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*Updated December 22, 2020*
Ontario’s probably not the first place that comes to mind when you’re thinking of an island getaway, but it should be. The Thousand Islands region stretches east along the St. Lawrence River and there are a staggering 1,864 islands between Canada and the United States. Originally a favourite camping ground for the Haudenosaunee, who called it Manitouana or “Garden of the Great Spirit”, it became a popular summer escape for the wealthy in the 1900s.
The region really shines during the warmer months, and there’s plenty to do in the cooler stretches too.
VISIT an Edwardian Estate – 10:00 AM
DAY 1 – 10:00 AM: You’re starting your Thousand Islands getaway in Brockville outside of the Edwardian mansion known as Fulford Place.
Senator George Taylor Fulford made his fortune selling “Pink Pills for Pale People” (more info on that below!) and used the mansion as a summer home. Enjoy a stroll through the Italianate-style gardens where you’ll come across a triton fountain, and several works of sculpture. The grounds and the beautifully landscaped garden were designed by the Olmsted Brothers who also designed New York’s Central Park, and were lovingly restored by the Ontario Heritage Trust.
*NOTE: As of our last update, only the grounds & gardens of Fulford Place are accessible to the public.
EXPLORE HISTORIC BROCKVILLE – 11:00 AM
11:00 AM: Brockville is something of a quintessential traveller’s city.
Nestled along the St. Lawrence, it was one of many ports at which ships could dock, ferrying goods and people from far afield. Brockville became even more integrated with trade networks across Canada when the Brockville Railway Tunnel opened in 1860.
As you explore the downtown core, you’ll come across many of the historic buildings erected to serve this bustling riverside community. There’s City Hall, under which runs the aforementioned tunnel, and stately Brockville Courthouse, all of which were built in the 19th century.
If you’re taking County Road 29 up to the Courthouse, keep an eye out for the intricate stonework and eclectic architectural style of the Thomas Fuller Building, which used to be the Brockville Post Office. Right across from the old post office is the John H. Fulford Fountain, which pays homage to Brockville’s intimate relationship with the river, sporting several fish and turtles in its design.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Brockville Railway Tunnel has re-opened to the public.
Visit the Aquatarium AND WALK THE WATERFRONT – 2:30 PM
2:30 PM: Learn About the St. Lawrence’s History and ECOSYSTEM.
Your next port of call is the Aquatarium,* where you can learn more about the unique ecosystems of the St. Lawrence River and the many ships which cruised it. There’s a reconstructed Captain’s Cabin of the HMS Ontario, a British warship used during the American Revolutionary War. Navy buffs will love this one.
While you’re in the area, head over to Blockhouse Island. It’s the perfect place for a picnic. You can sit back, relax, and watch as the massive cruise ships and cargo ships pass by.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Aquatarium has re-opened.
Learn About the History of the City at Brockville Museum – 3:30 PM
3:30 PM: Cutting back across the waterfront and past Centennial Park, you’ll find yourself in front of the Brockville Museum.
Since 1981 the museum* has been the repository for the stories that make up Brockville’s past. Learn about products manufactured in the city, including the aforementioned “Pink Pills for Pale People”, and discover notable historical figures from Brockville’s past. In particular, the collection here excels at highlighting the role that immigration has played in the city’s development and sharing personal stories of newcomers in the community.
Anyone interested in the spookier side of Brockville’s history should keep an eye out for one of the many Ghost Walks and Haunted Tours offered during the summer. These tours, typically done with small groups, are a great way to cast the places you’ve visited in a very different light.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the Brockville Museum has re-opened to the public on a pre-registration basis.
STROLL THROUGH KING STREET WEST – 6:00 PM
6:00 PM: If you’re exploring around the King Street West area, you’re likely to come across the Brockville Arts Centre.
The centre* was constructed in 1858 and is a landmark in its own right, with a long history associated with the arts. The venue is renovated and fully accessible but the inside of the building still retains much of the original charm.
After that, you can round out the night with an evening walk along the waterfront.
*NOTE: King Street West is still a lovely stroll, but the Brockville Arts Centre is currently closed with no stated reopening date.
Hop on a Boat and Explore the 1000 Islands – 10:00 AM
DAY 2 – 10:00 AM: YOU’LL NEED TO WAKE UP EARLY ON SUNDAY TO EMBARK ON YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE.
Drive over to the neighbouring city of Gananoque, aim to arrive half an hour early for the boat cruise, which departs at 10:00 a.m. You’re heading off on a 2.5 hour cruise, taking in views of the remarkable islands and structures along the river, and some hidden treasures beneath the water’s surface.
Over the centuries, the St. Lawrence has seen many ships navigate its course in pursuit of travel, trade, and warfare. Not every vessel completed its journey. Many wreckages rest underwater, with at least one sitting there for over two centuries.
The Lost Ships of the 1000 Islands Cruise* will take you past the famous Boldt Castle, the 1000 Islands International Bridge, and the St. Lawrence Seaway. You’ll also view the wreckages of the Islander, the Oconto, and the Kinghorn among others. There’s an audio-visual presentation about the various wrecks, and side-scan sonar images to reveal many of the river’s secrets.
*NOTE: The Gananoque Boat Line has resumed operation operations. Masks are required on all cruises.
Visit the 1000 Islands Museum and explore downtown Gananoque – 12:30 PM
12:30 PM: YOU WON’T HAVE TO GO FAR ONCE YOU DISEMBARK.
The 1000 Islands Museum* is right on the picturesque waterfront, and located within the Heritage Village district. The museum is a treasure trove of local history, documenting the islands, the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee First Peoples of the region, and the European settlers who came after.
Stepping into downtown Gananoque, you’ll find a small town with plenty of charm and a collection of antique stores, galleries and shops for you to peruse. There are several historic structures hiding in plain sight, like the local library which was once the Victoria House & Jones Shovel Company.
When you’re done exploring the downtown, head down Stone Street to take in more of the small town’s history. Visit the Clock Tower, which chimes every hour, and make your way to the swing bridge by the water.
If you have more time on your hands, cut across town and close out your night by watching the sunset on the waterfront. The area around the 1000 Islands Playhouse is charming, with a great view of the islands and plenty of places nearby where you can wind down the night.
*NOTE: As of our last update, the 1000 Islands Museum has re-opened. Please note that the museum is only accepting a limited number of visitors at a time.
YOUR TRIP AT A GLANCE
Brockville Railway Tunnel – https://www.brockvillerailwaytunnel.com/
Aquatarium – https://aquatarium.ca/
Brockville Museum – http://www.brockvillemuseum.com/welcome
Haunted Histories Walking Tour – http://brockvilletourism.com/event/haunted-histories-walking-tour/2020-07-10/
Brockville Arts Centre – http://brockvilleartscentre.com/
Gananoque Boat Line – https://ganboatline.com/cruises-schedules/sightseeing-cruises/
1000 Islands Museum – https://www.1000islandsheritagemuseum.com/
Thousand Islands Playhouse – http://www.1000islandsplayhouse.com/
Cosies Tea Room – https://cosiestearoom.com/
Mill Restaurant – https://themillrestaurant.ca/
The Purple House Cafe – https://www.facebook.com/thepurplehousecafe/
48 King West – https://robthompsonhotels.ca/
Woodview Inn – https://woodviewinn.com/
This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting a few of the many wonderful destinations in the area. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please contact us.
Brockville Tourism provided information and assistance for the creation of this guide. All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. This guide was written by Esther Lee.