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Imagine the Thousand Islands without shoal markers…

My father, Keith Taylor loved to talk about the early TIA days. He was one of the original boaters who attended the August 2, 1934 meeting in Gananoque, “The Gananoque Reporter” newspaper headlined their edition with “Summer Visitors Organize”. This organization came to life after its founder, George R. Webb, then Mayor of Gananoque, “expressed a desire to form some sort of protective association which would co-operate with township officials in policing the islands during the winter when the owners were absent.

 A group of interested island owners, and local residents held their first meeting at the Gananoque Town Hall. On that momentous August day, “The Summer Residents’ Association of the Township of Leeds and Lansdowne” was born. It soon became known as TIA or the Thousand Islands Association, as it is known today. 

 The group was highly ambitious, the year following its founding a resolution was passed to send a letter to the Provincial government asking that the TIA members be exempt from buying fishing licenses, and that their guests only pay a dollar. Next the Association proposed that $50.00 be used toward the investigation of printing a river map. This map would show each island, the government name for the island, the name it was known by, as well as the present owner. Many at this meeting felt that their share of tax dollars should be spent on winter policing measures, rather than roads and education. There was a committee appointed to secure better fire protection for cottage owners.

This progressive group even voted to lend financial support to the Gananoque Canoe Club paddlers who were going to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. They were Edward Deir, Gordon Potter, Stan Potter and Frank Willis. Of the eight Canadian paddlers, four were from Gananoque. The only Canadian Gold medal was won by a paddler from Sudbury, Frank Amyot.

Needless to say, many of their ideas, although thought provoking, were not feasible, but despite this, the association grew.

 The following year the headlines read, “Better Marking of Shoals”. The membership felt that the shoals were one of the biggest dangers on the St. Lawrence, and “a menace to navigation”. Hence, the start of TIA’s marking of “those outcroppings”, or as we River Rats politely call them, “those darn shoals.”

At first they were marked by planks of wood, often painted a bright orange, but they got waterlogged and eventually were replaced by tin and later plastic barrels. Each shoal would have one or two markers – with the sensible advice, if you see a shoal marker, take care – stay well away! 

Over the years the membership grew, attracting boaters and islanders from the Navy Fleet, Ivy lea and Rockport. Word of mouth about the usefulness of having shoals marked spread and soon there was no boundary – TIA marked both sides of the border.

Each year TIA’s Shoal Marking Committee (a euphemism for Bill Hale…) reported the placement of the markers to the Coast Guard in the United States. Letters back and forth proved that our efforts were appreciated. Then in the 1980s the US Coast Guard decreed that all shoal markers on navigable waters had to be uniform in shape and markings.

The cost went from $10 a barrel, plus the price of a chain, to $100+ each. TIA’s bank account would hardly cover the costs. Everyone was asked to find new members. William (Bill) Browning, a well known marketing guru, being the international VP of Readers Digest, took on the task of writing to hundreds of islanders and mainland residents plus boaters in Canadian and US marinas. He persuaded them to join TIA.

Other programs were also a success. A simple safety card to place by an island phone, was created with all local emergency numbers, including police, fire and pharmacies for each of the many communities. One year the Association arranged for spray planes to help eradicate the Gypsy Moth larvae. 

Then in the 1980s, armed with a long list of accomplishments, the Association turned to the decade old Save the River! organization based in Clayton. Would they like to partner in the shoal marking program? They agreed and today over 300 shoals are marked. The TIA purchased the markers and is responsible for placing the markers on the Canadian side from Trident Yacht Club to Brockville. Save the River places them on the US side from Cape Vincent to east of Alexandria Bay. 

Over the last 77 years many meetings, resolutions and shoal markers have come and gone.

During the presidency of Barbara Butts the board made a momentous decision – no more formal meetings rather an informal "Island Breakfast" outside at the Thousand Islands Playhouse.  Then, after breakfast, complete with fried fish and potatoes, they are treated to a guest speaker who brings real island issues to an appreciative audience.

 Recently the Association helped finance the purchase of lifesaving defibrillators for marinas in the area. TIA subsidized making fire pumps available to various islands as well as teaching how to use the equipment. They only stipulate that the equipment is assessable and a well placed sign “Fire Pump” be visible to ensure that the local fire departments and neighbours know where the equipment is located. And finally, post secondary students on both sides of the border are the proud recipients of environmental academic bursaries.

Please visit our website at and consider joining the TIA.

 As spring arrives in 2013, TIA will once again mount a “Membership Blitz”.

If you have a new boat in a marina or you are a seasoned boater, be sure to check into becoming a member.   Why? To quote a Past President of TIA and editor of TI Life, Susan W. Smith, “Be careful - There is a rock out there with your name on it!

By John Taylor

John Taylor was born in Gananoque and has lived there most of his life. He and his wife Jane raised their 4 children there and at their cottage on Tremont Island. The extended family returns to the river every summer for water fun and sports at the cottage. John is retired, is a keen boater and was once the youngest member of the Canadian Power Squadron at which time he taught a course to young boaters called "Better Boating" for the Ontario Safety League.  He is an active Board member of the Thousand Islands Association. 

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d estes
Comment by: d estes ( )
Left at: 4:06 PM Tuesday, April 16, 2013
I have hit 2 shoals that somebody removed the markers from. Removed the lower unit from the engine ,however thank you for place the markers.
Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson ( )
Left at: 9:12 AM Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Thank you, John. I never really knew the history of the TIA or who actually started 'marking' the various rocks hiding and waiting. Scooting around with the older, wooden tour vessels and later, the brand new Thousand Islanders, it was always a relief to see that these were in place. Today, with the Canadian Empress twisting and winding through Wanderers, those channel markers are a welcome sight!
Comment by: Reg ( )
Left at: 9:27 PM Friday, April 19, 2013
Hit a shoal last year on the st lawrence rive cost 3.200 dollars to fix. you should the contact the insurance
companies and get them to Donate money