Thousand Islands’ Famous Shore Dinners

View of the St Lawrence Seaway looking over at Canada.
View of the St Lawrence Seaway looking over at Canada.

The 1800 Islands that make up the Thousand Islands between NY and Canada

We’re visiting our third hotel today, the marvelous Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel, and like the other two this fine property is located right next to the water, in the town of Clayton, New York.

Instead of a long lake, we’re right next to the mighty St Lawrence Seaway, and the passing boats include party boats, sleek wooden runabouts, and even sea-going ships filled with iron ore, going all the way to the Atlantic and Montreal.

Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel, in Clayton New York.
Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel, in Clayton New York.

Last night we met a couple who lives on a 148-acre farm with many Amish neighbors.  They are a sanctuary farm, and they rescue farm animals who are in danger and neglected.

They mentioned an example, a farmer who got divorced from his wife and was kicked out of the house, and their family of pigs was not fed for weeks. They rescued the remaining six survivors and now they live on the farm, along with 40-something other cows, donkeys, horses pigs, and goats.

Sunset over the St Lawrence, in the Thousand Islands, NY.
Sunset over St Lawrence River, in the Thousand Islands, NY. Mary Gilman photos.

Jeff is a captain who hosts charters in these waters, and he is a former Navy submarine officer, too. He said one of the most popular activities around here is called the Shore Dinner. You take a boat ride out to one of the islands and you light a big campfire, then you take out a special 3o” steel frying pan.

Along the way, your guests have caught perch, lake trout, muskies, and other fish, and first, the oil is heated up and pork rinds are melted in the pan.  The first course, Jeff said, consists of white bread with these pork rinds, sliced purple onions, and Thousand Islands dressing.

Boldt Castle is a highlight of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay NY
Boldt Castle is a highlight of the Thousand Islands in Alexandria Bay NY, about 25 minutes from the hotel.

Then the fish is fried in the pan, as well as small white potatoes, and corn is boiled in another pan.  Dessert is Canadian French Toast, flavored with Jack Daniels, and cooked in the same pan.  The whole thing is a very important part of the traditions here, and Jeff said he brings fishing charters out to at least 40 of these dinners every season.

This a wonderful place for a vacation and it’s a historic part of the country.  In the days before air conditioning, many people took trains up north and jumped on Steamships that served this region.

A few of the highlights in Clayton are the Antique Boat Museum and Boldt’s Castle.  We walked over to the impressive museum filled with antique rundabouts, racing motorboats, and ancient canoes made by Native Americans of birch bark.

Stairway at Boldt Castle
Stairway at Boldt Castle

Soft Evenings on the St Lawrence

The Thousand Islands Harbor Hotel is a perfect place to enjoy the soft evenings in front of the giant St Lawrence, with a regular flow of speeding motorboats, recreational fishermen, and those giant lumbering ore ships, along with a sprinkling of jetskis buzzing by.

The young hotel staff has embraced the needed social distancing, all wearing masks, and the clientele has been compliant, making this stretch of difficult time more bearable.

Nobody really knows what will happen in the fall, out of 40 weddings booked this spring and summer at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel,  32 of them rescheduled for 2021.

That kind of says a lot about how much people love their local Harbor Hotels, and bodes well for the years ahead in the Thousand Islands when we will all look back at the days of masks and laugh a bitter chuckle.

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