The largest of the 1000 Islands is a
short ferry ride from downtown Kingston
The largest of the famed Thousand Islands group, Wolfe Island lies just offshore from the Kingston waterfront. It marks the end of Lake Ontario and the beginning of the St. Lawrence River.
The main traffic corridor of the St. Lawrence Seaway system runs to the south of the island and on the other side of that lies the State of New York.
A popular day trip amongst locals, tourism to the island continues to increase as it offers a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city to a more relaxed, serene atmosphere and is only a short ferry ride away. To top it off, the ferry ride to and from Wolfe Island from the Kingston waterfront is absolutely free for both cars and passengers! A great place to spend a day or two Wolfe Island is famed for its breath-taking sunsets, sunrises and marvelously clear nighttime skies.
At just under 30 kilometes (18 miles) in length and 10 kilometes (6 miles) at its widest it is indeed quite a large island and was in fact called "Ganounkouesnot", which roughly means "Long Island Standing Up", by the original Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nations tribe that inhabited the general area.
The island was first "discovered" by Samuel de Champlain in 1615 and ownership of the island was eventually granted to the famed French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1675. The French themselves called the island: "Grand Isle". La Salle eventually sold his interest in the island and it passed through various families, many of whose descendants still reside on the island today.
In 1792 the island was formally called Wolfe Island in honour of General James Wolfe, fallen military hero and conqueror of Quebec and a key figure in the English takeover of New France.
For the most part the island was covered in dense forest with little human settlement and was mainly utilized as a hunting ground. Whatever settlement did occur was in the general area of present day Marysville, even today the only community of any significance located on the island.
After the American Revolution in 1776 many United Empire Loyalists flocked to the area and began clearing it and establishing farms. A number of settlements sprang up, all that have long since disappeared. Today there are only about 1200 permanent residents on the island with 400 of those living in Marysville. The population does however swell up significantly in the summer months, as there are numerous cottages scattered around the long coastlines. For the most part the interior of the island remains farmland and sparsely populated.
In 1998 Wolfe Island became part of the newly created Township of Frontenac Islands. The township was formed by the amalgamation of Wolfe Island and nearby Howe Island along with a number of other smaller islands at the end of Lake Ontario.
Location of Wolfe Island
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Getting to Wolfe Island:
There is no land link (bridge) linking the island to the mainland (on either the Canadian or American side) and thus being an island the only way to reach it is by boat. Fortunately there is regular ferry service from both the Canadian and American sides.
The 61-metre (200 feet) long Wolfe Islander III operates from a terminal in downtown Kingston to Marysville and runs approximately every hour from early in the morning until late at night. It crosses the St. Lawrence River over to the island in 20 minutes. It takes both vehicles and passengers and has a capacity of 55 cars and 330 passengers. There is absolutely no charge for this service as it is completely subsidized by the Province of Ontario. For more information as to departure times from both Kingston and Wolfe Island visit: Wolfe Islander III Ferry
The ferry from Horne's Point (aka Alexandria Point) on the island over to Cape Vincent on the American mainland is seasonal and operates from May to October. The crossing over the St. Lawrence is much shorter and thus the ferry is much smaller. Known as Horne's Ferry it is a private service and is owned and operated by descendants of the first license holder. One of a few international border crossings operated by the private sector it has been in operation since 1802. Please note that since this is a private service there is a fee for this ferry. Visit: www.hornesferry.com
for more information.
There is also a small cable ferry with a capacity of 3 cars operating seasonally between Wolfe Island and nearby Simcoe Island. The ferry operates on demand and a small fare is charged for the short 10- minute journey. Visit http://municipality.frontenacislands.on.ca/?q=ferries
for more information.
Wolfe Island Attractions and Activities
The small town of Marysville is the only real community of any size on the whole of Wolfe Island. As such it is the place where the ferry docks and it has the only "shopping" facilities on the island.
Originally founded in 1858 it now has a full-time population of about 400 people. Don't expect to spend much time here however as there really isn't much here except for the landmark General Wolfe Hotel (built in 1860), a couple of restaurants, the islands grocery store and a seasonally operated tourist information centre and Old House Museum.
