gananoque – the gay-way to the 1,000 Islands
locals have embraced and welcomed LGBT visitors
The LGBT community in Canada has quickly gained acceptance throughout the country, allowing many within the rainbow community to feel more comfortable visiting, or even living, in places outside the traditional “gay villages” of metropolitan areas. The small town of Gananoque, Ontario is one such place where the locals have embraced and welcomed LGBT visitors through a variety of initiatives.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport committed a $40,000 Celebrate Ontario 2012 grant to support an LGBT tourism initiative, which Gananoque was the recipient of. Spearheaded by Katherine Christensen, executive director, 1000 Islands Accommodation Partners, and with direction from Travel Gay Canada, the inaugural Summer Solstice Pride in the 1000 Islands took place that year at Joel Stone Park along the beautiful St. Lawrence River.
That year saw an amazing line up of entertainment, including Grammy and Juno-nominated musician Jarvis Church, former Rock Star: INXS contestant Suzie McNeil, and Circus Orange, along with theatre, family events, educational seminars, and more. Add to this the beauty of the surrounding 1,000 Islands with a floating Pride flotilla of decorated boats as a scenic backdrop, and the stage is set for a gay ole time.
That’s fairly impressive considering Gananoque only has a population of just over 5,000 year-round residents. However, that number jumps considerably in the peak summer travel period, as it is central to several larger cities in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa), and the United States (New York, Boston, Philadelphia). Dubbed the “Gateway to the 1,000 Islands”, it’s ideally located along the 401 Highway, a short drive from the Thousand Islands Bridge, which crosses into the United States.
One of the best ways to get a feel for this wonderful phenomenon is to climb aboard one of the regularly scheduled boat cruises operated by Gananoque Boat Lines. The excursion includes a journey along the area known as Millionaire’s Row to view some of the elegant mansions, a commentary on the tales of the sunken shipwrecks lying at the bottom of the St. Lawrence River, and an opportunity to sail beneath the 1,000 Islands International Bridge connecting Canada and the United States. There are also evening cruises with music, dining, and cocktails to experience the magic of the 1,000 Islands at night.
Operating for more than 60 years, 300,000 visitors board Gananoque Boat Lines boats annually, with daily cruises ranging from one-hour jaunts to five-hour excursions. The longer cruises include a visit to Boldt Castle on Heart Island, which was built in the early 1900s by millionaire George C. Boldt (owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City), for his wife Louise who tragically died in 1904 before its completion. For 73 years the structure remained untouched, until in 1977 the 1,000 Island Bridge Authority assumed ownership of Heart Island with the understanding that they would keep restoring the Island. Today Boldt Castle is open to the public from May to October, and is considered one of the top attractions in the area.
Back on land, there’s plenty to see and do in and around Gananoque. The quaint town is lined with several restaurants, cafes, lounges, and independent retailers. Check out Panache Bakery for breakfast, and the Socialist Pig is a great place to hang out any time of day, chatting over coffee or indulging in their magnificent brunch. The Stonewater Pub is perfect for evening cocktails, as is the Riverside Bar & Grill, which often has a DJ or live music. Head over to Sweet 101 for a huge selection of candy treats and scoops of Kawartha Lakes Dairy Ice Cream, or Nana Splits for a variety of decadent desserts. The Lobster Trap, Maple Leaf Restaurant, Riva, and Purple House Café, are also highly recommended by locals. The Gananoque Brewing Company is another popular local hangout located in the old bell tower, and offering music on weekends.
There’s also the Thousand Islands Playhouse, which houses two separate theatre spaces - The Springer Theatre and The Firehall Theatre. This summer sees the world premiere of Bed and Breakfast, a heartfelt comedy about “being out” in small town Ontario, skeletons in the closet, and finding a place to call home. When Brett inherits the family home, he and Drew move out of quick-paced Toronto to set up a B&B in a quiet little tourist town, but will these big city boys face friction in their new community?
Get In The Know
Accommodation Partners -
accommodations, and attractions - www.1000islandstourism.ca
Canadian Tourism Site - www.travel1000islands.ca
US Tourism Site -
Travel Gay Canada -
Gananoque Boat Lines - 1-888-717-4837,
Gananoque Boat Lines will be welcoming its 11,000,000th customer aboard a tour sometime this season, and one unsuspecting passenger will be awarded with $11,000, as well as an island getaway for a week in the heart of the 1,000 Islands.
1000 Islands Helicopters
Thousand Islands Playhouse
9 King Street East,
Gananoque Inn & Spa
550 Stone Street South,
Quality Inn & Suites
650 King Street East,
Colonial Resort and Spa
780 King Street West,
Trinity House Inn
90 Stone St. South,
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