By Rachel Naud
The Thousand Islands has always been known as a vacation hotspot for its spectacular scenery and bountiful outdoor recreational opportunities such as boating, fishing, diving and golf. But it’s also a region embedded with history, culture and stylish small-town charm. For these reasons and more, millions trek to the Thousand Islands to get away from it all. But it’s also become a favourite amongst meeting delegates who want to get the job done and have fun doing it.
The region is an international tourism destination, encompassing communities on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian border along the St. Lawrence River and the eastern shores of Lake Ontario. The Thousand Islands are located in the Western section of the St. Lawrence River and Eastern shore of Lake Ontario, stretching from Kingston to Brockville. The region, named by the French explorers who discovered it, takes its name from the more than 1,000 islands that dot the lake and river along this international waterway.
In actuality, there are more than 1,800 islands (1,864 to be exact) that make up the region – all unique, offering a wonderful recreation experience that spans two nations. Each island is a sightseer’s paradise with features such as stately granite cliffs, soft sandy bays, tall dark pines and vibrant maple trees. Many islands are privately owned, but ample public access can be found at island parks and villages throughout the region.
When it comes to things to do in the area, there’s definitely no shortage, so delegates can keep themselves entertained pre- and post-meeting.
Because Gananoque and the Thousand Islands is such a great family destination, the region is big on festivals. The most popular festivals in Gananoque and the Thousand Islands include the 10-day Festival of the Islands, the Rotary Ribfest and the Lansdowne Agricultural Fair.
The Festival of the Islands, which takes place in Gananoque from August 10 – 19, is a family-oriented festival celebration with everything from children’s programs to top-rated Canadian entertainers. The festival attracts a large number of visitors from neighboring communities and other parts of the region.
“The festival appeals to a large cross section of the community, both young and old,” says Rosanne Van Vierzen, marketing and event co-ordinator for the Gananoque Chamber of Commerce.
Highlights of the festival include parades, a huge craft show and sale, daily children’s shows, skydivers, the largest model railroad show in eastern Ontario, a midway, soap box derby, treasure hunt, mini poker run, antique boats and classic cars. Moreover, during the festival delegates can enjoy five mornings of traditional shore breakfasts hosted on MacDonald Island in the St. Lawrence. At the end of its run, the festival goes out with a bang with the largest fireworks display in Eastern Ontario.
The Gananoque Rotary Club hosts an annual Rotary Ribfest. Delegates who take in this three-day event are treated to, of course, ribs and beer. Beyond the food, the Rotary Ribfest features Kinsmen’s Children’s Programs, a giant yard sale and antique motorcycles. Entertainment during the festival includes a pipe show in addition to musical entertainment.
The Landsdowne Agricultural Fair offers something for everyone. The four-day event features crafts, antique cars and machinery show, Western horse show, demolition derby, lawn mower racing and baby events, too. A fair also serves up a fun midway and live entertainment on its grandstand stage. This year the Misfits appear as the fair’s special guest.
For delegates with a taste for all things historic, a tour of The Fort Henry National Historic Site in Kingston, Ont., is a must. Fort Henry is both a museum and a spectacular historic site. Once inside the wooden gates, delegates can enter the realm of 19th century military life, experience guided tours, scenic views and listen to musical performances from a military band and marching demonstrations by the Fort Henry Guard. Delegates will also be treated to period actors recreating the civilian population of the fort as schoolteachers and soldiers’ wives.
Fort Henry was originally built from 1832 to 1837 to replace an existing fortification from the War of 1812 era. Situated atop Point Henry, the Fort protected the naval dockyard at Point Frederick, the entrance of the Rideau Canal and the town of Kingston, which was the major trans-shipment point along the supply route between Montreal or Ottawa and all points west. During the First World War, Fort Henry was superficially repaired and used as an internment camp for political prisoners. Following the war, the Fort fell into complete disrepair but was restored from 1936 to 1938 as a joint Federal / Provincial make-work project costing more than $1 million.
For another trek back in time, delegates can also tour Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ont. Costumed interpreters will tell delegates what life was like in the 19th century while touring the authentic buildings that make up the village. The interpreters will also detail the activities that each building housed, and of course, the people who lived there.
Stops on the tour include Asselstine’s woollen factory where raw wool was transformed into yarn and blankets, The Bakery where bakers produced bread from flour ground at Bellamy’s Mills and the Blacksmith who repaired wagons and fixed machinery for his neighbors.
For delegates with a romantic streak, Boldt Castle will touch hearts and captivate imaginations. Located on Heart Island in Alexandria Bay, New York, Boldt Castle was built by millionaire proprietor George C. Boldt, of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The grandiose structure was to be a display of his love for his wife, Louise.