Most of the buildings are constructed of limestone quarried locally from the Kingston area and the Wolfe Island Town Hall has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Another landmark building is the Sacred Heart of Mary Church, it is the largest church in the Thousand islands and its steeple dominates Marysville.
If you are not simply passing through the island and are planning to spend a little more time here you are encouraged to buy all your snacks and refreshments in Marysville, as there is nothing else on the island.
As soon as you leave the ferry I would also encourage you to visit the tourist information office (if open), on the main street of Marysville and pickup any relevant maps, bike routes and/or any other information you require, as this is the only place on the island to do it.
Big Sandy Bay Management Area
Located on the southwest portion of the island many consider this 404-hectare (998 acre) environmentally sensitive area to be the highlight of Wolfe Island. With rare vegetation, wetlands full of birds and one of the best beaches in Ontario this day-use area of government owned land is one of the main reasons visitors make the journey over to Wolfe Island.
Ecologically sensitive, the beach is only open to the public for swimming from June – September (trust me you don't really want to be in Lake Ontario at any other time anyway as it is COLD). Access to the beach is by walking down a 1.3 kilometre (.8 mile) trail through woodlands and wetlands that contain rare flora and fauna. Walking is the only option as bikes and other vehicles are forbidden due to the sensitive nature of the beach and surrounding sand dunes.
Along the way visitors may be lucky enough to spot some of the wildlife that call the area home including:
- Numerous bird species
Once on the beach visitors are rewarded with one of the jewels of the Kingston area. The unspoiled secluded beach consists of numerous coloured layers of sand and distinctive sand dunes. An almost constant breeze is sure to cool one off on a hot summer day and the quiet, serene and peaceful atmosphere make it a great place to relax and enjoy nature at its finest. The beach is family-friendly and safe and a great place for swimming but please note that there are no services in the Big Sandy Bay Management area and visitors must bring their own refreshments and snacks to this secluded location. There are also no garbage facilities so all trash must be removed when you leave.
Please note that there is an entrance fee per person to enter the Big Sandy Bay Management Area but it is highly recommended that if you do happen to visit Wolfe Island you definitely take the opportunity to visit this wonderful natural area.
For more information visit: www.bigsandybay.ca
Cycling on Wolfe Island has become an extremely popular activity in recent years and the local tourism office has been actively promoting the island as a cycling destination by establishing 3 clearly marked routes. You will find that many of the visitors to the island are in fact cycling enthusiasts and this is the main reason for their visit.
Each route is colour-coded and signs are posted along the way to ensure cyclists stay on the proper route. Maps of the routes can be found at both the tourism kiosk in the Kingston ferry terminal and at the tourist information office in Marysville which is easily spotted as soon as you get off the ferry. The routes are as follows:
- The Foot
The longest route on the island at 58 kilometres (35 miles) you head to the eastern end of the island and back passing through quiet rural areas. Fairly difficult to complete as for much of the route you will be fighting the strong winds that occur frequently on the island. This route is marked with red signs.
- Button Bay
An easy to accomplish route at 28 kilometres (17 miles) you head out from Marysville towards Alexandria Point and Button Bay. You will see some beautiful scenery and bird watching enthusiasts are usually well rewarded as they will have a chance to encounter many species. This route is marked with blue signs.
- The Head
Heading west from Marysville this is the shortest route on the island at 18 kilometres (11 miles). Cyclists are rewarded with great views of the City of Kingston and the nearby Horseshoe and Simcoe Islands. There are also great bird watching opportunities along this route that is marked with yellow signs.
- Big Sandy Bay Extension
There is also a fourth route marked with green signs that leads to Big Sandy Bay Management Area. It is not a route in itself but an extension or offshoot of the Button Bay route and is about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) in length. This is probably the most popular route on the island as the Big Sandy Bay Management area is without a doubt the most popular destination on Wolfe Island.
While cycling is extremely popular please note that quite a bit of the above routes are along un-paved surfaces so it is recommended that you have some sort of mountain bike. Even then cycling can sometimes get very difficult. Also note that Wolfe Island is known for its winds (thus the huge windmill farms) so at many times you will be cycling against strong headwinds.
In the summer months you will also see many cyclists on the ferry who are just crossing Wolfe Island on route to the United States as there is a very long and popular route known as the Seaway Trail accessed at the Horne's Ferry disembarkation point.
