The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), July 16, 1881

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Nestling close at the side of Wolfe Island, and at the very gateway of the Lake of the Thousand Islands lies a flat little verdurous islet bearing the suggestive name of Garden Island. From Kingston, two miles across the river, it appears to be a part of the large island, and presents no features to indicate that it is not simply a piece of house lined river shore such as may be found opposite almost every town of importance on the rivers of this continent. The traveller down the river is not likely, unless he approaches the shore, to bestow more than a passing glance at what looks so uninteresting; but nevertheless Garden Island has an individuality such as few localities in Canada possess and a peculiar picturesqueness not to be looked for away from the fishing villages of maritime coasts.

The island is about three-quarters of a mile in length and of varying width, but on an average so narrow that the whole area does not exceed sixty acres. The western end is separated from Wolfe Island by a narrow channel which connects the lake approach to Kingston with a wide bay formed by the receding shores of Wolfe and by Garden Island itself which stretches eastward in a line with the course of the river.

A Fine Panorama.

From the eastern extremity of the island the view is a most charming one. Across the bay, to the south, lies the village of Marysville, sloping back to the woody hills of Wolfe Island. To the east the eye wanders on and on over the broadening expanse of the Lake of the Thousand Islands, till the view is lost in the purple haze which half reveals and half conceals along the far distant horizon.

Islets flowering fair,

And shades of bloom, where the first sinful pair

For consolation might have weeping trod

When banished from the garden of their God.

Nearer and more to the northward lies Cedar Island, a perfect mass of foliage save where broken by the great round tower which stands with cannon pointing through its port-holes a hard grim sentinel with a wreath of verdure around his feet. Further toward the north the great quadrangles of Fort William Henry (sic) crown the summit of a bleak hill which slopes down to the water's edge on three sides. An artificial ravine twenty five feet deep is seen leading down to a round tower, whose grey stone walls and dark port-holes are reflected in the water which leaves its base. Kingston harbour, the long line of Cataraqui bridge, more round towers and other evidences of military preparation, the limestone city embowered in trees, Kingston Penitentiary and then Portsmouth fill up the view over the lazy sultry waters to the north.

An Extraordinary Village.

But the peculiar charm of Garden Island is the island itself, which fills most of the view to the west. Here lies the village of Garden Island - a village with an appearance all its own. Sheds and buildings of unpainted boards or logs line the shore at the eastern end, and then come the houses - all of wood, one story high, and painted white. The houses are set down as if by random, and no appearance of streets can be seen. Further west the village assumes a more regular appearance. "The Office," a plain frame building, passed, a long regular road forms the only street.

The west end is the aristocratic quarter. The houses are still only one story high, and of old frame painted white, but are more capacious, and can boast of larger verandahs, and more ivy, and other marks of a cultured taste. Here, too, are the public buildings, both one story high, and of white frame - the school house and Mechanic's Institute hall. At the latter an excellent circulating library is kept, and religious services are held occasionally. The view from the school house looking down the street eastward, is striking. The roadway is covered with verdure which even the July sun has not faded, and back from the street the white houses on either side draw closer and closer till the spars and rigging of a schooner lying at "the point" close up the view. The village contains six or eight hundred inhabitants, and like the rest of the island, is entirely owned by Messrs. Calvin & Son, in the employ of whom nearly all the residents are. There is but one store, and that is carried on by the Messrs. Calvin.

A Rigid Prohibitory Law.

No tavern is to be found, nor can liquor be obtained anywhere, its importation being strictly prohibited by the owners of the island. Bottles of "forty rod" have been carefully smuggled over, but woe betides the luckless transgressor if the elder Mr. Calvin - a tall, bony gentleman of eighty-two years - detects the smuggler. The bottles are instantly smashed, and the unfortunate lover of strong water is driven into exile. Distinctions between rich and poor are almost unknown; in fact the island is as near an approach to "equality and fraternity" as can be looked for amid the complex civilization of the nineteenth century.

The Business Of The People

is shipping, ship-building and lumbering. In these branches Messrs. Calvin & Son employ 500 men, including gangs of lumbermen in Ohio, Michigan, and the upper lake country. The firm owns six lake and river steamers, besides eight sailing vessels. A discarded steamer is at present hauled up on the shore, and is being torn to pieces, the bottom of the hull being reserved, however, to enter into the composition of a new steamer. Close beside this leviathan of wood, around and on which a gang of carpenters are at work, are the sunken hulls of several steamers of the olden time, their black, weather-beaten timbers rising a few feet out of the water in jagged outline.

