A Grand Day at the Thousand Islands Boat Museum

By: Tom King

Volume 17, Issue 8, August 2022

On July 16th, the Grand Opening ceremonies for the Thousand Islands Boat Museum’s new waterfront Boathouse facility were held in Gananoque. Mother Nature kindly cooperated by providing a picture-perfect summer day for the event and the associated activities that the guests enjoyed. Conditions were ideal for those participants who went for a ride in one of the classic wooden runabouts or a paddle in the Voyageur canoe. A couple of special “visitors” were also at the museum for the festivities; the brigantine, STV Fair Jeanne, which was available for deck tours throughout the day, and the beautifully restored vintage tour boat, That’s Her, that owner Barry Chalk brought over from Clayton.

Free boat rides in a pair of the museum’s beautiful classic runabouts were a popular activity during the Grand Opening Day celebrations. [Photo by T. King]

The ceremony was emceed by the museum’s Executive Director, Susanne Richter, and there were remarks from representatives of all three levels of government: Michael Barrett, MP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes; Steve Clark, MPP for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes; and Ted Lojko, Mayor of the Town of Gananoque. Also speaking was Tom Russell, the Executive Director of the 1000 Islands Community Development Corporation.

In addition to significant private funding, components of the project were funded by the Government of Canada, the Department of Canadian Heritage, and the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The final speaker of the day, Jim Hewitt, Director of the Board, Thousand Islands Boat Museum, announced that three of the slips in the Boathouse are to be dedicated to individuals who were instrumental in seeing the planning, development, and construction of the museum through to completion. The names of the three honourary boat slips are, “Pal”, for Joe Pal, Chair of the Board, “Easton”, for Robert (Bob) Easton, Vice-Chair of the Board, and “Regan”, for Paul Regan, President.

Some of the Boat Museum’s in-water fleet of vintage watercraft that are on display in the Boathouse. [Photo by T. King]

The Grand Opening of the Boathouse is the culmination of many years of hard work by a dedicated group of people and the new structure is the crown jewel of the museum’s campus. As a bit of background information, the Thousand Islands Boat Museum was incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 2014 and the facility has four buildings sitting on a piece of waterfront property that is leased from the Town of Gananoque. While the Thousand Islands Boat Museum and the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton share similar mandates, and they often work cooperatively together, they are not officially associated.

The St. Lawrence skiff that was built by Gananoque Secondary School students and the story boards that chronicle the various stages of the project are front and centre at the Boathouse. [Photo by T. King]

Although the new Boathouse is a wonderful structure to house the museum’s ever-growing collection of antique boats, it is much more than that. The final phase of development for this facility, as described in a recent media release, was the creation and installation of interactive and experiential exhibit components, graphic display panels, lighting and sound systems, and digital media, which greatly enhances the visitor’s experience to the site. Guests at the Grand Opening celebrations were free to wander around and look at all of these interesting displays.

Just one of the informative displays that describes the history and specifications of the Boat Museum’s vintage watercraft collection. [Photo by T. King]

When you speak to Ms. Richter about the Thousand Islands Boat Museum, and its purpose, her deep passion for the facility and what it is trying to accomplish becomes readily apparent. “The mission of the Boat Museum is to connect the community with the heritage of the River,” she stated in a recent interview with Jessica Foley of the Kingstonist. “We share the history of the boat building that took place in this area, and the boats that we collect tell a local story.”  The museum is also compiling a large volume of research material that will be available on its website, so that anyone who is interested in discovering more about this rich local history can access it easily.

Gananoque boat-builder Charlie Cliffe is just one of the many local craftsmen who are highlighted on the information displays throughout the Boathouse. [Photo by T. King]

Perhaps the most important undertaking being pursued by the Thousand Islands Boat Museum is to engage local youngsters in activities that will foster a life-long love for the River. This outreach program has seen Gananoque and Intermediate Secondary School students involved in the building and restoring of classic wooden boats, as well as undergoing boater safety training. A summer sailing school is assisting many kids develop the skills to be able to operate their own sailboats one day. Educational programs on how to build a birch bark canoe, or to carve a set of oars or paddles, provide historical, and practical, context that isn’t available anywhere else.

TIBM staff member Zack Stevens oversees an aspiring young woodworker carve a paddle using a very sharp spokes have during the Grand Opening Day celebrations. [Photo by T. King]

A visit to the Thousand Islands Boat Museum in Gananoque should definitely be on your “To Do” list if you are in the area. You will certainly have a much better appreciation of the marine history of the region after you spend a few hours touring this wonderful facility.

A more in-depth story about the Thousand Islands Boat Museum can be found in Susanne Richter’s previous TI Life article at, The Magnificent New Boat House, August 2019.

By Tom King

Tom King and his wife Marion have lived in Milton, Ontario, for the past 37 years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children: Kris, Mike and Becca. Tom has captured the history of the tour boat industry as well as giving us the best spider story in the past 17 years!

Read more articles by Tom King here in our new format for TI Life, and more articles on our old site.

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 8, August 2022, News article, Places

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Tom King

Tom King and his wife Marion have lived in Milton, Ontario for the past 30 years, where they both worked and raised their family of three children; Kris, Mike and Becca.

Read more articles by Tom King and there may be more articles on our old site. Click here to visit our old site.