Lost ships of the 1000 Islands cruise

The St. Lawrence River cuts into the heart of North America, connecting the Atlantic to the Great Lakes. Explorers and kings, immigrants and rumrunners have all sailed its waters. Wars have been fought over it. Nineteenth century industrial barons built fabulous castles on its famous 1000 Islands. And over the last 400 years, countless ships have torn hull, ripped mast and settled low on the bottom of the mighty river.

Just off the historic town of Gananoque, near Kingston and half way between Toronto and Montreal, is a unique underwater archaeological site, an area strewn with shipwrecks both historic and contemporary. Here the river is deep and wide, with many islands to negotiate, and many chances for an unwary captain to make a miscalculation — or for a pirate to seize opportunity.

Plying the island-speckled waters, Gananoque Boat Line offers passengers a feast for the senses: the lovelorn Boldt Castle, postcard perfect island escapes, wheeling birds and million-dollar yachts. But the real story of the St. Lawrence is hidden under the waves. The boat line’s specially equipped vessels offer a spectacle few ever see without a wetsuit and a diving licence — the Lost Ships of the 1000 Islands Cruise.

Using cutting edge side sonar technology, meticulously researched interpretation, exclusive underwater video footage and historical photos, the 2.5-hour Lost Ships Cruise explores a number of wrecks, from the ice-ravaged Iroquois (sunk in 1763) to the pillaged Sir Robert Peel, an 1838 victim of pirate Bill Johnston. Some underwater sites are notoriously dangerous: the Roy A. Jodrey, a modern steel freighter that ran aground in 1974, lies in deep fast-moving waters that have claimed the lives of many divers.

Gananoque Boat Line ships leave from the town pier 22 times a day during the summer months. The comfortable boats offer food and beverage services, plenty of space for enjoying the scenery no matter the weather, and a dedicated crew ready to answer questions. Once over a wreck, the GPS system kicks in, illuminating large video screens. Passengers see exactly what lies beneath, from the delicate ribs of an 18th-century battleship to the masts of a scuttled schooner.

Though it’s admittedly difficult to tear your attention away from the sumptuous mansions and massive commercial freighters of the 1000 Islands, the silent wrecks resting just out of sight offer alternative evidence of an era of war, crime, terror and opulence.

Photo Boldt Castle ©iStockphoto.com/ Cindy Piper

Article courtesy of the Canadian Tourism Commission. The text has been modified from the original.