March 26, 2020
Located between northern New York State and southeastern Ontario, the Thousand Islands is a popular travel destination, with endless shorelines, historic castles, and rich history. This unique archipelago of islands is situated at the outlet of Lake Ontario at the head of the Saint Lawrence River and is the newest custom map project conducted in partnership with Uncle Sam Boat Tours’ gift shop, The American Narrows Trading Co.
The project is a bit different for Xplorer Maps’ founders Greg and Chris Robitaille. The brothers often work with public lands conservation groups on map projects but have never partnered with a private tour company. After meeting with Sarah Demo, director of retail at Uncle Sam Boat Tours, at the Smoky Mountain Gift Show in Gatlinburg, Tennessee last year, Greg decided that it would be a unique and interesting project for Xplorer Maps.
“Sarah’s enthusiasm for what we do, her excitement for our hand-drawn artwork, and her determination to produce a unique, custom product that would sell well with visitors was a deciding factor,” according to Greg. The fact that the brothers had grown up around the area and had spent quite a bit of time around the Thousands Islands/Saint Lawrence Seaway area also played a role in the decision. In fact, the Robitaille’s father steered the massive 700+ foot ocean and lake freighters through the Saint Lawrence River as one of his first jobs after high school graduation.
Demo says the partnership is exciting for Uncle Sam Boat Tours, known for its “Famous Two Nation Tour,” a tour that offers 22-mile roundtrip cruises through American and Canadian waters with narration from live tour guides. The company also hosts dinner cruises, craft beer and wine cruises, wedding and private cruises, and more.
“People love the nautical maps and charts,” Demo said. “Xplorer Maps’ illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. It is exactly what our customer base will want.”
Some of the major landmarks that will be featured on the Thousand Islands’ map include the Thousand Islands Bridge, the American Narrows, Boldt Castle, and mysterious Singer Castle.
Built in the early 1900s by millionaire George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, Boldt Castle is the crown jewel in the Thousand Islands. Each year, more than 200,000 tourists who are drawn by its tragic love story and ideal location visit the castle, according to Nate Sourwine, director of digital marketing and sales for Uncle Sam Boat Tours. (The tragic love story was that Boldt was building it for his wife, Louise, who died before it could be completed. He was heartbroken and stopped construction). As one of Americas top historic homes and castles, Boldt will be prominently featured on the map.
Singer Castle, built for Frederick Gilbert Bourne, president of the Singer Corporation (known for its sewing machines), and famous for its secret passageways, will also be a major landmark on the map.
“The Thousand Islands used to be a playground for wealthy families all over the Eastern Seaboard,” Sourwine said, adding that the castles are always a topic on their narrated cruises.
Because the Thousand Islands encompass such a large area, the partners decided to focus on a specific area, which they agreed would be the area from Clayton to Chippewa Bay, New York. This focus will allow Xplorer Maps to dial in with detail and precision on the area, Greg said.
This is helpful for the artist, Chris, who usually creates 40 drawings on each map.
According to Chris, “the most challenging and time-consuming part of creating the map is deciding what goes where. There are always things left on the chopping block. I like to work from a list of most prominent to least prominent to ensure we’re creating the most visually stunning artwork possible. We try to limit the number of illustrations to approximately 40 as experience has taught us that this seems to be our sweet spot with most maps.”
Increasingly, the Robitaille brothers have become drawn to island destinations, Greg said. The brothers are currently working on an Isle Royale map and in the past, have created hand-drawn maps of the San Juan Islands, Sanibel-Captiva, and Zanzibar. “I thought the Thousand Islands project would be a great addition to our line,” Greg said.
Sourwine says that tourists and visitors will be excited when they see the map. “The Thousand Islands are a hidden gem, and Xplorer Maps’ detailed artwork portrays the region beautifully.”
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