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Hale and Hearty–A Life on an Island

Editor’s note: I am one of Bill Hale’s island neighbors and also a past president of the Thousand Islands Association. I served on the TIA Board with Bill when we agonized over how to solve the logistic and funding problems instituted by the US and Canadian Coast Guards in 1983. TIA could no longer use a standard oil drum as a shoal marker – so Bill Hale petitioned all involved to ensure that we could continue our programs. In those days we put out 74 Canadian and 40 US shoal markers. When Save the River offered to fund raise and assist with the US program, Bill joined their board and helped make it happen. I join author, Heather Chitty and the Thousand Islands community in saying thanks Bill, for being Hale and Hearty…

“I don’t like your stupid old river!” blurted a little boy to his parents making the nighttime crossing by boat from a dance hall in Clayton, N.Y., to their home on Hale Island in the Admiralty Group of the Thousand Islands, Canada, after an evening of family fun and entertainment. No one could have told the child he would migrate annually to this island, and his “stupid old river,” for the next eight decades of his life.

Asked what his first memories of the St. Lawrence River were, this nighttime boat ride under a starlit sky in the late 1920s is what comes to Bill Hale’s mind.

Hale’s family has summered on what is now known as Hale Island since his grandfather’s days in the late 1800s. Hale Island is situated due south from the entrance point to Half Moon Bay near Gananoque. It is snuggled between Bostwick Island directly west and Bluff Island to the southeast.

With two large shoal beds on either side of the northern entranceway to the island, it is protected from the heavy traffic seen in the larger channels. Off the southern side of Hale Island, with its now rustic 1940’s cabin, lies Hemlock Island. It sits perfectly southwest from Hale Island giving Hale a most expansive view of the 40 Acres to the south and east, yet protecting the island from the wind and water steadily blowing in from the southwest. Further east the Hitchcockian outline of Kalaria Island’s main house stands tall with its reaching windswept pine bending above it. To the southeast smooth sloping rocks seep into the river at the head of Juniper Island, and sparkling in the distance due south are the sandy coves and emerald waters of Leak Island. This view from the south side of the island, with its expanse of deep midnight blue water stretching outward in all directions and the powder blue sky above, is breathtaking.

Mr. Hale Sr. was the wine merchant in Gananoque, Ontario, prior to the government managing the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. The shop was located across the street from the once-prestigious International Hotel, and was later converted into a general store named “Dumphy’s.”

Like several other Gananoque families, the senior Hale bought his island from the government who managed the land sales of island for the Alnwick Band of the First Nations. The Indian Land Sale grant dates to September 15, 1894.

Bill’s mother was a nurse and his father was a physician, graduating from Queens Medical School in 1910. They summered in the Thousand Islands and raised their family in Utica, NY. Bill was brought to the island as an infant. And in July 1925, with the assistance of her husband, Bill’s mother gave birth in the island cottage to Bill’s younger sister. Jill has the honourable distinction of actually being born on the island. Milk for the babies was picked up at Turcotte’s Farm on Bostwick Island and Gillespie Farm at the head of Howe Island.

Bill has fond memories growing up on the river with his sister scouting and scouring around what were, in the 20’s and 30’s, mostly empty islands. Diving for bottles in Half Moon Bay; diving off the dock of Idylwyld Cottage, the lost Queen of Wanderer’s Channel; watching out for the proliferous island snakes; and rowing throughout the islands day and night in their white St. Lawrence skiff with a varnished strip along the side - life was a dream. But Bill had responsibilities on the island, too, one being fetching ice for his mother. He would shimmy into the ice house to dust the sawdust off an ice block, haul it out, race like mad down to the river to wash it off and then back to the house to store it safely in the ice box. And as many other island kids have followed in the tradition, Bill worked driving boats and doing odd jobs for neighbouring islanders as well. He started helping others from a very young age.

When the war years struck, Bill joined to fight at a young age, and in so doing joined the ranks of our Greatest Generation. England, France, Germany, Holland and eventually safely home to the U.S., Bill moved to Flint, MI, to study at the General Motors Institute. There he met his wife of 61 years, Irene. Bill worked in different locations in the Northeast, and eventually trained as a Merchant Marine Officer receiving his U.S. Coast Guard License as Master of Great Lakes, and his Canadian Coast Guard Licence as Master of Minor Waters. Bill and Irene raised a family of four daughters and, over time and with the children grown, decided to settle down on their island gem in the St. Lawrence. Bill worked with various boat lines in the area, and enjoyed his time on the water. To this day he can still remember Irene’s maiden voyage to the island in their 16 ft basswood Peterborough, which still hangs from the rafters of the boathouse.

