long gone with June. Having g-g-grandparents Senecal's and Pooles' living on the Island made it a special occasion for going back, researching family, and sharing with my children and grandchildren.






Marilyn Senecal Cavanaugh
Comment by: Marilyn Senecal Cavanaugh ( )
Left at: 12:07 PM Sunday, February 27, 2011
Joesph Senecal was my G G grandfather and Catherine Tisserand(Weaver) my G G Grandma. My grandma (Bertha Betts Senecal) used to tell of her visit to the Island with her father in law, Frederick Senecal. She raved about Catherine's cooking! Bertha was about 17 and pregnant when she made the trip. On the trip home Frederick died in Grand Central Station of a massive heart attack. It was a great trama for Bertha at that young age and very pregnant.
Gloria Cruppi
Comment by: Gloria Cruppi ( )
Left at: 6:11 PM Sunday, February 27, 2011
Joseph and Catherine were also my g-g-grandparents. I would love to hear more from you, Marilyn. I am trying to place Frederick, as the only frederick I knew of was my grandmother's brother, Frederick Poole. Possibly the Frederick you mention was a son of Joseph.
Please e-mail me if you have time and we can compare notes.
Thanks for a reply, Gloria. (gbc@frontiernet.net)
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 9:30 PM Wednesday, April 20, 2011
http://allwheelsblog.com/?p=53980
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 9:30 PM Wednesday, April 20, 2011
http://allwheelsblog.com/?p=53980
Bill Dougherty
Comment by: Bill Dougherty ( )
Left at: 11:14 PM Thursday, August 4, 2011
My family on the Dougherty side go back many generations in the Massena, Malone, Burke area on the St. Lawrence, Grass River and Chataugay rivers. My father attended a one room school house in Massena and had many wonderful stories to tell about growing up in that region of the country, before moving to Schenectady NY around the age of 10 or 12. To put it all in perspective, I'm 71 years old.

I relate to the wonderful story told about June Hodge because of my fathers family. By the way...may June continue her habit of swimiming every "June" and throughout the summer for many more years.

June, if you happen to see this note, I'm looking for a place in NY to retire - would you mind a new young neighbor in his 70's who loves to swim, along with a wife who can't and a son in his 30's who graduated from Hobart College and is looking for peace joing you on the island during the summer?

I not a busy body, keep to myself when I can, but enjoy listening to those who have something to talk about. As a CEO of a company, I've been listening to chit chat for to long.

Well, at the very least, I'd love to meet you and so would my wife and son. Say the word and I'll gather all together for an afternoon swim before fall arrives.

Bill
Richard & Dorothy Clifton
Comment by: Richard & Dorothy Clifton ( )
Left at: 9:21 AM Saturday, August 20, 2011
We have been going to Grenadier Island for the past forty-two years counting this year of 2011 when we spent nine weeks on the island at a family cottage. Not a day went by but what we didn't see or talk to the Mayor and in doing that really made our stay there like the best that has ever happened in our lives.
Philippe Harvey
Comment by: Philippe Harvey ( )
Left at: 7:40 AM Monday, September 24, 2012
I was taken by June's story. My wife Claire and Iive on our boat in Rockport in the summer. We walk grenadier from one end to the other many times. Claire is passionate of the island. I found this article while having breakfast at Caigers looking at the north side of Grenadier. We go at the island since 1996 the year I first went on my 26 feet cuddy cabin HADDOCK.
Philippe Claire.
Joan {Senecal} Birtch
Comment by: Joan {Senecal} Birtch ( )
Left at: 10:40 PM Sunday, March 31, 2013
I grew up on Grenadier Island as a child. When I got in my teens I could"nt wait to get off to explore life. Now that I am older I enjoy every chance I can to go by in a boat. Or to dock and walk around. My dad Richard Senecal just turned 90 March 3rd 2013. Even though he has not lived there for years it will always be home to him. He goes as much as he can when the weather is good.
Emma Slack
Comment by: Emma Slack ( )
Left at: 10:01 AM Thursday, August 22, 2013
June Hodge is an amazing woman. I know this for fact because I am one of her 12 great grandchildren. She turned 95 this year and hasn't lost any of her spirit. Shes up every morning from the very beginning of spring into late fall to take her morning swim. The temperature of the water may just be over 60 degrees and shes in there happy as ever. She is an inspiration to all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and there are quite a few of us. As I get older I'm finding less time to go to our cottage on grenadier island and visit her, but i do still find the wonderful moments so special. We were all extremely lucky children to have been able to grow up around such an amazing woman and such beauty in the thousand islands. My childhood was filled with the most amazing memories of moments spent at the cottage and i wouldn't have wanted it any other way. My great grandmother is one of the most amazing women I have, and probably ever will meet.
Wilma Grootegoed
Comment by: Wilma Grootegoed ( )
Left at: 4:39 PM Thursday, August 22, 2013
Just read Emma's post and had to respond. Today, August 22, 2013 June Hodge had 8 people in "the pool" with her (her swimming spot off her dock) at the 9:30 a.m. swim - had a granddaughter and her friend, a great-grandson & new wife, his cousin, a friend from Colorado, and Bob and Wilma from Ohio. She is an amazing lady at 95 years old - still loves to swim, visit, joke, and discuss what chores we have to do each day. Her days are surrounded by friends, playing games, and family that keeps her company. Never enough company - she loves the visitors - this is a wonderful and magical island - and the activities seem to revolve around the mayor. So glad you understand the precious gift you have of having such a wonderful grandmother.
Jack Burtch
Comment by: Jack Burtch
Left at: 1:37 PM Monday, December 29, 2014
I read the article with great interest and a sense of nostalgia. I grew up in Alexandria Bay. My grandmother, Myrtle Senecal, grew up on Grenadier Island. She was the daughter of Tone Senecal and granddaughter of Joseph Senecal. I occasionally went to Grenadier with my father as a boy, and later played golf at the golf course there. I have more recently taken my sons and grandchildren to visit the island when we come to the area for our annual summer vacation. I never met June Hodge, but wish I had. What a life she led.

Jack Burtch Slippery Rock PA
Gloria Bradbury Cruppi
Comment by: Gloria Bradbury Cruppi
Left at: 5:09 AM Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Nice memories Jack. Not sure if I can post a picture of "Tone" and Grenadier Island. Catherine and Joseph's wedding, my oldest picture, 1839. You can e-mail me if you'd like them.
Sarah lessard
Comment by: Sarah lessard
Left at: 7:54 AM Sunday, April 2, 2017
Great Grandma was a great women I miss her💓💓

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