Another interesting operation is the unloading of timber vessels from the upper lakes. A rough shed serves as a shelter for the horses as they go their rounds turning a perpendicular crank. A large lumber vessel lies a little off in the water. As the rope coils around the crank a huge log comes through the doorway in the vessel's stern and slips splashing into the water, is drawn close to the shore and then floated into position in a raft.

Thirteen Steamers In A Graveyard.

On the south side of the Island is the "graveyard" as it is familiarly called. No tombstones mark the resting place of mortals passed away but the dilapidated or charred remains of no less than thirteen steamers tell of usefulness gone. In some cases the tall smokestacks are still standing, but the timbers are breaking to pieces and the machinery still left is covered with rust. The graveyard extends over many acres of shallow water, and besides its use as a resting place for the decaying boats of the firm, serves as a vast lumber yard. Here thousands of logs are being made up into rafts two hundred feet long by forty-five wide, which float down the St. Lawrence steered by forty raftsmen on board. The graveyard is certainly one of the most picturesque features of the place.

A Glacier Polished Bed.

The upper end of the island is fringed with broad branched elms, forming a fine shady walk along the shallow shore, and extending in an oval form around a space of about twenty or thirty acres given up to grain growing. A little bay on the north side of the grain fields presents a fine example of glacial action. At the north-eastern side of the bay the bottom is rock as smooth as a table and unbroken by seam or fissure. At the south-west the depth of water is about two feet, and it gradually decreases towards the north-east. There the rock emerges from the water and extends its smooth surface twenty feet up the shore. From the bank above this rock floor looks like planking, the scratches made by glacial action being exactly parallel. These scratches run from north-east to south-west, or directly across the bay, which is perhaps 200 feet in width.

Owned By One Man

The island was deeded by the Crown to Major Cameron in recognition of his services in the war of 1812. In 1835 Mr. Calvin, M.P.P. for Frontenac, who had emigrated from New York State, bought half from the Major, and a few years later acquired the remaining portion. Here, little by little, he built up the immense trade centering in these sixty acres. He has now associated with him his son Hiram, a gentleman who resembles his father in business ability. The elder Mr. Calvin is a man of remarkable originality of ideas and of unusual energy. Though eighty-two years old he still superintends the shipbuilding and lumbering operations at the island, and during a recent visit of a representative of the Globe was found directing every detail of the demolition of the old steamer now lying on the shore. [Globe]


The schr. A. Muir has been chartered to carry sails from Kingston to Milwaukee at $1.35 f.o.b.

This afternoon the str. Maud did not take many to Cape Vincent, owing to the heavy wind which prevailed.

The str. Pilgrim, of the Deseronto Navigation Co., broke her shaft in the Napanee River and was towed to Deseronto for repairs.

The ferry steamer Prince Edward has resumed her trips. She was thoroughly caulked at Deseronto, and floats about six inches higher.

The schooners Van Straubenzie, Hyderabad, and Laura, with an aggregate capacity of 65,000 bushels, have been chartered to carry wheat to Kingston from Milwaukee.

Tim Long, a diver, had his hand broken the other day while examining the wheel of a propeller. On giving a signal the wheel was put round the wrong way, hence the accident.

The str. Varuna, when leaving Belleville harbor on Thursday afternoon, encountered a log in backing around the foot of the island. The wheel was loosened. She landed her passengers and went to Deseronto for repairs.

Yesterday the steamer Hero made the run to Picton in three hours and forty minutes, including four stops, and this morning ran back in four hours, including seven stops. She is surpassing the str. Bay of Quinte in regard to speed and regularity.

On Thursday last Captain A. Miller made a trip to Sackett's Harbor, Fox Island, Point Peninsula, Grenadier Island and Dutch Point, for the purpose of collecting some of the timber of the wrecked Norway last fall. The captain secured 12 large sticks (oak) which were rafted and towed to Garden Island.


Tug G.D. Seymour, Ogdensburg, light.

Tug Champion, Montreal, five barges, 700 tons coal.

Prop. Alexandra, Montreal, pass. and fgt.

Str. Passport, Hamilton, pass. and fgt.

Schr. Richardson, Oswego, 250 tons coal.

Schr. Singapore, Toledo, 12,021 bush. corn.


Schr. Mary Taylor, Oswego, 92 tons of hay.

Schr. Nellie Sherwood, Charlotte, 106 tons of ore.

Barge Huron, Oswego, light.

p.4 County News - On July 4th, Messrs. E. & W. Palmatier caught 850 whitefish near the Main Ducks, on Tuesday, 540; Wednesday, 350; and Friday 150. The fish readily bring 4 1/2 cents per lb.

Media Type:
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Date of Original:
July 16, 1881
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Rick Neilson
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), July 16, 1881