By Chuck Petrie
Standing on the deck of the car ferry, watching the skyline of Kingston, Ontario, recede in the distance, the most noticeable feature I see on the horizon is Fort Henry. Perched on top of a hill on prominent Point Henry, the fort was built by the British after the War of 1812, supposedly to prevent marauding Americans from invading Canada. I ask fellow Yankee Steve Smith, who is standing on the deck with me and admiring the fortifications, whether an early-19th-century American man-o'-war could elevate its cannons high enough to bombard the towering stone ramparts.
"Doubt it," says Steve, editor of The Retriever Journal and a student of military history. "An attack from Lake Ontario would have been a disaster. The cannons on the south ramparts would have ripped an American fleet apart. But the British weren't expecting an assault from the lake. That's why they placed most of their cannons on the north walls, where they expected we would flank the fort and attack by land." Interesting. This region was once a staging area for British troops defending colonial Canada. Today it's a staging area for thousands of waterfowl, and that's why a handful of us Americans are here, to invade Ontario's Wolfe Island, the largest of the fabled Thousand Islands, in our own flanking maneuver on huge flocks of mallards, black ducks, and teal.
The St. Lawrence River begins here, on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where the Great Lakes' outflow pours toward the Atlantic, squeezing itself around a maze of islands. The famous Thousand Island region begins here, too, and runs some 40 miles downstream, where, in some spots, the river spans a channel up to seven miles wide. The northern bank lies in the province of Ontario, the southern bank in the state of New York. Scattered in between are more than 1,800 islands, some considered large and miles in length, others only small patches of bedrock big enough to accommodate a duck blind. The islands, depending on which side of the border they lie, are either in Canadian or U.S. waters.