Now when Bill chats about the river, it’s the community that surrounds him that continues to pop up in conversation. He seems to know everyone, and everyone seems to know him. He’s been there for his island neighbours to help out with this or that for longer than most can remember. And there has been the rare rescue mission, too. Being located at the northern perimeter of a 40-acre expanse of open water, Bill keeps an eye out for sailors heading past the island and into rough water.

The lighthouse keeper without a lighthouse. It seems fitting - this unassuming man in his unassuming quiet cedar cottage on one of the prettiest and well appointed locations of the river.

It’s no surprise that Bill has been an active member with the Thousand Islands Association for more than two decades. The community of people joined under TIA fund placement of the multitude of shoal markers necessary for safe passage through these waterways. Bill marked the shoals himself for many years but has since passed that torch to someone else. Who knows how many lives have been saved, or accidents have been averted, because of the volunteer efforts of TIA members such as Bill.

“Hale” is an adjective in Old English which means healthy and hearty; robust. There is an English expression which refers to someone with these traits – “hale and hearty.” We can only hope to be as hale and hearty as William Hale is coming into his 90th year. A thank you is due to him from all the river people who have passed by accurate shoal markings that he once set, and from the sailors who have drifted by his tucked-away island cottage not knowing his benign watchful eyes were wishing them safe journey.

By Heather Chitty

Heather Chitty works as a Reading Specialist with dyslexic children, and also enjoys freelancing as a writer and photographer. She grew up in the Thousand Islands and, after years of working overseas and throughout Canada, returned to the area she loves. Heather and her husband spend as much time as possible on the river either kayaking, touring or sailing. They make their home in Kingston, ON.

In 2011 Heather’s book River Reminiscing: An Anthology of Thousand Islands Stories  was published.  The book was dedicated to   William (Bill) Chitty, who died in 2008, as one of the founders of the Arthur Child Heritage Museum in Gananoque.  The love of the St. Lawrence River for Heather, like Bill Hale’s passion, stems from a strong family heritage.  

Posted in: History, People
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Thornley Stoker
Comment by: Thornley Stoker ( )
Left at: 10:23 PM Sunday, October 14, 2012
I think Bill Hale might qualify as a member of that august body of individuals whose hearts' beat to the rhythm of the river. Would that make him a riverrat?
All Hale to Bill.
Thornley Stoker
Bud Ames
Comment by: Bud Ames ( )
Left at: 8:10 AM Monday, October 15, 2012
I also raise a toast of "Hale and Hearty" to you Bill! As an STR volunteer I admired Bill's enthusiasm and dedication to the "stupid old river!" The shoal marking program continues due to Bill's knowledge that he passed on to many of us.
Jeanne Thornton
Comment by: Jeanne Thornton ( )
Left at: 9:52 AM Monday, October 15, 2012
My family and I met Mr. Hale in Columbus, GA at a 7th Armoured Division, WW2 reunion in 2009. We were having a conversation about converting Celcius to Fahrenheit, and he joined in by telling us a simple conversion formula. From there on, he has been a joy to be around at our annual reunions that I attend with my Father around the country. He is an absolutely delightful, humble man, who can explain in very layman terms of how WW2 was carried out, and how shoal markers are used, as we were on a river boat cruise in New Orleans last year. As we toured the WW2 Museum in NOLA, he made history come alive to my family. Thank you for this most interesting article! Since I have grown up in Nebraska, the Thousand Islands have only been known to me by claiming it my favorite dressing! I look forward to visiting the Islands in the future.
Hip-Hip Hooray for Bill and "The Greatest Generation"!
Jeanne Thornton
Dan Spencer
Comment by: Dan Spencer ( )
Left at: 11:41 AM Monday, October 15, 2012
In addition to his love for the river, Bill is a Life Member of Branch 92, Royal Canadian Legion in Gananoque. He has served on the Executive for many years and and is currently the Honours and Awards Chairman. Bill is a remarkable individual who I am proud to call my friend on and off the water.
Celeste Z
Comment by: Celeste Z ( )
Left at: 12:21 PM Monday, October 15, 2012
Grandma and Grandpa always encouraged their grandkids to be smart and work hard and kept a lively no whining rule about their place.

Hale Island is the most peaceful place I have ever been in the world. A true place of solace for heavy hearts. Grandpa's stories were spark to the adventurers imagination. Grandma's food filled many a hungry explorer's belly.