Beginning in 1900, Boldt’s family shared four summers on the island in the Alster Tower while 300 workers including stonemasons, carpenters and artists fashioned the six-storey, 120-room castle, complete with tunnels, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge and a dove cote.
However, tragedy struck in 1904. Louise died suddenly and Boldt telegraphed the island and commanded the workers to immediately stop all construction. He could not imagine his dream castle without his love. After Louise’s death, Boldt never returned to the island, leaving behind the structure as a monument of his love.
Today, groups are treated to a tour of the castle as the story about a man, his wife and her castle is retold.
Delegates can find the biggest game in town at the OLG Casino Thousand Islands.
OLG Casino Thousand Islands, situated on a parcel of land straddling the communities of Leeds and Thousand Islands and Gananoque, is located at 380 Highway 2 in Gananoque. The facility is bordered by the Thousand Islands Parkway West, Hwy 2 and Hwy 401, and is easily accessible from the United States via Interstate 81.
Designed to complement the natural landscape, the casino highlights various nautical, architectural and geographical characteristics of the region.
“Inside, an illuminated etched glass map of the region’s many islands wraps one wall of the facility, while the ceiling features ships’ masts and sails crossing the night sky,” says Karen Cross, customer relations manager for the OLG Casino Thousand Islands.
The casino offers a complete gaming experience including more than 500 slot machines and more than 22 table games, including Texas Hold’em Poker, Three-Card Poker, Roulette, Craps and Blackjack.
If all the gaming leaves delegates hungry for some good food, the casino also offers a full-service restaurant that serves up everything from burgers to seafood.
Additional amenities include free parking, complimentary non-alcoholic drinks on the gaming floor, currency exchange and coat check. Since opening in 2002, the casino has attracted more than 5 million visitors — an average of approximately 2,900 patrons per day.
Delegates who choose to gamble at the OLG Casino are actually helping the community, as it is a charity casino. Each of the casino’s host municipalities receives five percent of the gross slot machine revenue. The two host municipalities of
Leeds and Thousand Islands and Gananoque equally divide the five percent municipal share of gross slot machine revenue. To date, Leeds and Thousand Islands and Gananoque have shared $16 million in non-tax gaming revenues. These funds are used at the municipalities’ discretion to improve their communities.
For delegates who want a bird’s eye view of the Thousand Islands, the Skydeck is a great attraction. “The Skydeck gives a spectacular view from 400 feet above the islands,” says Van Vierzen.
Located on Hill Island, Lansdowne, Ont., the continuously running elevator takes only 40 seconds to reach the first (glass enclosed) of three observation decks and provides visitors with a spectacular photographic opportunity as they enjoy the panoramic view of the islands and St. Lawrence River stretched out 130 metres. The Skydeck comes complete with a gift shop so delegates can take souvenirs such as sweatshirts, coats, moccasins and original soapstone carvings to the family back home.Some may argue that there’s no better way to see the islands than by boat. That’s why several boat companies in
Kingston, Gananoque, Rockport and Brockville offer boat tours so delegates can get up close and personal with the region.
Gananoque Boat Lines is one company that caters to meeting delegates both for work and pleasure. Located in the heart of the Thousand Islands, the company has two tour group departure locations to serve every group tour need. Its Gananoque departure location is located midway between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, directly off the TransCanada Highway (401); and only minutes from the Thousand Islands International Bridge to New York State and Interstate 81. Its other port is located in Ivy Lea, situated just off the Thousand Islands Parkway next to the Thousand Islands International Bridge to New York State and Interstate 81.
Gananoque Boat Line offers several tours including a three-hour excursion showing delegates all the Thousand Islands and a one-hour tour displaying such sites as Boldt Castle and Zavicon Island.
The company has five vessels that can accommodate up to 385 people.
For companies who want to make a splash with their delegates, charters can be rented out for corporate functions and meetings.
“There are no distractions out on the water,” says Bill Hayes, general manager of Gananoque Boat Line. “And there’s more room on the vessel than there is in a run-of-the-mill conference room. We’re like a floating meeting room.”
Hayes says the boat line can also facilitate buffet lunches or sit-down meals.
For fun and team-building, a dance floor and bar can also be featured on a corporate charter if requested. “We have a lot of repeat business,” says Hayes. “It’s a great way to reward employees or kick off your year.”
The Glen House Resort & Smugglers Glen Golf Club is another popular meeting destination in the Thousand Islands. Located on the banks of the St. Lawrence, just five kilometers west of the Thousand Islands Bridge on the Thousand Islands Parkway, The Glen House Resort offers 12 function rooms of various sizes to accommodate groups from two to 200.
“High-speed wireless Internet throughout the resort allows delegates flexibility to meet formally or casually as they wish,” says David Seal, owner of the Glen House Resort.
