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Have you paddled a Voyageur Canoe?

Because of daily walks on Wellesley, rarely does a day pass that I’m not out on the River. I can’t imagine visiting the Thousand Islands by land only. I bet there are travelers who pass through, who only see the islands from the Thousand Islands Bridge or from the U.S. or Canadian mainland.


What a shame! The best way to see the islands—to experience the islands—is from the River. Tour boats have been plying the waters for over a century for just that reason. But there is another option for those without a boat of their own: the voyageur canoe at Wellesley Island State Park.

The voyageur canoe offers visitors an up close and personal way to experience the Thousand Islands. I remember taking our two kids on the voyageur excursion sometime in the late 1980s. We own two canoes, but this is a canoe on steroids. It is 36 feet long and wide enough for two people to sit abreast.


While I had been in a canoe before, my experience on WISP’s voyageur canoe was my first introduction to the history of the men who travelled the St. Lawrence hundreds of years ago.

Voyageur means traveler in French. Over time, this word referred to a group of men hired by fur trade companies to trade with the Native Americans and transport the furs. They were the truck drivers of 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries. The rivers and lakes of the north were their highways.

Voyageurs were manly men! They worked 14 hours a day, paddling their mammoth canoes from dawn to dusk. They were even more manly when they weren’t paddling. Portages required them to carry 180 pounds (two bundles at 90 pounds each) across a half mile of rugged terrain, but sometimes as much as 12 miles.


Wellesley Island State Park added the 36-foot voyageur canoe in an effort to give visitors a chance to get out on the water and conned with the region's past. Two park employees accompany up to 16 guests on the paddle to tell about natural history as well as the history of the voyageurs who passed through the Thousand Islands on their way to the Great Lakes or up the Ottawa River to Thunder Bay.

I often see a group in the voyageur canoe either as I’m coming or going for my daily walks on Wellesley. The voyageur canoe usually hugs the Wellesley Island shore in Eel Bay and sometimes paddles into the Narrows depending on the wind. Paddlers nearly always see great blue herons and osprey. If they are lucky, they might spy a mink gamboling along the shoreline.


It’s been decades since we went on the voyageur canoe. I remember we had to sign up a week in advance. It’s still popular, so if you are visiting the Thousand Islands, make your reservations early.

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh is a regular contributor to TI Life often writing stories dealing with her favorite Grenell Island and her island life. This time Lynn takes us on the water at Wellesley Island State Park.  Not only is Lynn an accomplished writer, but she also takes her camera along on excursions.  The McElfresh family have left the river and now reside in their winter quarters in Dunedin. Florida.   To see all of Lynn’s island experiences, search TI Life under Lynn E. McElfresh.  Lynn’s bio was profiled in August 2009.

Posted in: Places, Nature
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Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 9:21 AM Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Fantastic!!!!! This is an experience that I must have!!!