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Thousand Islands National Park of Canada

The Origins of Structures in Thousand Islands National Park

European settlement in the Thousand Islands began in the 18th century and, in the 19th century, the area became a popular place for summer homes. When Thousand Islands National Park was established in 1904, there were, as a result, a number of buildings located on the islands that now belonged to the park. They were soon joined by additional structures for use by the park's visitors. The following are some of the buildings of local historical interest that can still be seen today.

Gordon Island Gazebo
Gordon Island Gazebo
© Parks Canada / Brian Morin

Gazebos, Gordon Island, West Grenadier Island, Mallorytown Landing

The three gazebos were built as picnic shelters soon after the park was established in 1904, and they are among the oldest structures of their type in a Canadian national park. The Gordon Island gazebo, with its octagonal shape, sandstone walls and green and white colour scheme, is a highly visible landmark when viewed from the water. Visitors using it as a shelter for their picnics enjoy a full view of the surrounding scenery because of the building's open design. The West Grenadier Island gazebo is similar in design, but constructed of granite field stone. Over the years it has become somewhat secluded because of pitch pine and white pine growth which makes it almost invisible from the water. The Mallorytown gazebo, also of granite field stone, was considerably altered in the 1960s when it was converted to a visitor centre. In 2004, it was completely restored to its original function as a gazebo, offering a peaceful view of the St-Lawrence River.

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Cathcart Tower, Cedar Island
Cathcart Tower, Cedar Island
© Parks Canada

Cathcart Martello Tower, Cedar Island

Cedar Island, located just off the shore from historic Fort Henry, is the site of Cathcart Martello Tower, one of four such towers built in the 1840s to protect Kingston's harbour and the entrance to the Rideau Canal. Their construction was prompted by a dispute between Great Britain and the United States over the boundary between British Columbia and Oregon that threatened to lead to war and to the invasion of Canada.. When war was averted, Cathcart Tower was used for a time as a barracks for soldiers garrisoned at nearby Fort Henry. Eventually it was abandoned. It is now a national historic site within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park.

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Wallis C. Bird
Wallis C. Bird "Limberlost" Estate
© Parks Canada

The Wallis C. Bird Estate, Hill Island

Known as "Limberlost", the estate was bought in 1921 by Wallis C. Bird, a wealthy American heir to part of the Standard Oil fortune. Bird died in 1941 when his small float-plane crashed when taking off from the bay at Batterman's Point. His widow lost interest in the estate after his death and the property was neglected, although a caretaker remained on, living in a small house on the point. It is now used by Canada Customs officers during the operating season. A few other buildings on the estate have survived but the large mansion and the boathouse were in such a deteriorated condition when Parks Canada acquired the property in 1982 that they had to be torn down. The 1920s gazebo, built in the rustic "Adirondacks" style, remains; as does the estate's water tower hidden back in the woods on a hill above the shoreline.

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Massey Homestead, Grenadier Island
Massey Homestead, Grenadier Island
© Parks Canada / Brian Morin

The Massey Homestead, Grenadier Island

From the park dock at Grenadier East, a pleasant nature trail leads north for a walk of about 20 minutes to this abandoned farmstead which clearly evokes the typical farm of this area in the past century. The farm house is a one and a half storey, gable roofed, frame structure dating to the 1860s when William Massey started to farm the property. This was a dairy farm and the large barn has two storeys, the lower to stable the animals and the upper for crop storage. It is a "bank" barn, constructed to take advantage of the natural slope of the land. Access to the barn's second storey is by an earthen ramp leading to a doorway large enough for wagons to enter.

Two other buildings related to the use of the farm for dairying, are the calving barn and the milk house where milk cans were kept cool by blocks of ice cut from the river and covered in sawdust to slow their melting. Other out-buildings include a chicken coop, a pump house over the well and a privy.

The farm was sold to George and Myrtle Heffernan in 1928. They moved a used cottage onto their south shore to serve as a summer eating house for vacationing fishermen. There they served chicken, sweet corn and other produce from their farm to summer tourists. The eating house and its ice house and two hole privy are still in place.

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Grenadier Island School Reunion
Grenadier Island School Reunion
© Parks Canada / Helen Parfitt

The School House, Grenadier Island

Near the centre of the island stands a one room school house, dating from 1926, the third to be built on the island. When it was closed in 1965, the park bought it and the surrounding property. One idea for its adaptive reuse is as an interpretation centre to present the social history of the inhabitants of Grenadier Island.

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