It's a crisp October afternoon in Rockport and the sky and River are postcard perfect blue. The sun is shining brightly just in time for an 'aboard meeting' of TI Life.
I'm joining photographer and author Ian Coristine aboard his new boat with editor Susie Smith and website guru Mike Cox. Coristine navigates us past landmarks such as St. Brendan's Church and the statue of St. Lawrence towards Ivy Lea and the international bridge.
There seems to be a little trouble with the Rinker so Cox, a former boat mechanic at Ed Huck Marine in Rockport who now resides outside of Ottawa, checks things out, quickly resolving the issue.
Smith, typically at the helm of her boat at Sagastaweka Island near Gananoque, relaxes in the passenger seat and takes in the scenery with the kind of zest you might expect of a tourist seeing the Thousand Islands for the first time.
This, I recall thinking as I watched familiar shores and islands rush past, is my kind of meeting. I first met Smith a little over two years ago when she was approached by Coristine to become editor of www.thousandislandslife.com.
I met Coristine some months earlier when I embarked on a newspaper series of island stories. He introduced me to his friend and mentor Paul Malo, a Syracuse preservationist, architect, professor and author of a trilogy of books on the Thousand Islands, who had started this website with the help of Mike Franklin. He died in July 2008 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 78. I had agreed to contribute stories and photographs to the e-magazine. It was Malo's wish someone would carry on this legacy of preserving a sense of place with stories and photographs about its unique beauty, architecture and history.
Smith, a longtime Thousand Islands advocate and author, involved with the Thousand Islands Land Trust and the Arthur Child Heritage Museum and the Thousand Islands Association, willingly took it on and has been doing precisely that for the last two years as editor of TI Life. The magazine - which just celebrated its 4,000th subscriber - shines an international spotlight on the Thousand Islands.
TI Life - featuring the photographs of author Coristine and a design created by graphic artist Dave O'Malley and Cox - now has 50 contributors from both sides of the border including Smith, who writes articles each month. And everyone receives the same salary: Zippo.
The 1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce recognized Smith's outstanding contributions Friday night at a gala awards ceremony with in an aptly-titled 'Keeper of the Islands Award.' It was an honour to accept Smith's honour on her behalf as she was in California visiting family.
Other award recipients included: Scott Ewart, of the 1000 Islands Kayaking Company in Gananoque, who was presented with the Hal McCarney Tourism/Hospitality of the Year Award (Up Close by Kayak written by Kim Lunman); John Le Blancq of Le Blancq Design, who received the Business/Industry of the Year Award; Karen Eaton of Curves in Gananoque, who received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award; John Peter, who received the Keeper of the Gates Award, Kristin O'Neill, who received the Athlete of the Year Award, and fundraiser Bunny Randall, who was named Gananoque’s Citizen of the Year.
Coristine first became familiar with Smith through her book, The First Summer People: The Thousand Islands 1650-1910.
"It was immediately after I had purchased the island and I was rabid to learn as much about this amazing place as I could. Can you imagine what a windfall it was when I discovered a book which not only dealt with the overall history, but then went into detail about every single island here, including mine?
Coristine recalled his first introduction to Susie Smith through Joan Michie, former director of the Arthur Child Heritage Museum of the 1000 Islands in Gananoque. "Joan offered to introduce me to this larger than life individual - Susie Smith, if I would stick around long enough to wait for a board meeting to end. Out walked this tiny lady who thrust out her hand, introducing herself. Somehow this didn't correlate. How could this little lady have taken on such a Herculean task and done it so well, all by herself? I was in awe, but too shy and intimidated in her presence to do anything more than mumble my appreciation for her wonderful book."
Franklin, who taught Malo, a retired architecture professor at the University of Syracuse how to post the website, and Coristine were anxious to find someone who might keep Malo's legacy alive. "Her name kept coming up as being involved in many organizations and as a strong supporter of all things "Thousand Islands," Coristine said.
They met with Smith at her summer home on Sagasteweka Island and asked her take over the volunteer role of editor of the non-profit TI Life Magazine.
"We were waiting at the dock in Gan when a powerful center-console boat roared into view, seemingly without a driver," recalled Coristine. "It was Susie, who pulled up expertly at the dock and then headed out with us to her island with all the skill and confidence of a seasoned Captain that I have yet to acquire. Why should I have expected anything any less from this amazing lady?"
To their surprise and pleasure, the busy grandmother who spends her winters in Ottawa with husband Marceli agreed despite her many other personal and professional commitments, including the post of presidency of Thousand Islands Land Trust and of an organization representing another one of Smith's passions - antique buttons.
Said Coristine: "My admiration for this incredible lady has no bounds and I am 100% certain that Paul looks down with admiration, approval and just as much amazement as me. She has done an exemplary job, not only of reliably producing and forging the many pieces into a magazine every month, but by building a community of talented contributors, each adding to a greater whole."
The purpose of TI Life has always been to build a greater understanding and appreciation of the place. I know I'm grateful and I also know there over 4,000 subscribers who feel exactly the same way. THANK YOU SUSIE!
'You truly are the "Keeper of the Islands."
By Kim Lunman
Kim Lunman has been writing about the Thousand Islands since her return to her hometown of Brockville in 2008. In fact, we have published more than 35 of Kim’s articles in TI Life. At the beginning of May 2010, Kim's new company, Thousand Islands Ink, distributed 25,000 copies of Island Life, as an insert in eastern Ontario with distribution through the EMC papers and in New York through the Thousand Islands Sun. This summer she gathered new material for next year’s magazine - stay tuned…
Editor’s Note: I asked Kim to attend Gananoque’s Chamber of Commerce Awards Ceremony on TI Life’s behalf. I am truly honoured by this recognition and my hearttfelt thanks goes out to all who help me get each edition up-and-running. So thanks to all. And... I also thank everyone for their comments... I am truly blushing.