Sure, people say there are a thousand islands along the St. Lawrence Seaway, but is there any way to really be sure? Rising above the St. Lawrence River, this Hill Island, Ontario, observation tower has answered this question for many tourists to the Thousand Islands region of Canada for more than half a century.
The completion of Seattle’s Space Needle for the 1962 World’s Fair led to a boom in observation tower construction across American and Canadian cities throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the Thousand Islands region of Canada, long a resort and summer vacation destination, a Czech entrepreneur named John David was inspired to create a tourist attraction of his own.
The concrete structure took over a year to complete and was opened to the public on June 15, 1965. At the time of its opening, it had the smallest width-to-height ratio of any building in the world. The tower stands more than 400 feet tall (130 meters), and offers stellar views of hundreds of islands and two countries, with a distinctive spiral staircase pattern that wraps around it (which is not used by the public). The tower contains three observation decks, and it takes about 40 seconds by elevator to reach the top.
After David, Hill Island local, Leonard Stratford, owned the tower for nearly 30 years. When it came time for him to retire in 2011, he sold the tower to Konrad and Heidi Linckh, who had immigrated to Canada from Düsseldorf, Germany, after falling in love with the area on their honeymoon.
Although their bid for the tower was under the asking price even after sinking their life savings into the project, their ambition and desire to keep the tower open as a public tourist attraction convinced Leonard that they were the best people to be entrusted with the operation.
Even now, visitors to the tower will be greeted by a tour guide to point out highlights of the area and to welcome them to the Thousand Islands.
Know Before You Go
The tower is open rain or shine. Reservations are recommended, but not necessary. The tower is located in Canada, so any visitors arriving from the U.S. will need a passport for the border crossing.