Blockhouse Island

Brockville, Ontario

Public Space

Introduction

Brockville’s Blockhouse Island is a year-round magnet, each day drawing about a thousand people from around the world and of all ages, origins, interests and abilities to indulge in the multitude of delights and activities offered by this gem thrust out into the mighty St. Lawrence River at the eastern end of the world-famous Thousand Islands.

They arrive in many ways: by boat, on foot, driving and biking. They come with their walkers, kayaks, and multi-million dollar boats. But all pause and enjoy, happily yielding to the slowest as they take in the Seaway vessels and tall ships passing by or the waves crashing over the breakwater.

The “island” has evolved enormously over the last two centuries. Citizens, planners, engineers and architects continue to transform the one-time tiny rocky island into a most accessible refuge: free, beautiful, relaxing, spacious, quiet, with regular and special events drawing residents and tourists from miles away.

Events and Festivals

Promotes social and economic activities

Blockhouse is Brockville’s river playground and the focal point of the city’s tourism. This is where the buses disgorge visitors from afar and each year 30,000 take Captain Andy Neeleson’s “Wildcat” or leisure boat tours of the islands. It’s also a key port for Americans and other boaters as they take shelter in the Island’s Tunnel Bay. Hundreds of athletes sing “O Canada” and then race in the annual Canada Day run that has been beginning and ending on Blockhouse for the last 27 years. Many others compete in the decades-old Thousand Islands Triathlon centred on Blockhouse. For the less athletic, an annual vintage car show, the “poker run” of cigarette boats, and hydroplane, sailing and rowing regattas provide glorious spectacles, some less noisy than others, for all tastes.

But it’s the day-to-day Blockhouse activities that bring the multitudes whether to just stroll, picnic, fly kites, drink coffee or have an ice cream cone or a beverage at the Crow’s Nest Bistro, and watch the ships and scuba divers from far and wide exploring the sunken “Robert Gaskin,” in the crystal-clear waters just 500 metres off-shore. You see just the distant horizon down-river, up-river are nearby Group of Seven-like islands and a kilometer to the south are the shores of United States. To the north are the city hall, the busy farmers’ market, the classic court house, the new “aquatarium” and lovely condominiums.

History
Reflects local culture, history, landscape

The rich history of Blockhouse Island is well-documented and displayed on numerous plaques thanks to efforts of local historians. Of note, Canada’s first railway tunnel, various nearby shipwrecks, and the transformation of the island are all celebrated through such features as the restoration of the walk-in tunnel and an old caboose.

The island’s openness invites those of all backgrounds to picnic and play. Groups such as the Brockville Pipe Band (complete with its “Leaving Blockhouse Island” original score) have regular events on Blockhouse. And a key part of local culture is spending romantic evenings watching the sun set or the moon rise. In terms of landscape, Blockhouse is the centrepiece of Brockville’s glorious kilometer-long public waterfront, providing the elemental delight of Brockville: for all the complete enjoyment of the St. Lawrence.

Development

Has design or architectural features that are visually interesting

Blockhouse is the result of great ingenuity of many unsung engineers, architects and others who over time transformed a small rocky outcrop into a substantial, well-treed park with a pedestrian pathway that runs around the island’s perimeter and provides a safe harbour for pleasure boats of all sizes. There was no single Olmstead-like designer who conceived the park. Instead, many have made contributions such as a popular children’s play structure, a Golden Hawk F-86 jet on a tapering concrete pylon far above sauntering pedestrians and public art in the form of two evocative sculptures. The island’s organic design provides captivating and panoramic views as you wander around.

In terms of actual architecture, the harbour services building is a superb demonstration of perfect and tasteful functionality: with its massive exposed timber-trussed roof and clerestory windows, it serves many purposes including bistro, tourism bureau, public washroom, tour boat ticket office and souvenir shop. The other noteworthy architectural feature is the customs house. Built in 1933, the small clapboard building remains perfectly unobtrusive, functional and enduring.

Accessibility

Is accessible by different modes of transportation

The magic of Blockhouse is so easily available to pedestrians, cyclists, boaters, motorists and tour bus passengers. They are all able to readily access Blockhouse Island and two of the city’s bus routes stop just a block away. Blockhouse is the beginning of the Brock Trail, an eight kilometer multi-use pathway and Blockhouse is also on the 1,600 kilometre-long Waterfront Trail, Ontario’s primary cycling route with hundreds of thousands of users each year. The island’s many pathways make it very easy for all to move throughout the site.

Demographics

Universal Appeal

Regardless of your age or interests, Blockhouse will appeal to you. The large children’s playground is popular for the junior crowd, and the smooth pathways work for all whether on a road bike or in a wheelchair. Teenagers also find it a great place to enjoy each other’s company – or to find a job in a number of the tourist-oriented enterprises. But the delights of Blockhouse transcend demographic profiles: the beauty and the fascination with the shipping traffic and many events attract families, couples and individuals – all of whom enjoy together.

Additional Comments

Has a memorable or unique character

Blockhouse’s essential beauty is that, without a boat, a person is able to intimately experience the ever-changing majestic St. Lawrence River and sample the Thousand Islands. Although now connected by a causeway, it’s like an island: surrounded by water, with leeward and windward sides, a far cry from a park surrounded on all sides by buildings. The way the island has changed character – first it was the site of a hospital for immigrants with cholera, then a blockhouse to defend against a feared American invasion, followed by a railway terminus complete with a roundhouse, yielding to a factories, then a yacht club – infuses the site with a rich history key to the development of Brockville.

Map

Google Maps: Blockhouse Island Protects Tunnel Bay

https://www.google.ca/maps/@44.5873128,-75.6820076,17z

  • Tall Ship & Lighthouse

  • Ship Watching

  • Historic Map

  • Map

  • Evocative Sculpture

  • Canada Day run

  • Birds-eye view

  • Strolling and fishing

  • Picnicing

  • Morning Walk

  • Kite Flyer