Here at the Great Waterway we’ve explored some amazing locations together and told countless stories about the variety of things to do and places to see on dry land. However, it’s beneath the surface of the St. Lawrence River, that we discover an entirely different story. One that began as far back as when the Earth was forged, and still continues to unfold today.
The world under the 1000 Islands, is a vast and diverse realm; filled with mystery and intrigue. For example, the dark and quiet depths of the mighty river are the final resting place of over two hundred shipwrecks. There is an array of wrecks spanning several timelines throughout history dating back centuries.
Stretching for over six hundred nautical miles between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Ontario, the colossal St. Lawrence River is home to several varieties of fish, birds, and wildlife. This majestic river and ecosystem are the main artery of life for the Great Lakes, and much of North America.
Join us as we explore but a sampling of the brilliant and fascinating ways to experience the 1000 Islands and the captivating beauty of the St. Lawrence River.
On the Edge of the Canadian Shield
The 1000 Islands, as we see them today are the result of over 900 million years worth of mother nature’s craftsmanship. There are actually over 1,800 islands in this section of the St. Lawrence River.
The islands themselves are a huge exposed portion of Canada’s Precambrian Shield which stretches from eastern Ontario across the St Lawrence River, where it runs beneath the Adirondack Mountains in New York state.
These lush emerald islands are but a small piece of an ancient mountain range born of a geological mass known as the North American Craton, extending from northern Mexico all the way to Greenland. This massive geological formation consists of hard rocks that date back over one billion years.
I’ve talked about South Eastern Ontario’s close ties to history, but the remarkable origins of the 1000 Islands take it to a whole new level!
A Legendary Underwater Graveyard
As settlers populated the region, and cities were built along the St. Lawrence, the river became a vastly important route for shipping people and goods as America, and Upper Canada continued to grow in population.
Countless ships from all over the world have sailed these waters over the centuries. Battles were fought upon the waves of the river, and at times even pirates once stalked the untamed waters of the 1000 Islands. After four centuries of maritime activity, over two hundred (documented) vessels have met their final resting place on the bottom of the river.
Below is a Google map that shows their locations.
A Scuba Diving Wonderland
The abundant number of wrecks combined with the clear waters of the St. Lawrence, draw dive enthusiasts from all over the world to explore these fascinating historical sites. Every wreck has a unique story, each representing several different timelines throughout Canada’s maritime history.
Unfortunately, these amazing wrecks will not last forever, despite how long they have lasted and how well they are preserved. Eventually, time will claim what remains of them. Wooden wrecks are particularly fragile. Their once strong timber frames and deck planks are weakened from spending hundreds of years submerged and can be as soft as a sponge.
According to the Save Ontario Shipwrecks Organisation (SOS) – the greatest threat to Ontario’s wrecks; is inexperienced divers, and the damage they can inadvertently cause. Fortunately, SOS provides a wealth of information and education for aspiring divers.
SOS provides an in-depth Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) training program; which helps scuba divers become better prepared for appropriately and respectfully appreciating these shipwrecks, so that future generations of explorers can also enjoy these sunken legends.
If you’re interested in learning to scuba dive, I highly recommend reading our 1000 Islands Scuba Diving Adventure Guide that Jordan Whitehouse wrote last year. It gives a handy overview of your options; and also lists off some favourite dive sites, and where you can go, to book a charter or enroll in courses.
A Fascinating, yet Fragile Ecosystem
The 1000 Islands region and Southern Ontario possess a dynamic ecosystem that is teeming with life, both above and below the river’s surface. Under the waves of the St. Lawrence is a considerable variety of fish species including river sturgeon, pike, bass and the fabled muskellunge (muskies) that draw scores of fishing enthusiasts each year.
Throughout the seasons, the skies are frequented by over a hundred bird species. Most iconic of them likely being the Osprey, a seasoned and venerable bird of prey. These beautiful raptors are skilled hunters of fish, and if you’re lucky enough, you might see one snatch up, it’s catch of the day while enjoying a day out on the water.
The impact of urban expansion and pollution are a constant challenge for this flourishing yet fragile biosphere. For example, the American Eel, a species that was once numerous throughout the St. Lawrence are now an endangered species.
Thankfully, there are groups of experts and researchers from The River Institute, who are conducting investigative research to determine why the American Eel’s numbers are diminishing and better inform restoration and rehabilitation projects.
A Bond Between Neighbours
Another maritime marvel, is the world famous St. Lawrence Seaway. This vast and ingenious system of locks allows massive cargo vessels to enter the St. Lawrence River from the Gulf. Its construction was a colossal undertaking between Canada and the United States.
In Iroquois Ontario, you can enjoy a picnic and watch gigantic ships pass through one such lock station from Iroquois Point. These massive locks are a much bigger version of the Rideau Locks – and are a testament to human ingenuity.
The lock station and entire Seaway system are a symbolic representation of the powerful bond between Canada and the United States. It’s celebrated opening ceremony in 1959 ushered in a new era of trade, prosperity, and commerce for North America.
Uncover the Secrets of the 1000 Islands
Whether you are above or below the water – there’s no right or wrong way to explore the breathtaking 1000 Islands region. If you don’t think diving is for you, then there are many ways to learn more about our maritime history and experience this beautiful region of Ontario.
To wrap things up, here is a quick list of must see maritime themed locations here in the Great Waterway.
Doran Bay Model Museum Cornwall & the Counties.
The Aquatarium Brockville 1000 Islands.
Thousand Islands Boat Museum Gananoque 1000 Islands.
Mariners Museum in Prince Edward County.
Naval Marine Archive The Canadian Collection in Prince Edward County.
Marine Museum of the Great Lakes (Opens June 1st) Kingston, Ontario.
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