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Summer In December: Islands for All Seasons

As snow falls over the River against a backdrop of a chalk white sky, I can't help but think of summer in the Thousand Islands.

What is it about an island? What is it about more than a thousand of them? Every island is a story unto itself. Every island has its history and its mystery. Not to mention its people and its ghosts. Majestic castles and storybook cottages slumber on shores of granite dotted by windswept pines waiting to wake from winter.

To be sure, the beauty of the Thousand Islands lasts four seasons even as the last of the year’s ships glide through the channel and flocks of geese stubbornly stay along the River's shores.

But mostly it is a place where summer should never end. I spent last summer travelling from island to island with a camera, notebooks, and a waterproof nautical chart of the Thousand Islands. Did I mention I don't have a boat?

I was a nautical hitchhiker in search of stories. For the past few years, I have become an accidental Thousand Islands correspondent for newspapers, magazines and this website.

As a former newspaper reporter, I used to spend my days covering murder trials, natural disasters and politics. Now I have a notebook on my desk marked 'Fairyland Island' and taking on tough assignments such as riding aboard the tall ship Fair Jeanne for a music video recording by Great Lake Swimmers and staying in Singer Castle's Royal Suite as Queen for the Night. Or as I like to think of it, Scriberella.

My island correspondence started with an interview with Thousand Islands photographer Ian Coristine on Raleigh Island. Coristine, who has three best-selling books on the Thousand Islands, is publishing a fourth next spring. Spectacular scenes from the aerial author's island west of Brockville are familiar to the readers of his books and this site.

And so one island led to another. Last summer, I embarked on a journey that took me from Pine Island near Rockport, summer home of Thousand Islands author, the late John Keats, to Sugar Island, a Canadian Island in the Gananoque Narrows owned by the American Canoe Association, to Cherry Island in Millionaire's Row near Alexandria Bay and dozens others.

Somewhere between Polaris Island and the Punts Islands, it dawned on me I had become a professional island crasher. But who can blame me? Thanks to many kind skippers - including Thousand Islands Life editor Susie Smith, fellow TI Life team members Coristine, and Mike Franklin - I got to explore the River, its islands and meet some of its most memorable inhabitants.

I returned to Grenadier Island again last summer to visit its unofficial mayor, 91-year-old June Hodge.

The great great grandmother, whose family goes back generations on the Canadian island known for its lush golf course and pastoral history, was busy entertaining visitors, playing one of her favourite card games, Spite and Malice, and taking her twice daily dips in the River usually accompanied by her neighbouring swimming companions.

"Loverly, loverly, loverly," she announced to the blue sky as she did a languid backstroke.

The island matriarch embodies the pace of this place where a life preserver on a tree by the water hangs with the words: 'Gramadear Island.'

Hodge doesn't have much time for the fast-paced world beyond these shores, calling computers "the ruination of society." But she has plenty of time for her friends and family here at her century-old cottage where she enjoys watching its ever changing horizon from her front porch and chatty afternoon teas with her island constituents.

"There's all kinds of cookie fairies on Grenadier Island," she confided, gesturing to another plate of baked goods that have appeared on a nearby table near a pitcher of chilled ice tea.


For most of her life, Hodge was one of the islands' winter people. She stayed year-round on the islands but her family convinced her to move to Rockport for the winter 15 years ago. So she waits to migrate back to Grenadier at the first thaw of spring and to swim again in summer.

"Doesn't it feel good when the sun shines on you?" she asked, emerging from the River.

Grenadier Island's unofficial mayor is right again. The Thousand Islands have four seasons but none so sweet as summer.

But until then, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Kim Lunman is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Reader's Digest and other newspapers and magazines. She is a team member of TI Life and the owner of Thousand Islands Ink, which is publishing Island Life magazine next May - just in time for summer.

Posted in: People
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Todd Jones
Comment by: Todd Jones ( )
Left at: 6:12 AM Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Hi Kim...

I can't thank you and your fellow staffers enough for your contributions to this website. I was introduced to the region by my grandfather at the age of 5, and even then, was hopelessly beguiled by its beauty.

My wife and I spend as much time as possible in the Clayton region during the spring, summer, and fall, and rely on your site to ease my "river withdrawal" symptoms during the winter.

Great job, and thanks again for all your hard work.
Brian Johnson
Comment by: Brian Johnson ( )
Left at: 11:43 AM Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Hi Kim
It was such a pleasure meeting you this summer! Thank you for icluding me in your fantastic story on Wolfe Island, but Most of all, THANK YOU for introducing me to
Through your writing, you have brought many of the smaller islands and the people on them 'to light' for the rest of us.
I know that I have passed many of them over the years never taking the time to know 'the rest of their story'.
Thank You
Merry Christmas to You and Yours
Brian Johnson

Kim Lunman
Comment by: Kim Lunman ( )
Left at: 1:30 PM Thursday, December 17, 2009
Hi Todd,

I'm glad to hear is helping you get over "river withdrawl" and thank you your comments. Hopefully our stories and photographs will help the rest of us here get over summer withdrawl for the next few months!

Merry Christmas
Kim Lunman
Kim Lunman
Comment by: Kim Lunman ( )
Left at: 1:38 PM Thursday, December 17, 2009
Hi Brian,

Thank you for your comments, your tour of Wolfe Island and for bringing historical marine stories and figures from the River back to life for readers in an informative and entertaining way on this site. You are indeed a Captain of words and water!

Merry Christmas
Kim Lunman
Jo-Anne Phillipson Freeland
Comment by: Jo-Anne Phillipson Freeland ( )
Left at: 3:25 PM Friday, January 1, 2010
Are you hiring ? Do you need any help ? I can write and even read !
How wonderful to have a job like this ! I visit the river at least yearly and everyday on the net. If only I could win the lottery, I would make my home on the River ...............