The 1000 Islands’ Posh Past: The Gilded Age

The 1000 Islands was once filled with vacation homes and mansions owned by the wealthiest figures of the past. Discover the posh past of the 1000 Islands and St. Lawrence River!

Today, the 1000 Islands is the perfect place for day trips in Ontario, weekend getaways and exciting outdoor adventures. But not so long ago, the St. Lawrence River was also a popular destination for some of the wealthiest, most prominent figures of the time!

The beautiful scenery of the 1000 Islands was noted by 17th and 18th century visitors, whose accounts of unparalleled natural beauty soon enticed governors, senators, legislators and presidents to see the St. Lawrence River for themselves. Americans and Canadians alike were drawn to the 1000 Islands, and before long, opulent summer homes, luxurious mansions and even castles began to appear up and down the St. Lawrence River, as wealthy vacationers all wanted their own piece of the 1000 Islands.

Fulford Place exterior

Photo credit: Ontario Heritage Trust

Fulford Place

George T. Fulford was born in Brockville in 1852. A manufacturer and distributor of patent medicines, Fulford became a successful businessman, making a fortune that allowed him to construct his own mansion, Fulford Place, right here in the 1000 Islands. Fulford Place, which you can visit today, is known for its beautiful gardens, designed by the same landscape architects who designed New York City’s Central Park, Montreal’s Mount Royal, and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and White House. To construct Fulford’s magnificent mansion, entire sleigh-loads of marble were dragged across the St. Lawrence River during its frozen winter months.

magedoma-postcard-1920

The Magedoma

Another legacy of George T. Fulford is the Magedoma, a 42-metre steam-powered yacht he named after members of his family: MA from Mary, GE from George, DO from Dorothy, and MA from Martha. With a luxurious Cuban mahogany dining room and sleeping quarters for up to 14 guests, his family went on to entertain several prominent figures long after Fulford’s death in 1905. What better way to spend a day than on board the famous luxury yacht? Don’t miss the chance to lounge in the famous Magedoma’s reconstructed day cabin, right here in the Aquatarium!

Boldt Castle from the St. Lawrence River

Boldt Castle

Castles of the 1000 Islands

The Gilded Age of the 1000 Islands couldn’t be complete without a few magnificent castles. Boldt Castle is on Heart Island of the St. Lawrence River. George Boldt began its construction in 1900 as a gift to his wife. At the time, it was to be one of the largest private homes in America. However, Boldt stopped the castle’s construction abruptly when his wife died in 1904, leaving much of the basement unfinished and the existing structure subject to harsh weather and vandalism. In 1977, the 1000 Islands Bridge Authority purchased the castle for one dollar, renovated it, and today, hosts visitors in the partially finished, century-old mansion.

Singer Castle, which sits on Dark Island, is another grand castle in the St. Lawrence. The castle was constructed by Frederick Bourne as a gift to his wife and children, and features several secret passageways and tunnels — perfect for a mysterious summer hideout. Over the years, Singer Castle has passed through many hands, and even singer Michael Jackson once attempted to purchase it for himself! Today, you can visit the beautiful Singer Castle and explore this slice of St. Lawrence River history.

Don’t forget to check out the Castle Library, a replica of the one in Singer Castle, complete with a secret passageway, right here in the Aquatarium! At the Castle Library, you can sit by the fireplace and read many great stories about the 1000 Islands region and St. Lawrence River as you embark on your own voyage of discovery!

St. Lawrence Skiff

St. Lawrence River Skiffs

No exploration of the posh past of the 1000 Islands would be complete without the St. Lawrence River Skiff. This non-powered boat became the classic way to travel between islands and up and down the waterway for day trips in Ontario during the Gilded Age. What started off as a simple craft for fishing became an iconic means of transportation and rustic relaxation for prominent figures like United States President Ulysses S. Grant, who spent three whole days fishing in the St. Lawrence River with the help of this classic river boat. Enjoy your own unique St. Lawrence River Skiff experience at our Boat House & Skiff House discovery centre!

While the St. Lawrence River may have its share of outdoor adventures, perfect for day trips in Ontario, the region has no shortage of luxury options leftover from its famous Gilded Age! Be sure to ask about our RiverQuest Partners who can help you explore the 1000 Islands your way!

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