Other technological facilities at the Glen House Resort include LCD Projectors, DVD Players, overhead projectors and conference tables.
After the meeting is over, delegates can feast on a choice of four dinner menus each night — The Ranch menu, The Sea, The Garden and The Farm. Fare from each menu include the likes of roast beef, rainbow trout, zucchini parmigiana and chicken cordon bleu.
To burn off the meal, The Glen House Resort & Smugglers Glen Golf Club offers on-site amenities such as indoor and outdoor pools, whirlpools, saunas, a fitness room and water crafts, including a 12-passenger pontoon boat.
For delegates who want to hit the links, the resort’s Smugglers Glen Golf Club was nominated for “Best New Course in Canada” by ‘Golf Digest’, ‘Score Golf’ and ‘GAO Magazine’. This professionally designed 18-hole championship course features bent grass greens and fairways, brilliant white sand bunkers and fabulous vistas from several highly elevated tees. For those who want to bone up on their golf skills, the golf club also offers lessons and a practice range.
The Gananoque Inn & Spa, another popular meeting destination, is located on the picturesque waterfront in Gananoque. The hotel can host up to 130 delegates in its three conference rooms: The Chart Room, St. Lawrence Room and Cedar Knoll. The
St. Lawrence Room is the largest of the meeting rooms and is located on the lower level of the inn. The room is filled with natural light from floor to ceiling with windows that open onto a licensed patio, the lawn, docks and the St. Lawrence River. A private bar service is available and delegates can enjoy the warm weather and head outside to the dockside Adirondack chairs for a breakout area.
After a day of work, delegates can relax at the on-site spa, which offers a range of body and facial treatments as well as esthetic services. The spa uses Fleur’s Artiste de Bonheur products from France. Fleur’s offers a hedonistic approach to well being through polysensual products and treatments. Combinations of flowers and essential oils, along with minerals and Ayurvedic-based techniques will leave delegates energized and relaxed.
Not only does the Thousand Islands region offer fantastic meeting facilities, but it also features wonderful team-building activities. Being such a recreational region, golfing and fishing tournaments are a no-brainer. But for a more unique team-building experience, the Thousand Islands also offers diving expeditions, kayak tours and ATV expeditions for delegates with an adventurous streak.
Vanridge ATV Tours & Trails is located in the heart of the Thousand Islands region just five minutes from Highway 401’s exit 675, between Gananoque and Brockville. For a fun, albeit a muddy team-building adventure, Vanridge ATV Tours & Trails is open year-round. Delegates can navigate a multitude of trails and different levels of terrain for both the experienced and inexperienced drivers. And even if delegates have never driven an ATV before, they can still enjoy this outing. All ATVs are four-by-four automatic so if a delegate can drive a car, he or she can drive an ATV.
Delegates can really dive into the team-building experience with Abucs Scuba Charters. The company, located in Brockville, offers some of the best fresh-water diving in the world for groups up to 20 people. With a fleet of four charter boats, Abucs is one of the largest diving operations in the St. Lawrence. Novices and certified divers are welcome if they dare to dive into the depths of the St. Lawrence and experience the underbelly of the islands.
For those delegates who’d rather stay a float, Frontenac Outfitters Canoe & Kayak Centre also offers team-building events on the St. Lawrence River. Kayak excursions and leisure trips of both the Rideau Canal System and the Thousand Islands National Park provide an exceptional opportunity for kayakers of all levels to build confidence and refine their skills with the company’s certified instructors, while paddling some of Ontario’s most scenic and historic waterways.
Its one-day Kayak Excursion Tour concentrates on the heart of The Thousand Islands as delegates are guided along a scenic and rugged 30-kilometre stretch. The adventure begins west of Gananoque at the company’s family waterfront beach property in the Bateau Channel. Traveling eastwardly, the tour traverses through the islands before ending its day-long trip just past the Canadian Span of the Thousand Islands Bridge near the Village of Ivy Lea, Ontario.
No matter what you do in The Thousand Islands, meeting planners will not be sorry when choosing the region for their meeting destination.
“Why wouldn’t meeting delegates choose Gananoque and the Thousand Islands?” says Van Vierzen. “Not only does this area have facilities to cater to conventions and meetings, but it is also a superb place to relax and rejuvenate. When your team is finished at the table, that’s when the real bonding time begins.”
“Pamper your employees this year by taking them to the one place which escapes the urban sprawl without sacrificing the quality delegates deserve and respect. Fine dining and recreational activities abound are complemented by entertainment and sporting interests. From golf to boat cruises, scuba diving and ATV tours, the Thousand Islands will have your employees and co-workers talking about your conference around the water cooler long after the meeting is adjourned.”