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The Other 999 – Uncle Sam Boat Tours

The Other 999 – Uncle Sam Boat Tours

The Other Islands

Cute, Sweet and Majestic

25.9.2016 

In contrast to my last days (Wellesley Island , the Clayton Jazz Festival and the drive to Lake Ontario), today I spent my time as a regular tourist. Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands, also called the 2-Nations Tours, span both sides of the border, including the well-known Boldt Castle, America’s Taj Mahal…

Islands everywhere you look.

A tiny habitable island costs half a million dollars and has enough space for three trees, a small house and a composting toilet. I told the guide, “They pay quite a bit to live with their sewage…” . An island qualifies if it has at least one tree and some other vegetation, and is 365 days above water – 1834 islands in the area fulfil these criteria.

Prior to the trip I took a short walk along James Street leading to Uncle Sam’s Boat dock. I did another touristic thing and got me a “Thousand Islands” cap for S6.24. 

A tiny island costs half a million dollars and has enough space for three trees, a small house and a composting toilet.

The boat trip itself was $23 plus another $8 for the castle. I took a million pictures, of course, like everybody else. It is uncontrollable. In the end, the guide sold us beautiful little hardbacks with postcard photos of the thousand islands for just $10. Despite that, I, of course, still kept shooting my own photos.

The guide was full of spirit and had a great sense of humor. She grew up in the area and “knew everybody”, so could tell gossip about the islands’ owners and their exotic lives. My memory is too poor to recap it, so I’ll summarize this tour with a sample of my pics:

Ladies first. Here is our captain:

    Our female captain, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands, NYS   Female captain, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

Secondly, the adorable boat:

   True to river form, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands   True to river form, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands, NYS

First view of the castle:

Boldt Castle, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, NYS

Another angle:

Boldt Castle, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, NYS

Some people have it good:

Mansion, 1000 Islands, NYS

Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands. Beautiful mansions

The “cute” category:

Can't get cuter - one of a 1000 islands, NYS

One island out of a 1000, Upper NYS

Another contender for cutest island. Uncle Sam's Tours

Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands. Fantasia Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands. One of the islets

Uncle sam Boat Tours. Just another cute island,

One of a thousand cute little islands, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

The majestic:

Sailing the St. Lawrence

Sailing the St. Lawrence

Bridge over the St. Lawrence. Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

And the simply beautiful:

Narrows in between islands, 1000 Islands Tour

America's Taj Mahal - Boldt Love Castle

Here’s the castle again from closer quarters.

Close view of Boldt Castle. Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

This is an American Taj Mahal story – 6 floors, 120 rooms, towers and gardens – were all built to express the love of Mr. Boldt, a New York millionaire, for his wife, Louise. Tragically, four years into the construction project, Louise died. The work was immediately halted and Mr. Boldt never came back to the island. For 73 years the place was neglected. By 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought the property for $1, with the understanding that all monies received will be spent in restoration, and it started the process of renovation. The original name of the island was Hart Island, but Mr. Boldt changed it to “Heart Island”.

Romantic:

   Heart Island, U.S. 1000 Islands, NYS    Heart Island's gardens. Boldt Castle, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

Beauty on the grounds of Boldt Castle, Heart Island

Uncle sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands. Stag on top Boldt Castle

Elegant and glamorous:

Inside Boldt Castle - ornamentation

In the mirror - Boldt Castle. Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

Reflected in a golden mirror, Boldt Castle, 1000 Islands, NYS

Past glory:

Old piano, Boldt Castle, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

Dining room, Boldt Castle, Uncle Sam Boat Tours, 1000 Islands

Casino Island and Border Smugglers

When I got back to Alexandria Bay, I had a nice meal at Riley’s. They graciously allowed me to spread my maps on a side table and connect my computer for two hours.

Once I got a grip on what I wanted to do the next day, I left my car at Uncle Sam’s parking lot and took a last walk around the docks and yards. I had to climb some grass ramps and fences to reach the scenic park and Casino Island.

Casino Island, NYS

 A short foot bridge led to Casino Island. To me it was beauty mired in sadness. I learned that this area was very active in so-called “bootlegging”, the illegal transfer of alcohol across the border during Prohibition. On a webpage called “1000 Islands – the Sinister Side” (sinister, originally meant “left” as opposed to “right”), it says that people old enough to have lived during Prohibition, will remember the stories of the “rum runners” who risked their lives crossing the St. Lawrence in the middle of the night. Some were shot, some were never found, but others – in both countries – got very rich. They also say that liquor is now replaced by migrants, cigarettes, marijuana, and other contraband, “an activity that is still alive and well”.

The Sad Little Prince and Iraqi Freedom

On the other side of “Casino Island” there was a memorial for the Afghanistan-Iraq wars. Places are connected to histories, even of remote events overseas. Sometimes there is meaning, sometimes there are forces and interests. Sometimes beauty is heart-rending. Such is the monument below:

Memorial for J.T Sweet, Operation Iraqi Freedom, by Casino Island, NYS The monument for J.T. Sweet, KIA, Operation Iraqi Freedom 

Jack T. Sweet, 19, of Alexandria Bay, N.Y., was killed by a roadside bomb Feb. 8 near Jawwalah, Iraq. “He loved what he was doing,” his father told The Watertown Daily Times.:”He was so happy to finally get a chance to do his part”.

There are two descriptions of the monument on-line:

Short description is “Classic boots and helmet over downturned rifle memorial to PFC [private first class] Jack T. Sweet who was KIA [killed in action] in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

Long description goes: “Black granite memorial to a local soldier who gave his life during Operation Iraqi Freedom. PFC Jack T. Sweet, USA, was killed in action at Jawwalah, Iraq, on 8 February, 2008. He was a member of Delta Company, Second Battalion, 22nd Infantry, part of the 10th Mountain Division, stationed at nearby Fort Drum.”

The memorial is prominently on display at the northern end of Scenic View Park in Alexandria Bay.

Just the words “Iraqi Freedom” were enough to turn my stomach. All the unnecessary deaths of young people in faraway lands, foreign cultures most people here do not understand. The global mess that ensued…

I thought of the memorials for our fallen soldiers, strewn all over Israel, a testimony to our heroism, vulnerability…

Bridge to Casino Island against sunset, NYS

Sunset over Alexandria Bay, NYS

Sun setting over Alexandria Bay, NYS

So what did the Little Prince say about sunsets?

When I got back to the abandoned parking lot, the only other car there was taking off…

Some Never Cross the Border...

This was my last night in New York State and the Thousand Islands Campground, before heading up north towards Quebec. At the last moment, though, I had a small debacle. My car wouldn’t start. It was cold at night and I apparently overcharged appliances plus left the car headlights on too long… I had to ask the owner for help. Her husband eventually brought the tools from their car, backed into my grassy lot and successfuly started my engine.

She told me she had been running this campground for 30 years, but had only been to Canada once and for only one day. I found this info incomprehensible…

After crossing over to the French-speaking territory, though, I understood her attitude a bit better. Many Quebeckers would not bother to speak English with you even if they know some. When you speak English with them, they give me the cold stare. It was a different world up there, north of the friendly 1000 islands enclave. Nonetheless, I learned how to deal with it and enjoy the people who wanted to communicate with me, and there were many. The initial contact, admittedly, was a bit shocking, when compared with the super-friendly English-speaking Canadian provinces I visited before , and with the people here in northeastern U.S.A

Onwards, let’s go French!

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