The Islands accessibility to prosperous urban areas such as New York, Boston, Montreal and Toronto soon led to development of the Islands as a prime summer vacation area. Visitors and summer residents traveled by steamship, ferries and by train to Gananoque and the Thousands Islands. The Industrial Revolution created great wealth for the area and many visitors began to purchase islands , building large houses, even castles. This increased the need for factories and laborers.
By the 1860’s many households had their own private steamboats, and for cottagers the St. Lawrence Skiff became the iconic mode of transportation on the river. The beauty of this area was noted by many who traveled here and helped secure the development and prosperity of this region.
While documenting an excursion to the Thousand Islands in the early 1840’s, Charles Dickens noted “The beauty of this noble stream at almost any point, but especially in the commencement of this journey, when it winds it way among the Thousand Islands, can hardly be imagined. The number and constant successions of these islands, all green and richly wooded; their fluctuating size, their infinite variety of shapes; and the numberless combinations of beautiful forms which trees growing on them present: all forms a picture fraught with uncommon interest and pleasure.” (American Notes)
Tour boats began operating in the 1870’s and they continue to transport visitors in and around the islands today.
We always called him "Uncle" John although strictly speaking he was our great-uncle. This CBC film clip of him delivering mail to the islands in the 1950s would have made Gananoque proud - if we had known it existed back then! I wonder if Vintage Gananoque followers recognize any more townspeople? ~ John Harding
It just takes one idea and an army of believers to make something amazing happen. In 1982, Greg Wanless, a former Stratford actor who graduated from the National Theatre School and Queen’s University, joined with a passionate group of community members to buy the Gananoque Canoe Club from the local Rotary Club. The group turned the vintage building into a theatre over a few intense months, creating a first season that was comprised of one comedy (ON GOLDEN POND), a classic (THE COMEDY OF ERRORS) and a musical (THE BEGGAR’S OPERA). Attendance tripled over the next two seasons, and Canadian works (now a staple of the company) were added to the repertoire in the second season.
Two subsequent renovations of the original theatre enabled the company to produce the larger musicals that audiences enjoy, and gave maximum space for sets and lighting while maximizing audience comfort. The Firehall Theatre was added as a second space in 2004. Under the leadership of Wanless and Associate Artistic Director Kathryn MacKay, the company grew from a three-show season with 6,000 patrons to an eight-show, two-venue company that now attracts 40,000 audience members annually. Since the early 90s, The Playhouse has toured the region with The Young Company performances, introducing thousands of young people to theatre. The company has also presented a variety of successful music series. The Thousand Islands Playhouse is one of the top five summer theatre festivals in Ontario and has a regional economic impact of $10 million per year.
"When you talk about The River here in the Thousand Islands, no further explanation is required. Why? Because it might as well be the only one in the world.We have such a reverence for the St. Lawrence we even have a statue of Saint Lawrence perched over The River between Rockport and Ivy Lea. And of course, we have River Rats (of the human variety) who make The River their home, some spending summers on islands while others remain on the mainland overlooking its shores year-round.
There's only one River and its waterscapes winding through castles, freighters, towering pines and granite are epic. But I love its quiet surprises, as fleeting as a monarch butterfly's visit to Fairyland Island, a deer emerging from an emerald green forest on Hickory Island and a rainbow's colours splashed against a grey sky over Channel Island after a storm. What a spell the River can cast. Its moments seem eternal. All you have to do is watch.
Enjoy The River."
By Kim Lunman, owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine.