Classic Postcards of the Famous Thousand Islands

By Mike Smith

     Straddling the Canada-US border along the St. Lawrence River, the Thousand Islands archipelago has been a popular subject for postcard publishers for well over a century. In fact, some of the earliest private postcards in circulation in Canada were of Thousand Islands tourist resorts. And when I say earliest, I’m referring to postcards from the so-called “pioneer era,” which in Canada means from 1895 to 1900. One of the most attractive Thousand Islands postcards in my own collection is a patriotic type published by Canada Railway News, Toronto (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. This artist-drawn postcard of the Thousand Island House was published by Canada Railway News around 1902. 
The card has an artist-drawn image of the Thousand Island House at Alexandria Bay, N.Y. Although I couldn’t find any useful information on this resort, Canada Railway News has an interesting story. According to Wikipedia, its roots go back to the mid-1850s when Thomas Patrick Phelan began selling fruit and newspapers to train passengers between Hamilton and Buffalo. In 1961 Canada Railway News became Cara Operations, which today provides airline catering services and owns restaurant chains such as Swiss Chalet.


Figure 2. This circa 1903 Thousand Islands postcard of Alexandria Bay was published by the Canadian View Card Co. of Toronto
You’ll see another view of Thousand Island House in the background of the Alexandria Bay postcard shown as Figure 2. I was curious about the “On the line of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company” text at the bottom of the card so I did a little internet sleuthing. This steamship company, commonly referred to as the “R. & O.,” was created in 1875 by the merger of the Canadian Navigation Company of Ontario and La Compagnie du Richelieu of Quebec. The R. & O. subsequently acquired the St. Lawrence River Steam Navigation Company (1886), the Northern Navigation Company (1911), the Thousand Island Steamboat Company (1912), and the Niagara Navigation Company (1912). In 1913, the R. & O. was absorbed by Canada Steamship Lines, which is still in operation.


Figure 3. This circa 1907 view card of Heart Island was published by Kingston, Ontario’s Nash Bros. and printed in York, England..


Although acquiring patriotic postcards is my primary goal as a collector, at last year’s Montreal Postcard & Old Paper Show I couldn’t resist purchasing the Thousand Islands view card shown as Figure 3. The scene is so idyllic I originally thought it was a miniature painting. The castle-like structure in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, complete with turrets and an arched bridge connecting it to Heart Island, gives the card a Disney-like quality. Published around 1907 by Kingston, Ontario’s Nash Bros., it has to be one of the most interesting view cards I’ve ever seen of the Thousand Islands. When I looked up the logo and “D.F. & Co.” initials on the back of the card, I learned that its printer was Delittle, Fenwick & Co., York, England. They certainly did an excellent job.


Figure 4. Another circa 1907 view card of Heart Island by Nash Bros., this one showing Boldt Castle.
The Figure 4 postcard, also by Nash Bros., has another Thousand Islands scene but this one shows multiple castle-like structures on Heart Island. With Wikipedia’s help, I learned that American millionaire George C. Boldt, proprietor of the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, built the Rhineland-style castle shown on the card for his wife, Louise. Construction began in 1900 on the six-story, 120-room castle, complete with a drawbridge, Italian gardens and all the trimmings. Tragically, Louise Boldt died of heart failure in 1904, just one month before the castle was completed. Inconsolable, George Boldt immediately stopped the construction and never returned to the island again. If the image on the postcard is accurate (i.e., not retouched), it looks like most of Boldt Castle was completed. And it’s probably safe to say that the smaller castle shown in the Figure 3 postcard was also part of Boldt’s grandiose plan for the Heart Island.


Figure 5. Pullman’s Castle Rest, constructed by the inventor of the Pullman sleeping car, is shown on this circa 1907 card by Nash Bros.


Boldt Castle was not the first such structure that affluent Americans constructed in the Thousand Islands. In 1888, engineer and millionaire industrialist George Pullman, the inventor of the famous Pullman sleeping car, began construction of Pullman’s Castle Rest on what became known as Pullman’s Island. And it just so happens that this impressive structure was also captured on a Nash Bros. postcard (see Figure 5). For the record, all the Nash Bros. cards I’ve showcased in this article were printed by England’s Delittle, Fenwick & Co. I’m definitely going to keep my eyes open for more great stuff by this printer-publisher duo.


Finally, don’t forget to attend the 23rd annual 2018 Eastern Ontario  Postcard  Show on Saturday, September 8, held in Merrickville at the Community Centre, 106 Read Street.

I’ll see you there!