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One Pilot's Dream: Paul Island

It's the towering tree that you first notice about this little island west of Brockville. It almost resembles a palm tree from a distance. But this is nowhere near the tropics not even on this humid August afternoon.

The solitary Elm tree stands on Paul Island in the Amateur Group of Islands in the St. Lawrence just west of Brockville.

Paul Island gets its name from its current owners: The Paul family. Inside the little cottage, there's a sign on a wall that says it all: Bill Paul's Dream.


Bill Paul purchased the island in 1985. The pilot, who had flown over the River many times and loved the Thousand Islands, spotted the island for sale in a newspaper ad and bought it the same day.

"I sold the plane and bought an island," said the World War II veteran and former funeral home owner.

Paul was one of the first members of the Brockville Flying Club and owned an amphibian plane that could be used on land and water. Today he is a next-door neighbour to another Thousand Islands pilot: aerial photographer and author Ian Coristine. He bought Raleigh Island in 1995, which can be seen from neighbouring Paul Island.

"I've been on the River all my life," said Paul, saying he always dreamed of owning island property after growing up on the mainland's waterfront.

That opportunity came up when commercial fisherman George Vanston decided to sell his island. Vanston made headlines when he caught a 100-lb sturgeon that he kept in the boathouse. His big catch died when it was transferred to an aquarium on Hill Island. Vanston's fishing charts - including weights of catches - are still listed in the boathouse.

Bill Paul named his new property Paul Island. He built a cottage and had power installed. Today Paul's children and grandchildren spend summers at the island retreat, enjoying views of both sunsets and sunrises over the River.

Son Dave Paul, Brockville's Economic Development Director, hops in a kayak stored in a boathouse on shore and paddles to the island in a matter of minutes. He says the island is a perfect getaway even though he jokes you can hit a golf ball onto the mainland from here. "We're just a short drive from shore," he said.

Still, said his wife, Janice: "It feels like a different world here." Family and friends gather on its small shores every summer. They even fly a Paul Island flag.

"It's the smallest island in place but we pack it with the most people and have the most fun," said Dave Paul's sister, Dana Wren.

Bill Paul said trading one love for another - his plane for an island - is a decision he's never regretted. And even though he doesn't get out to Paul Island as much these days, he keeps a painting of it with its distinctive Elm tree on his living room wall in Brockville. Bill Paul's dream is never that far away.

By Kim Lunman,

Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine ( based in Brockville, Ontario.  Kim's  2012 magazine was distributed in May in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York.  A special Islander Edition is still available on sale in local book stores in both the United States and Canada. Each summer Kim visits many islands and meets their owners so we can all look forward to reading their stories in the coming months.  This story first appeared in Island Life Magazine 2012 edition.  See last month’s Excursions and More for a sneak preview of the 2013 edition.

Posted in: Places, People
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