Having spent many happy summer days with Grandma and Grandpa on Hale Island, I could not be a prouder grand-daughter.
Pam Standley Wojcik
Comment by: Pam Standley Wojcik ( )
Left at: 12:37 PM Monday, October 15, 2012
Being that Uncle Bill and Aunt Irene were so gracious, I and my 3 siblings vacationed on Hale Island from early memory to our teen years. Now, as a parent and grandparent, I realize my parents had just about enough money to get us there in one long 16 hour car ride from western Michigan.
With 8 kids, it was cereal for breakfast, PB sandwiches for lunch, and a hearty meal of lentil (aka "entral") soup for dinner. On the last night of our visit, the parents fried up the small(?) perch and sunfish we kids caught off the rocks. I recall supplementing the fish with PB&J sandwiches !
What great hosts they were, and wonderful memories to rekindle a family reunions.
Thank you Uncle Bill and Aunt Irene for our Hale Island
summer vacation. (....including the snakes, spiders and bunks in the ice house :)
Mike and Libby
Comment by: Mike and Libby ( )
Left at: 7:23 PM Monday, October 15, 2012
Good Show Bill and Irene!! Look forward to more visits to your Island
Carol Thomas
Comment by: Carol Thomas ( )
Left at: 7:40 PM Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Thank you Bill for taking care of our "stupid old river".

Heather - thank you for sharing another great local story with us all.
Jan McQueen
Comment by: Jan McQueen ( )
Left at: 10:39 AM Thursday, October 18, 2012
Uncle Bill said "I don't like your stupid old river!"??
This is the first I heard that, I suspect he did not want to influence us kids with such negative thoughts!!

History must repeat itself, because it is known that way back in the 60's, as a youngster making the long trip from Michigan to Hale Island, it was not my favorite place to go. My dad and mom loved our yearly vacations there. To me it was a 12 hour drive in a car with 4 kids and two adults, no air conditioning, kids that got car sick.....on and on! Then when we got there, no tv, no electricity, no running water, bats around every night, swimming in the very cold river, again, the memories are endless, even the negative ones.

My how our perspective changes as we become adults! The parts I did not like are now funny and I have gained great appreciation for our Hale Island vacations! A family gathering does not occur without some mention of an Island story that goes back 55 years or more. I now know that my "vacations" at Hale Island were one of the most memorable events in my life. Thanks to my parents for taking us there and for my Aunt Irene and Uncle Bill for their great hospitality and GREAT MEMORIES!
Chas R
Comment by: Chas R ( )
Left at: 1:43 AM Wednesday, October 31, 2012
What a lovely portrait of a river steward. As we celebrate the value and virtues of Bill's dedication to the river, let us also acknowledge how that torch is staying aglow through the love of another. Nice job Heather.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson ( )
Left at: 4:28 PM Monday, January 28, 2013
Not alone in resisting an island summer vacation. We came from Connecticut with five in the car for eight to ten hours. Without fail- us; like that first returning Robin seemed. Annually watch for our not late model automobile. That meant coming out from Clayton in those days. Equals/Equaled- "Are we (half way) there yet?" inquiries even before leaving the Hudson. Burma Shave- "The Blackened Forest Smolders Yet..." Back roads then as no Thruways or Turnpike. No, not one. The ONLY four lane, the Taconic Sate Parkway, early on ended at Red Hook! Then one of the 'Nines'- Nine A, Nine W., etc., and the Rip Van Winkle Bridge Across the northern (Irish) Catskills to Canajoharie, down that treacherous hill to Sprakers, West Canada Creek (Drums Along The Mohawk...), Route Five- the old true path of the five Iroquois nations. Especially, I understand- read, Mohawks (on the north side of the Mohawk River where the R.R. runs- likely find arrowheads there were you to look). But once out to Axeman, we had no playmates with the islands empty, largely. Yes, Howard (Buddy) Wakefield- Doc and was it, Mary's, son on Sugar? Doc, Commodore of the annual, MEET there with his camp on the northwest side just inside the little no-name island. Also, Johnny Court, whose Dad, John- a writer in NYC, came over from a big population on Round Island and maybe squatted at their camp (tents) on the West point of Delaney Bay (when there were no people along that north shore of Grindstone, certainly NO children people...) maybe from new Canoe/Picnic Point to as far as the 'Banana House' up inside of Jolly, The Punts, Barge, Gig and Deathdealer. If you look closely you will see there is one of the very few sand beaches there just outside the west lip of Delaney Bay- now likely silting over, some, alas. We kids on Axeman saying- "This is Hitler's place!" That was as bad a description/honorific, circa pre and during WWII, one could apply to a kids no pals, no one to play with, (occasionally- when esp. bored) situation.