Tag Archives: Canada

Thousand Islands… Beyond Beautiful!

Usually half the fun of travelling to a new place is the planning, the talking, the anticipation… but this was a trip without any of those. When Gloria asked me whether I wanted to go to Thousand Islands with two more of her friends, my only question was… when? The answer ‘tomorrow’ was not what I expected, but what the heck, how long does it take to throw some clothes and toiletries in a bag? So there we were, driving to upstate New York and the Thousand Islands on a Friday evening.


The group of islands known as Thousand Islands, is located in the St. Lawrence river, flowing along the border between Canada and the US. The river originates at Lake Ontario in the Great Lakes region and drains into the Atlantic Ocean, flowing in the north east direction. It is the widest river estuary in the world and shelters the beautiful islands in its blue waters. And though the group is called Thousand Islands, there are actually 1864 islands in all, in a 50 miles long stretch of the river.


The only way to experience the beauty of the islands is to go for boat rides among them. And there are several shore towns on either bank that offer such tours. We chose to go to Alexandria Bay, one of the big towns on our side, the US side. And it has a variety of tours to suit people of different interests.


To be qualified as an island in the group, a land mass should be above water the year round, should be at least one square mile in area and should support at least one living tree.


The area of the islands vary considerably, from 40 square miles to tiny ones with just one home and one tree. Also, there are numerous outcroppings of rock without any inhabitants except for the birds. The majority of the islands are modest sized with two or three homes on them. And there are two castles that you can visit, also on the islands. More about them later.


The river St Lawrence was named after the saint himself. Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, was the first European to explore this area, in the first half of the 16th century. He arrived at the mouth of the river on an August 10th, which is the martyr day of St. Lawrence and hence he named the river St. Lawrence.


On a cliff overlooking the river on the Canadian side, is a statue of St. Lawrence, put up as a tourist attraction.



The statue is shown holding a book and a gridiron. Legend has it that St. Lawrence, who was the archdeacon of Rome, was asked to surrender the treasures of the church by the Roman prefect. St. Lawrence brought forward the poor of the church saying that they indeed are the treasures of the church. The enraged prefect ordered that St. Lawrence be punished by a slow death on a gridiron with burning coals underneath it. The gridiron is thus associated with the saint and he is worshipped as the patron saint of cooks.


In the early 1900s, many industrialists, businessmen and other prominent men in the society bought islands and built houses on them. Today the Millionaire’s Row boasts of large beautifully landscaped homes occupied by the rich and famous of the land.


St. Lawrence river is a major shipping route connecting ocean going ships to the Great Lakes. Due to the presence of the islands and rock formations under the water, it is a difficult river to navigate. There are plenty of navigation aids like lighthouses and beacons present to help the ships and boats.


Beacons indicate the boundaries of the navigable area of the river. A ship should keep the red beacons on the port (left) side and the green beacons on the starboard (right) side when going upstream, away from the ocean.


Similarly, when going towards the ocean, the green beacons should be on the left and red ones on the right.


During days of the prohibition in the US from 1920 to 1933, a lot of money was made by a lot people on the St. Lawrence river by transporting liquor from Canada where there was no prohibition. One of the amusing stories is about how smugglers will have the cases of whiskey bottles trailing their boats so that the rope could be instantly cut if there was any chance of the prohibition agents approaching the boat. But then, the losses became so unaffordable that they started packing half of each case with salt. When the rope was cut, the load will sink, but once the salt got dissolved the case with the whiskey bottles will promptly rise up in three or four days! And the boats were often painted different colours on either side to trick the agents watching.


One of the islands in the group is actually called ‘Whiskey Island’. Apparently, boats from Canada used to leave their cargo on this island, of course within the territory of Canada, to be retrieved by their counterparts from the US conveniently out of sight of the agents. Interesting times and interesting stories!
How would you like to live on an island where you are the only resident? There are several such one-home islands! More about them when we continue.




19 Sep 2014

A Toast to Ontario’s Crowning Glory

It’s very common that many of my friends envy me my home close to the Canadian side of the famous Niagara Falls. After all, it is the most well-known of the waterfalls with the maximum number of visitors and also the largest in North America. It is indeed an amazing sight to look at the gigantic sheet of water thundering down and splashing on the rocks below, often creating multiple rainbows.


Located on the US-Canadian border, on the Niagara River, there are three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls, namely the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. Among these three, it is the Horseshoe Falls that takes the spotlight with a width of 2,600 feet (790 m) and a height of 173 feet (53 m).
Niagara Falls came into being 10,000 years ago when the ice melted after the Wisconsin glaciation and the water from the Great Lakes made its way through the Niagara River to the Atlantic Ocean, forming Niagara Falls on the way. Gradual erosion over the years has given the Falls its current shape. Geologists predict that, at this rate of erosion, the Falls will be nonexistent in 50,000 years.


