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Visiting the Waters off of Little Zavikon Island, in or Close to New York's Thousand Islands: An Intriguing Boundary

Updated on January 13, 2018
State Flag of New York
State Flag of New York | Source
Zavikon Bridge
Zavikon Bridge | Source

The seeming blurring of fiction and reality?

Maps and sources may vary, but Little Zavikon Island, in the St. Lawrence River, near Alexandria Bay, New York, runs very close to the international boundary between the United States and Canada — here, New York State and Ontario Province. I have supplied a photo, above, showing Little Zavikon Island to the right of the picture; it is separated by a bridge — now more than 100 years old — which links Little Zavikon to another island, known simply as Zavikon.

I have also supplied a picture, below, dating from over 100 years ago, which purportedly depicts the bridge as an international structure between the two islands and national jurisdictions.

The word 'purportedly' is used here, because some Online maps show Little Zavikon as being — only just — in Canada, rather than in the United States. But then, in my experience, some Online maps can be unreliable; for example, I myself have walked down a street in Germany — with the street name and signs in German and with map support — which an Online map would assure travellers is supposedly in The Netherlands, situated nearby.

So if there is some doubt as to whether uninhabited, tree-covered Little Zavikon is actually in the United States, it is most certainly very close to the border between New York and Ontario. Hence the part of the title: ' — or close to — New York's Thousand Islands'.

There are in fact approximately 1800 islands in the Thousand Islands region, shared between New York and Ontario in the St. Lawrence River, adjoining Lake Ontario (also shared between New York and the Province of Ontario). The U.S. - Canadian border, in history intermittently the scene of sanguinary events (especially during the War of 1812), winds invisibly through the 1,800 or so islands, and its peaceful scenes have long earned it the description 'The most peaceful border in the world'.

There is no sense, therefore, that Little Zavikon Island is now the subject of significant international dispute. Indeed, it, together with Zavikon Island, was once a U.S. Congressman's backyard: for years: Congressman Robert F. Rich (1883-1968)(1) owned the islands.

The Zavikon Islands are still privately owned — today, by a family of Dutch extraction — and so to land on the islands one needs a personal invitation. However, the waters off the Zavikon Islands are very frequently sailed by cruise boats, including ones which depart from Alexandria Bay, NY, Rockport, ON and Gananoque, ON. (I myself departed the shore of the St. Lawrence from Alexandria Bay — or 'Alex Bay', as locals call it.)

The Dutch family has added to the American and Canadian flags at each end of the bridge linking the Zavikon Islands a Dutch flag, situated in the centre of the bridge. Indeed, in a motion of undoubted patriotism, the family has made it a large flag, with elongated proportions.

Problematic? No, not really, except that if this were Europe and an elongated Dutch flag were flown, it must be noted that within the European Union a Dutch flag is often flown together with other flags including that of Luxembourg, which, like the Dutch, consists of horizontal stripes of red, white and blue. (The Luxembourg flag's blue stripe is a little paler than that of The Netherlands.) The fact is that, while an elongated Dutch flag would not be regarded as problematic in North America, in Europe the convention is that the Luxembourg flag (not the Dutch one) is elongated.

So: a hint of a dream of some Dutch or even Luxembourg Antilles in the St. Lawrence, off New York?

Fiction indeed, but maybe not so implausible as it may seem. As regards The Netherlands in North America, New York City was once called 'New Amsterdam'; and a number of the Caribbean Islands still retain Dutch links. (Interestingly, In Ottawa, Canada's Capital, a hospital ward was declared to be Dutch territory when Princess Margriet of The Netherlands was born during World War Two, when the Dutch Royal Family were in exile.)

As regards Luxembourg, though a small, land-locked country, it actually has a large maritime register! The port of Mertert on the Moselle River is officially the home port of not a few vessels on the high seas, registered in Luxembourg for tax reasons by their owners.

A legal fiction, then?

It all comes back to the nature of fiction and reality.

If one happens to live on one of the 1800 or so Thousand Islands, through which the US-Canada border invisibly winds, the reality must seem to be islands and a lot of water.

September 26, 2017


(1) Republican Congressman Robert F. Rich, who served Pennsylvania districts in the House of Representatives from 1929 to 1943 and then again from 1945 to 1951, was known for his strong support for General Douglas MacArthur's Presidential ambitions; interestingly, during much of Representative Rich's Congressional service, General MacArthur, serving overseas, did not visit the Continental United States.

Zavikon Bridge, image created c. 1910
Zavikon Bridge, image created c. 1910 | Source
Pennsylvania Congressman Robert F. Rich
Pennsylvania Congressman Robert F. Rich | Source

Also worth seeing

Heart Island, New York in the Thousand Islands, has Boldt Castle, dating from 1904, where boat tours from Alexandria Bay and elsewhere stop.

Skydeck, the 1000 Islands Tower, Hill Island, Ontario, Canada (distance by road from Alexandria Bay: 17.6 kilometres) with very impressive views of the Thousand Islands, is situated very close to the US-Canada border after the Customs and Immigration station where the I-81 in the US becomes Hwy. 137 in Canada.

Map of Thousand Islands region
Map of Thousand Islands region | Source

How to get there

From Alexandria Bay, boat cruises serve the waters off Little Zavikon and many of the other Thousand Islands (including Heart Island, on which Boldt Castle is situated). Alexandria Bay may be approached along Route 12 from Interstate 81. By air, the airport at Watertown, NY (distance from Alexandria Bay: 50 kilometres) offers intermittent air services. Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport, at Kingston, Ontario (distance from Alexandia Bay: 80.9 kilometers) is served by Air Canada, offering scheduled flights to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide flight connections. Car rental is available from Kingston/Norman Rogers Airport. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

Of interest

The Thousand Islands: Unforgettable
The Thousand Islands: Unforgettable

This book is hard to put down; its photography is excellent and it covers a wide range of the Thousand Islands area on both sides of the US-Canada border.



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