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Surveyor Island: 1000 Islands Cottage and Family Tradition

Written by on November 1, 2018 in Island Life Magazine

George Wambach, a fruit farmer, discovered Surveyor Island between Rockport and Ivy Lea during a visit to the 1000 Islands 91 years ago. He was charmed by the Canadian island and its Camp Gothic-style cottage with a wraparound veranda overlooking the channel. The first owner, Mathias Donald Horton, purchased Surveyors Island in 1897. Wambach bought the retreat in 1927, starting a family tradition that would span decades.


Surveyors Island. Photo by Kim Lunman


The Wambach family of Rochester N.Y. has owned Surveyor Island since 1925. Photos by Kim Lunman/Island Life Magazine

The Wambachs took a ferry to reach the Canadian side, would park their car in a field near Ivy Lea and would row a boat from shore to the island. By 1938, the iconic bridge was built between the U.S. and Canada, making the trip easier. Six generations of Wambachs have followed, gathering on the sleepy porch to watch tour boats and boaters pass by their family retreat.

Surveyor Island gets its name from the fact that a dominion surveyor camped there when he made a survey of native lands in 1885. “We just call it ‘The Island’, said George Wambach, whose grandfather purchased the property. ‘The Island’ is 1/8 acres, with deck chairs on the porch and a hammock swinging lazily from a tree. It’s located close to the mainland next to Eagle Point, a lavish waterfront mansion.


A 1940s Peterborough hangs from the porch

About 125 descendants of George Wambach make Surveyors Island their getaway, scheduling holidays during different weeks in the summer. Their patriarch loved to fish here. His Peterborough boat hangs from the ceiling of the veranda. “It was his pride and joy,” said George. “It was his fishing boat.” The cosy three-bedroom cottage is powered by a generator and relies on propane tanks for the refrigerator.

The island is so close to passing tour boats that the Wambach’s can hear the tour boat captains telling tourists about one of the family’s famous daughters: Abby Wambach, the U.S. soccer player and two-time Olympic gold medalist. The 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year from Rochester is a six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year.

Photo by Kim Lunman.

surveyor-hammockGeorge’s cousin, Jack May, has been coming to Surveyor Island his entire life too. May has renovated a cabin on nearby Island #93 by the Lost Channel, that has also been in the family for years too. “My mother was six when she started coming up,” said Jack, of his mother Margaret May, who passed away last year at 91. Like mother, like son.”I’ve been on the River since I was two months old,” said the grandfather of seven, also from Rochester. “I just love the River. You see something new every day.” George, who has three children and seven grandchildren, says everyone enjoys returning to ‘The Island’ – their island – every spring. “It’s coming back to paradise.”