There’s no way to verify this, but I believe I’m one of the first people to get properly lost in Gananoque. That’s quite a feat, considering the eastern Ontario city takes up all seven square kilometers and its southern edge, the St. Lawrence River, should serve as a handy orientation point. It’s late evening, the waxing moon is the only streetlight, and the only sounds for several blocks are the clomps of my heeled sandals as I walk back through the neat grid of Victorian inns and leafy gardens. I decide to cut myself some slack: After all, I’m buzzed with local charm and giddy from a day spent on – and above – the water (more on that later).

About a three-hour drive east of Toronto, Gan (as the locals call it) was established by American Loyalist Joel Stone in the late 1700s as a milling establishment. It was once an important port for raw materials like iron ore, and even had its own railway.

Today, Gananoque is the tourist gateway to the Thousand Islands, a wonderful region comprising riverside communities and 1,864 islands (some much larger than others; all having at least one tree in order to officially count as one). island). The region straddles the Canada-US border, and if you’re “an islander” (someone who lives on one of these coveted rock spots), your neighbor might not share the same citizenship.

Here, water is more than just an undulating boundary, it’s a way of life rooted in quiet ease. And where there is water, there is a rich nautical heritage, as I discover at the Thousand Islands Boat Museum, where I meet Susanne Richter, the general manager.

This month, Richter’s fundraising efforts will culminate with the opening of a $5 million boathouse, the crown jewel of the museum, though that whimsical comparison probably wouldn’t fly with the director. discreet. “This museum should be like your favorite pair of jeans,” says Richter, who has a strict “no dusty display case” policy.

The boats on display, from a dinghy built in 1936 to a simpler skiff handcrafted by a local high school class in 2013, all tell local stories. Some centerpieces float in the water, while others are suspended by a rope in the air. My pick for best boat of all is the 1989 Gar Wood restomod, which looks like something straight out of “Gatsby” (it was built to 1920s specs) and can be taken for a river cruise.

Travelers can take a river cruise aboard the 1989 restomod Gar Wood streamer.

And that’s exactly what we do. With Richter’s husband Bernie as captain, we weave around the islands, passing moored houseboats, magazine-worthy A-frame cabins and Thousand Islands National Park. The Gar Wood leaves for trips around the Thousand Islands several times a day, and unless you order your own craft, this is the best way to explore the area.

While seeing the islands from the water is classic, another great way to admire them is by helicopter. Located a short drive from Gan, 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours offers tours lasting from 10 minutes to an hour. From my vantage point, 5,000 feet in the air, the islands look like a 3D version of a geography textbook, all high contrast blues and greens.

We’ll fly over the famous and self-explanatory Millionaire’s Row and Heart Island, the latter home to one of the most legendary attractions in the Thousand Islands: Boldt Castle, which looks like what you would get if you placed Casa Loma on a private island and give it a cinematic origin story.

The short version: It was built in the early 1900s by hotelier George Boldt (of Waldorf Astoria fame) for his beloved wife, Louise, who died suddenly before the castle was completed. The monument and its surroundings have been abandoned for decades; Looting and vandalism ensued.

Today an ambitious restoration campaign is underway and the castle is open seasonally for tours, but you will need to cross the United States to visit. (The castle is only accessible by water; you can get there with a tour operator from Canada or the United States)

The American border is so close that it seems a shame to go all this way without setting foot in the United States. So the next day I cross the international bridge to upstate New York.

From the border, a 20 minute drive takes me to Clayton, NY, another community in the Thousand Islands region. A charming waterfront town, it’s packed with home decor shops selling Coastal Grandma staples (striped linens, colorful glass tumblers, anchor-patterned pillows), alongside cheesemongers, the Coyote Moon winery Vineyards and the award-winning Saint Lawrence Spirits distillery.

As in Gananoque, boats are frequent. (You’ll also find the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, Gan’s “big sister.”) The town sits on the largest shipping channel on the St. Lawrence, and freighters pass by with slow, deliberate grace. A resident tells me that she “feels” a big ship coming before she sees it.

I see my last vase during a dinner at the Saint Lawrence Spirits Château. The stone building on the outskirts of Clayton was once a nunnery. Now it’s a seafood-focused dining destination with a regal atmosphere. Its stone-wrapped patio sits above the rolling grass that gives way to the twilight-colored river. For happy hour, I can’t resist pairing my amber cocktail with Aperol for the required photo shoot.

As the sun dips between the two islands in front of me – Wolfe Island in Ontario and Grindstone Island in New York – I learn this local fact: the Canadian side boasts the most beautiful sunrises, while the American side gets the best sunsets. But why choose when you can see both in one weekend?

Writer Liz Guber traveled as a guest of RTO 9 (Region 9 Regional Tourism Organization), which did not review or approve this article.