The waters of Lake Ontario, the last one in the chain of the Great Lakes of North America, flow past Amherst Island into the funnel that becomes the St. Lawrence River with its thousand (actually closer to 1850) islands. (We like to think of our island as the First of the famed Thousand Islands.) The Island itself is shaped somewhat like a squid that is swimming away from Quinte’s Isle (a peninsula) in the southwest to the City of Kingston (Ontario, Canada) on the north-eastern shore of the lake.
Amherst Island and its archipelago (Nut Island, Grape Island and the Brother Islands) cover over 16,500 acres or 66 square kilometres (25.8 square miles). The Island measures over 20 km (12 mi) in length from Bluff Point in the southwest to Amherst Bar in the northeast and over 7 km (4.4 mi) at its widest point across.
The resident population of some four hundred souls swells to close to one thousand during the summer months. The village of Stella nestles around Stella Bay on the protected north central shore. A regular ferry service connects the mainland (from Millhaven) to the village (and the rest of the island).
The shoreline ranges from pebble and sandy beaches to limestone bluffs. Most of the Island is undulating meadow and pasture. However, remnants of mixed deciduous forest and other habitat give shelter and sustenance to deer, owls, and other wildlife.
The Eastern Lake Ontario / Thousand Islands Region
Amherst Island abuts Greater Kingston (Province of Ontario), the hub of the region on the Canadian side. Island residents routinely shop in and participate in the cultural life of Greater Kingston, and many work there. Administratively, however, the island is part of Loyalist Township in the County of Lennox and Addington with the county seat in Napanee, 38 km (24 mi) west of Kingston.
The region is an important crossroads: The Macdonald-Cartier Freeway (the ‘401’) and trunk railway line connecting Toronto and Montreal, as well as the route linking Ottawa with Syracuse and, ultimately, New York and Washington, D.C. traverse the area and offer excellent connections to these centres. Kingston Airport, with scheduled flights to Toronto, can be reached from the Amherst Island ferry in 20 minutes.
Queen’s University in Kingston, rated one of the best in Canada, enriches the academic and intellectual life of the region and has spawned a number of high-tech enterprises. Kingston also hosts major hospitals and correctional institutions. Important manufacturing industries and employers include ALCAN and Dupont in Kingston, KoSa and Bombardier in Millhaven, and Goodyear in Napanee. In the rural areas agriculture — dairy and mixed farming — retains pride of place.
The Canadian Armed Forces are prominent in the region. In addition to the Royal Military College, Kingston hosts a large Forces base, while a major air base is located at Trenton, 100 km (60 mi) west of Kingston.
The Thousand Islands are world famous, thus it is not surprising that the region with its myriad islands, lakes and waterways, its historical towns and cities, its rural charm and forested cottage country plays host to many visitors. The North Channel separating Amherst Island from the Mainland offers some of the finest sailing waters on the Continent. In 1976 Kingston hosted the sailing and boating events of the Summer Olympic Games. The CORK regatta takes place every August in Kingston and can be watched from vantage points on the Island.
Across Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River lies the U.S. portion of the region, with Watertown as its major hub. The two parts of the region are connected by the Thousand Islands Bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River at one of its most scenic spots. A less well-known route links Kingston with Watertown more directly, but takes longer: A ferry connects Kingston with Wolfe Island; a second ferry (does not operate in winter) links the island with Cape Vincent on the U.S. shore of Lake Ontario.
In addition to its prolific bird population, the Island is home to about five hundred deer, as well as raccoons and foxes. Coyotes have also settled here and are the bane of the sheep farmers. Neither groundhogs, skunks, nor blackflies are found on the Island.
The island enjoys warm summers and bracing winters. Lake Ontario exerts a moderating influence during both seasons, giving the island a longer frost-free season than the adjoining mainland (Zone 5), a fact much appreciated by gardeners. The ‘lake effect’ also shifts the onset of spring and the end of fall by as much as two weeks. This effect is most pronounced on the south shore of the Island where the lilac will start blooming when the north shore lilac has finished.
The prevailing winds come from the southwest, across the expanse of the lake. They moderate summer temperatures but give rise to impressive surf in the late fall. The summer breezes also discourage biting insects. Northerly winds prevail during the winter months. Perhaps another ‘lake effect’ is the amount of sunshine the island gets. Often the island basks in sunshine while the mainland is shrouded in clouds.