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Red Top Island

Written by on May 16, 2017 in Island Life Magazine

The Ontario family that owns Red Top Island celebrates the cottage’s 100th anniversary in 2011 on the captain’s walk on the roof. Photo by Kim Lunman


Anne and Charles Phillips honeymooned in the Thousand Islands in 1929. Before they left, the bride of a Methodist minister dipped her feet in the River thinking she would never come back. But about a decade later, the couple from Binghampton N.Y. did come back to the River. They rented  Wyoming Island and later purchased Psyche Island in the Lake Fleet group of the River with another couple. Charles had decided against the idea of joint-ownership of an island and they were set to leave the Thousand Islands for good again in 1941. 

Red Top Island is located near Gananoque.

Anne was so saddened about leaving “she sank a pair of her boots in the River off Psyche Island,” recalls her granddaughter Marilee Sherry, of Brantford Ont. “They thought they were saying goodbye to the River forever,” she said. “She wanted a part of herself to stay here. She had a very romantic soul. It really captured her heart.”

The couple returned to Brennan’s Marine in Gananoque to return their rental boat before heading back home.

One of the marina’s employees took them aside and said: “We’ve got a boat for you,” adding: There’s an island that goes with this boat.”

The name of that island was Red Top. Anne and Charles ended up buying the island in 1942. The cottage with the iconic red roof perched on a granite hill in the Gananoque Narrows has been in the family for 75 years now.

Their descendants celebrated the cottage’s 100th year anniversary here six summers ago. They held an open house for friends, family and neighbouring islanders to share memories as well as their spectacular view of this wide stretch of the St. Lawrence in the Lake Fleet Group.

The cottage was built the by island’s previous owner, Frank Moore in 1911. Not much is known about Moore, a bachelor apparently affiliated with the NYC Canoe Club. Some speculate he was introduced to the area by fellow paddlers through the American Canoe Association, which has owned nearby Sugar Island for over a century. Moore left the cottage to a niece and nephew but it ended up being old in tax sale to a realtor.

The original cottage featured a red cedar shake roof. The roof was later replaced with bright red steel and still has a captain’s walk that offers a spectacular view of this stretch of the Thousand Islands known as the Lake Fleet Group.

“It’s like a little jewel,” said Marilee, the island’s current owner in an interview during the summer celebrating the cottage’s centennial. “It’s so visible.” Her grandmother Anne visited Red Top every summer of her life until she died in 1999 at 92. She continued to visit after Charles died in 1975, staying alone and driving a boat by herself well into her 80’s. “She just loved it here,” said Marilee. “It took 10 years off her just being here.”

Her grandmother even built her own little red-roofed cabin on the island in her later years. A wood sign hanging on the wallof the little cottage is engraved with the words: “Built by Anne G. Phillips with some of the money that husband Charles W. Phillips saved for her old age.” She had her grandchildren’s names etched into the stone steps from leading to and from the cottage to an old pump house near the water.

Marilee visited the island as a young girl with her siblings and her mother Helen and Robert Brightman, also a Methodist minister. Her mother named all the island’s trees on the three-quarter acre island, calling some Socrates, Hope, Faith and Charity. Five generations of Marilee’s have been spending summers at Red Top Island. “It’s home,” she said. “There’s a sense of history and roots and memories.” Marilee’s husband also Leigh fell in love with place.”I’m an islander from Prince Edward Island so compared to the ocean it’s totally different, he said. “But I love the water. This is my Heaven.”

Anne and husband Charles never permitted alcohol on Red Top Island  and it’s a tradition the family has followed here for the past 70 years, said Marilee. About 100 people attended the cottage’s centennial five years ago. The Sherry’s four children, the great-grandchildren of the young bride who dipped her feet in the River and never wanted to leave, come back to Red Top Island every summer. “My grandmother’s attitude was always ‘I don’t own an island. I take care of an island,'” said Marilee. “It’s very much how we feel about it today.”