"Garden Island grew from merely a dot in the wilderness to be the home of hundreds - it made a bit of history all its own and now is resting. "
By Marion Calvin Boyd
These words written by Marion Calvin Boyd in March 1923 were found in a safe in the office on Garden Island belonging to her grandfather Hiram A. Calvin 45 years after they were penned.
Boyd's since published diary, The Story of Garden Island, paints a picture of a booming island of industry, a 19th century timber and shipbuilding empire that had a post office, a general store, and even its own currency. The 55-acre island was once home to 750 residents.
Today it is indeed resting on the private island between Kingston and Wolfe Island, the largest of the Thousand Islands. But the ghosts of another era on Garden Island remain scuttled in its graveyard bays.
Now descendants of the man who made it a vibrant village over a century ago are the guardians of Garden Island. It's a bit of a ghost island, the living legacy of its patriarch, a prosperous American-born industrialist turned Canadian politician who made his mark here as "The Governor of Garden Island."
Dileno Dexter Calvin, or D.D. Calvin as he was known, turned this pastoral island into one of the largest timber and shipbuilding business firms in Canada with branch offices around the world.
"It's unique because it hasn't changed," said Hank Connell, a great great maternal grandson of D.D. Calvin during a tour around the island's sleepy shores last summer. "The pressures of change have certainly changed Wolfe Island a lot. Because it's private and possibly because of it being inaccessible, Garden Island remains the same."
But reminders of the former village still stand, including a sail loft and the post office. Its residents, including caretakers John d'Esterre and wife Meg Calvin, the great great granddaughter of D.D. Calvin, carry on the legacy of Garden Island. They have been the caretakers since the mid 1950s and stay year-round.
Today the island is still owned by The Garden Island Ltd. Its 17 cottages are used as vacation properties. The post office is a museum and the sail loft is used as a party room for summer residents.
D.D. Calvin, a Vermont native and businessman from Clayton N.Y, moved to Canada to start a timber business in 1836.
The workers included French Canadians, Scots, Irish Americans and Natives. They transported timber on rafts down the River to Quebec City where it was loaded onto vessels destined for ports overseas.
Calvin purchased the entire island in 1862 and expanded the company community. A sail loft for the making and repairing of expansive sails was erected with a lighthouse on top. There was a sawmill, blacksmith shop, and horse stables. There were three streets: Broadway, Fancy Street and Blanchette Avenue. Homes were built to accommodate the Calvins and workers.
"There were more people living on Garden Island than Wolfe Island at the time," said Connell. The population swelled to 750 in the mid-1800's.
The Calvin Company issued its own money in denominations ranging from five cents to five dollars that employees could spend at the island's general store.
It is not known why Garden Island is so named though earlier French settlers called it something less fragrant sounding: "Isle aux Cochons" or Pig Island.
Calvin, a twice widowed man who married a third wife and had 14 children, became a British citizen in 1845. He was elected as the Reeve when the community was incorporated as a village. He was a staunch Conservative and a close friend of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. Calvin was elected in the provincial election in 1868 and, except for two years, remained in politics until 1883.
A convert to the Baptist Church, Calvin declared Garden Island a prohibition village and banned alcohol.
Schooners, steamboats, tugboats, paddle-wheelers, and ships were built here. The largest ship of the fleet was an ocean-going vessel, The Garden Island, launched in 1877.
Calvin died at the age of 86 on Garden Island in May 1884, leaving an estate valued at over $324,000. A large flotilla of boats were part of the funeral procession that took the departed back to Clayton, N.Y., for burial in the same cemetery as his mother and first wife.
The First World War and the cease of timber rafting on the River brought an end to Garden Island operations. The population dwindled to four residents by 1921. Village status was renounced and Garden Island was placed under the Township of Wolfe Island. The Wolfe Island ferry made regular stops at the Garden Island pier until service ended in 1976.
Founders of this one-time isle of industry are fondly remembered by descendants of D.D. Calvin while The Maritime Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston features a display on Garden Island.
Today Calvin's great great grandson Connell lives on a waterfront hobby farm called Sugar Woods Farm where he has started his own enterprise: a winery. A membership director of the Wolfe Island historical society, Connell enjoys learning about his ancestors on neighbouring Garden Island.
"I used to love coming here as a kid," said Connell, a retired high school teacher and former junior sailing champion who grew up in Kingston and took up permanent residence on Wolfe Island in 1972. "I'm always at home on the water."
"I like the space," said Connell, steering his Limestone off the shores of Kingston. "You put your boat in the water in the spring and you say: 'Oh boy, am I ever glad I live here."
By Kim Lunman, email@example.com
Kim Lunman is the owner and publisher of Island Life Magazine (http://www.islandlifemag.ca) based in Brockville, Ontario. Kim's Island Life magazine, was distributed in May in local newspapers in eastern Ontario and northern New York. A special Islander Edition was on sale in local book stores in both the United States and Canada. This winter she will be putting together the 2012 edition. As always, we continue to look forward to her monthly contributions to TI Life.