The waters just offshore of Wolfe Island are an angler's paradise! There is one caveat however, fishing from on-shore is usually very difficult as most waterfront property is privately owned and you would need permission to access it. It is recommended that if you plan on fishing in the waters just offshore that you have access to a boat.
If you do have a boat however, you will find that you will catch species that frequent both Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Fish species that can be landed include:
- Smallmouth Bass
- Northern Pike
- Muskellunge (Muskie)
- Lake Trout
- Brown Trout
- Rainbow Trout
Wolfe Island also plays host to a Smallmouth Bass Tournament on the first weekend of the season in late June.
Wolfe Island has long been known as a hunting destination as it was one of the favoured hunting grounds of local First Nations tribes prior to European contact. Surrounded by wetlands, its location at the intersection of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River places it right in the middle of one of the main North American bird migration routes. As such, it has long been known as a waterfowl-hunting mecca.
It should be noted that today while hunting is still a popular activity on the island there are no public hunting areas. Hunters must receive written permission from private landholders, become part of a guided hunt or lease some land. This also applies to hunters hunting for waterfowl offshore in boats.
If you do wish to hunt on Wolfe Island, hunting opportunities for the following species exist:
- Wild Turkey
- White-tailed deer (bow only)
- Red Partridge
Hunting is still a very popular activity on the island and avid hunters are encouraged to seek permission or employ the services of one of the local hunting outfitters as they usually will be well rewarded.
As previously mentioned the island falls along one of the main bird migration routes on the continent. As such, depending upon the time of year, a huge influx of species can be found in the various habitats and this has made the island one of the provinces premier destinations for bird watching. Over 200 species have been documented on the island and it has been recognized as one of the most important birding areas in Canada. Species to be seen include:
Wolfe Island Corn Maze
- Snowy Owls
- Wild Turkey
This private attraction was opened in 2001 and has proven to be one of the most popular fall destinations on the island. Located on a 20-hecatre (50 acre) farm the attraction's main feature is 2 mazes carved from cornfields. Visitors are encouraged to get "lost" in the maze in this family friendly environment.
Open from August 1st – early November the owners have recently added other attractions and activities to encourage new and repeat visitors including:
- Nighttime maze experience
- Wind turbine exhibit
- Refreshment area
- Pumpkin carving area
- Croquet field
- Volleyball court
Farm experience (where visitors can interact with the farm animals such as: goats, rabbits, sheep)
For more information visit: http://www.wolfeisland.com/maze/
or Phone: 613-385-1998
The numerous windmills to be seen may also intrigue many visitors to the island. Taking advantage of the windy conditions that are frequently present in 2009 a large wind farm of 86 windmills was constructed on the western half of Wolfe Island, making it the largest wind farm in Canada at the time of its construction.
Easily viewed from the Kingston waterfront these 125 metre (410 foot) behemoths are an even more impressive sight when viewed up close. The farm has become somewhat of a tourist attraction in its own right but I presume the lure of this attraction will decrease somewhat as time goes by as wind farms become a more common sight on the provincial landscape.
Wolfe Island Music Festival
This small but popular music festival continues to grow each year. Featuring a combination of local and other popular musical groups it features music from various genres and occurs for 2 days every August.
The festival has camping accommodations on site and also features a vendor's village where local merchants and artists can sell their merchandise, crafts and artwork.
Please note that the camping facilities are limited and sell out very quickly. If you are planning to attend the festival and wish to camp on site it is highly recommended that you book early. For more information about camping or the Wolfe Island Music Festival in general visit: www.wolfeislandmusicfestival.com
Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival
A unique festival that celebrates crime mystery writers and readers it is held annually on the island as it was the birthplace and family home of Canada's first crime writer: Grant Allan, and the festival actually takes place on land donated by the Allan family. In all, Allan published 40 novels and is credited with being the creator of many now popular crime novel plotlines.
The one-day festival happens every August and draws crime and mystery writers and readers from across the world and features:
- Author readings
For more information visit: www.sceneofthecrime.ca
Wolfe island has always been a popular vacation spot for those wising to spend time in a relaxed, quiet atmosphere and the island has a number of facilities for those wishing to stay for more than a day. Accommodations include:
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