Teenage Adventures in the Thousand Islands

By: Ian Wilson

Volume 17, Issue 11, November 2022

My life began (1943) in the Thousand Islands.

I grew up on South Street in Gananoque, with my Dad and Mom, brother Lorie, and a crew of friends who played and explored the River's edge, learned to swim from the Canoe Club dock, and frequently played in Sampson's coal yard.

My Dad always had a boat and loved to be "on the water." We fished and picnicked and explored the River all summer long. After my Dad was transferred to Brockville, we explored the Thousand Islands from the eastern end.

Our summers began when the ice went out and lasted beyond Thanksgiving. We rented cottages along the St. Lawrence and enjoyed friendships with cottagers who summered along the river from New Jersey and New York, to Oakville and Ottawa.

Photo courtesy of Allen and Jerry Zabel, taken on Stovin Island.

The " crew" changed and the adventures expanded, as we left our parents behind and lived the carefree summer life – jumping off the cliffs at Picnic Island and waving to the crews on the lakers passing through. Often the gang on Picnic Island would number ten or more. Boys and girls, summer loves, new friends, lifelong friends.

The summer fun expanded when we had summer jobs, money, and access to not only our parents' boats, but also to their cars. Playland Park, east of Brockville, and the Canoe Club in Gananoque, were our major destinations, although I do recall a barn dance or two north of Rockport.

Our infamous canoe trips to Gan started with two canoes, four guys, lots of laughter, and lots of hit parade songs sung loudly. I remember especially Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, and Jackie Wilson. Over time others joined our canoe trips and occasionally we would have a motorboat (Richard Price from New Jersey) accompany us and carry our extra gear.

A typical Saturday adventure involved eight-hours paddling, serenading girls real and imagined, dancing your heart out, and, if you were lucky, walking a local girl home, before meeting back on the Canoe Club dock for a paddle out to one of the beautiful National Parks island. We would find a place to sleep, frequently on the dock, or in the pavilion, counted shooting stars, laughed and sang and told tall tales. The next day we would head back to Brockville, a slightly shorter trip going with the current, and ready ourselves for a week at our summer jobs.

One of the best summer jobs I had was at International Resort Facilities, a duty-free stop for tourists on Hill Island, in the heart of the Thousand Islands. The first summer my good friend John and I worked as guides at the Arctic Exhibit. It was the best museum of art and education about Canada's north ever created. I have visited other northern exhibits at museums in Ottawa, and even in Iqaluit, on Baffin Island. Believe me, the best was Jan David's Arctic Exhibit on Hill Island in the Thousand Islands.

John and I rented a cottage on the mainland and biked or walked across the bridge to work for a while, then we camped on one of the islands and canoed to work, and to area tourist lodges to check out the girls vacationing with their families (shades of "Dirty Dancing"). Eventually, we found a cabin on Hill Island and enjoyed the friendship of another guy named Phil, who also worked at IRF. What a great summer!

A special memory during that summer was canoeing down to Tar Island to visit John's relatives, the Hewitts. Not only was their summer home beautiful but also their teenage daughters.

Why can I recall with such clarity the fun we had more than sixty years ago and not remember what I had for lunch?

By Ian Watson

Ian Wilson loves the Thousand Islands. He lives in Kingston having spent a lifetime of joy exploring the islands.

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 11, November 2022, Essay, History, Places, Current


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Ian Wilson

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