A Legendary Creation: The Garden of the Great Spirit

Learn the age-old legend of how the 1000 Islands were formed.

Long before European explorers made their way up the St. Lawrence River and into the heart of Canada, the 1000 Islands region was called by a different name. This lush region was both home and hallowed hunting ground of the six nations, a confederacy of Iroquois tribes. Between 700 B.C. and 1600 A.D., Iroquois tribes lived on the shores of the St. Lawrence River and travelled to the islands by canoe. The river offered plentiful fish, much of which they smoked and stored for winter.


The First Nations’ legend tells of Great Manitou, a god who soared through the sky on his thunderbird, a mythical creature whose enormous wings were said to cause the wind and the thunder. When Great Manitou looked down from the sky, he saw that his people were warring with each other. He decided to create a beautiful garden all along the shores of the St. Lawrence River, to bring peace to his people. With the gift of this garden came a promise: the people of the six nations who enjoyed the bounty of the earth and waters here must never again fight with one another, or the garden would be taken away from them.

For many years, everyone lived in peace. However after a time, feuds broke out once again, and, true to his word, Great Manitou gathered the sacred garden in a giant blanket to take it back to the sky. But as he was flying away on his thunderbird, the blanket tore open and thousands of pieces of the garden scattered all over the river below. Each piece of garden grew into an island, creating the thousands of islands of today. People of the six nations called this place “Manitouana” or the Garden of the Great Spirit.

The Manitouana story is very intriguing indeed. Find out how scientists believe the 1000 Islands were formed at our Creation exhibit at the Aquatarium!

Notable Islands

When you visit Biosphere Hall at the Aquatarium, you’ll be able to get a closer look at the diverse environment of the St. Lawrence River that each of the 1000 Islands occupies. For now though, let’s take a look at some special islands that are of particular interest.

Smallest US-Canada border bridge

Zavikon Island

If you’re looking for the world’s shortest international bridge, Zavikon Island is the place to find it! Clocking in at 32 feet in length, the bridge connects two islands of varying sizes. The larger island is Canadian and the smaller is American. What’s even more interesting is that the person that owns a house on the Canadian island owns the entire American island, and uses it as their backyard!

Grenadier Island

This island was once a favoured spot for farming, as it was less rugged than the mainland and had better soil. Since the 1870’s, Grenadier Island has been a popular summer destination and is home to one of Canada’s oldest golf courses. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, the western portion of the island became part of St. Lawrence Islands National Park. Today, the island’s shoreline is dotted with summer homes, boats, and remnants of the former farms. Visit the Boat House and Skiff House to get a feel for real river life as lived by people around Grenadier Island and more!


View of the Wolfe Island wind farm

Photo credit: Laslovarga via Wikimedia Commons

Wolfe Island

At the entrance to the St. Lawrence River in Lake Ontario sits Wolfe Island, the largest of the 1000 Islands. Wolfe Island forms a natural boundary between Canada and the United States. Its European roots date back to 1675, when Cavalier La Salle was awarded the land by the King of France in gratitude of La Salle’s services to the Governor. Today, Wolfe Island is home to an annual music festival of the same name. The festival is a major annual event on the island, drawing music-lovers from all directions.

Calumet Island

New York City native and Tobacco king Charles G. Emery bought this island in 1882, when it was named Powder Horn Island. Emery changed its name to Calumet, an Iroquois term meaning ‘peace pipe’, as the island’s shape resembles that of a pipe. The first castle the 1000 Islands region has known was built here by Emery in 1894. The grand estate inspired other wealthy industrialists of the era to build similar structures throughout the 1000 Islands region.

Interested in checking out some of the stunning scenery around the St. Lawrence River right now? Check out our 1000 Islands gallery!



← Return to Blog