American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

Compare the height of the people to get an idea of the size of the waterfall!


Horseshoe Falls

The name, Niagara, comes from the name of the local people who used to reside in the area. Niagara Falls happens to be a hop, skip and jump away from my home city… one of the reasons for having seen the Falls in every season, may it be spring, summer, fall, or winter. And I must admit, it is the fall season I like the best when the trees are in brilliant colors, the gardens are well-tended, and the beautiful scenery extends beyond the magnanimous flow of water to the fall colors, the orangish-red foliage of the trees and the iridescent floral gardens.
In the winter ice storm of 2013, Niagara Falls looked picturesque as a huge ice sculpture. It was subfreezing temperatures most of the time though fun to hang out.


The Maid of the Mist boat ride is a summer event that takes you to the base of the Falls where you are drenched by the mist from the Falls. A thrilling experience, worth a try.

Niagara Falls has been a venue for many publicity stunts. In 2012, Nik Wallenda, a tightrope artist, walked across Niagara Falls on a wire strung from the American side to the Canadian side. That was a major show for the public, broadcast live on national television as well as a great achievement for him.


In earlier years, there have been people who have rolled over the Falls or jumped over. In 1901, Annie Edson Taylor survived the experience of rolling over the Falls in a barrel. Sam Patch was the first person to jump over the Falls. Some of these daredevil stunts were staged to garner money.


Along the falls lies a commercial town filled with casinos, posh hotels and restaurants, observation towers, souvenir shops, amusement parks, game shops, neon billboards, and advertisements.


Surrounding this area is the wine country and the provincial town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is this town that I always look forward to while visiting Niagara Falls. Not only do I get to taste different kinds of wine from the nearby vineries but also for its quiet splendour and relaxing environment.



15 Apr 2014

A Trip to Canada’s Capital City

Is it the end of the month already? Where did the whole month go? 🙂 This month’s guest post is by Cux, who talks about her foray into one of the very interesting cities of Canada.



Toronto is a great city… spectacular architecture, a great array of lovely restaurants and a buzzling arts and cultural scene… all add to its charm. But it is the classic international city! Very multicultural and diversified, it somehow lacks a unique identity. Having lived here for a while, I was determined to get around and explore other Canadian cities.
When a couple of my friends from the Czech Republic turned up in Toronto, it was the ideal opportunity to go visit Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. These cities were so different in their architecture, culture, signature food, and the outlook of their inhabitants that it was a real pleasure to be there. It was fascinating, to say the least.
Ottawa, the main center of the Canadian government, is a quiet, introspective city which mesmerized me with its colonial buildings and Victorian structures. The many walking trails that weave around the city gives one the opportunity to investigate its varied environments. Whether it is the Discovery walk that begins at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the banks of the Ottawa River, and ends at Parliament Hill, or the walking trails around the Provincial Parks, all of them provide unique experiences.

My tour companions were seasoned walkers and helped me keep up my enthusiasm for walking throughout the trip.
The beautiful Alexandria bridge that connects Ottawa to Quebec is a beautiful sight. Ottawa has the most well-kempt parks and gardens. Also, it is home to the Canadian Tulip festival.

We saw the Rideau Canal which totally freezes over and becomes the world’s largest skating rink in the winter. The canal was opened in 1832 and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The National Gallery of Canada houses the most creative art that I have seen in Canada till date including a landmark sculpture of a spider in front of the building. The sculpture, named Maman by the artist Louise Bourgeois, is among the world’s largest sculptures, measuring over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide. It is made of bronze, stainless steel, and marble.

We sat in for a parliament session as well… it was interesting to watch the proceedings in the House of Commons though we were more taken in by the stained glass paintings and the intricate architecture of the hall! Do take a look
The Byward market is the happening place in town, lined with posh cafes and shops. Interestingly enough, adjacent to it, was an old old farmers market. This, I thought, was a perfect blend of tradition and modernity. I found the best cookie shop in this market where I tasted cookies designed as Canadian flags.
The friend in Ottawa who hosted us was a good cook and lived in a lovely house in a great locality. He introduced us to homemade maple butter, the next best thing to chocolate. Since then, I am hooked on it.
At some distance from the city, on the way to Montreal, we checked in on Plaisance National Park, which has a beautiful lake and some scenic wetlands, spread across the Ottawa river.

That was the best hiking trail of the trip.


It felt like walking in the wilderness of a natural forest. Protected by forest range officers, this huge park is good for camping. I hope I can go back there with my family sometime in the future.


And my photographer friend captured splendid shots of the floating gardens, open fields, flora and fauna including deer, squirrels, ducks, and beavers.
More about Montreal and Quebec City later…


31 Mar 2014