Brockville's vibrant railway tunnel (photo: George Fischer)

Five Unique Things to Do on a Trip Along the St. Lawrence River

By Kellie Davenport

Known as the “river without end,” the mighty St. Lawrence is dotted with quaint towns, big cities and outdoorsy adventures.

Named after War of 1812 hero Sir Isaac Brock, this riverside town is home to Canada’s first railway tunnel. The underground tracks were completed in 1860 and stretch from the banks of the river to the downtown core. An enduring example of the country’s pre-Confederation industrial heritage, the tunnel was originally built for the Brockville and Ottawa Railway, but Was later acquired by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today, the defunct Tracks form part of the Brock Trail, a 12-km recreational pathway. A technicolour light display and accompanying soundtrack make the tunnel a fun pit stop for history buffs and families alike.

Head downstream to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and you’ll be delighted by a visit to the Magdalen Islands. The isolated archipelago, which is part of Quebec but closer to P.E.I., is often called the best kept secret of the Maritimes. Resident Madelinots proudly maintain and share their Acadian heritage with visitors. Say a prayer at North America’s second-largest wooden church in Lavernière; sample traditional smoked herring at Le Fumoir d’Antan (literally “smokehouse of yesteryear”); or spend the night at Domaine du Vieux Couvent, a restored 20th-century nunnery. 

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Small brick castle jutting out from an island with lake St. Lawrence River water surrounding it
The Thousand Islands’ Boldt Castle (photo: Vladone/iStock)

The islands are a series of Precambrian rock outcroppings that stretch along the river down into New York. For a bird’s-eye view, take the elevator up the 130-metre-high 1000 Islands Tower. Another noteworthy sight: Boldt Castle on Heart Island. In 1899, NYC hotelier George Boldt bought an island and had it painstakingly reshaped to look like a heart—in tribute to his wife, Louise. The lovestruck millionaire also began work on a whoppingly expensive medieval-style castle. When Louise died in 1904, Boldt Abandoned the unfinished structure. Years later, conservationists took up his cause and finished the castle, which is now open to the public. 

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Enjoy a true river experience aboard this spa sur l’eau (floating spa) on a historic ferry. Docked in the Old Port of Montreal, Bota Bota boasts five decks, a floating terrasse and garden space. Relax with a Swedish massage or body scrub while the river’s current lulls you to a Zen-like calm. For a more invigorating experience, try the water circuit of hot soaks and endorphin-releasing cold plunges, followed by chill-out time in a hammock. Savour an après-spa bite at La Traversée: The onsite bistro serves up local fare and a sweeping view of the St. Lawrence. 

The town of Prescott, population 3,965, punches well above its weight in history and culture. Near a U.S. border crossing, it’s best known as the site of Fort Wellington, a War of 1812-era barracks. Visitors can explore the wreck of a gunboat, watch a canon firing and enjoy 19th-century snacks cooked over an open fire. For a dose of culture, grab a seat at Prescott’s annual St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival. Outdoor performances throughout July and August include Bard classics like The Tempest, Twelfth Night and Hamlet.