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The Pilot’s Dream

Written by on November 9, 2018 in The Thousand Islands


Paul Island

It’s the towering tree that you first notice about this small island just west of Brockville. It almost resembles a palm tree from a distance. But this is nowhere near the tropics not even on this humid August afternoon.

The solitary Elm tree looms large over Paul Island in the Amateur Group of Islands in the St. Lawrence River.

This island gets its name from its current owners: The Paul family. Inside the little cottage, there’s a sign that says it all: “Bill Paul’s Dream.” 

Bill Paul purchased the island in 1985. The pilot, who had flown over the 1000 Islands many times, spotted the island for sale in a newspaper ad and bought it the same day. He had to sell his beloved plane to make the purchase. 


“I sold the plane and bought an island,” recalled Paul, then 86, in an interview with me at his Brockville home just several years before he passed away. Paul, a World War II veteran and one of the first members of the Brockville Flying Club.  He would become next-door neighbour on the River to another Thousand Islands pilot: aerial photographer and author Ian Coristine.  The Hudson Quebec pilot bought Raleigh Island in 1995 when he became enamoured of the Thousand Islands while flying over the region in his Challenger float plane.  Coristine’s island featured a sheltered harbour for his floatplane.

Paul Island’s distinctive Elm tree. Photo by Kim Lunman.

Pilot David Paul sold his plane to buy Paul Island.

Paul took many flights over the 1000 Islands in his amphibious aircraft, which could take off and land on either land or water.

“I’ve been on the River all my life,” Paul told me during our interview about his favourite place.  He grew up on the mainland and waterfront area known as Fernbank west of Brockville that belonged to his family. But the former funeral home owner always dreamed of owning an island.

That  opportunity came up when commercial fisherman George Vanston decided to sell his island.  Vanston made headlines when he caught a 100-lb sturgeon that he kept in the island’s boathouse. His big catch died when it was transferred to an aquarium on Hill Island. Vanston’s fishing charts – including weights of catches – are still marked on a wall in the boathouse. 

Bill Paul christened his new property Paul Island. He installed power and built a cottage on his cozy retreat. Today Paul’s children and grandchildren spend summers at the island enjoying views of both sunsets and sunrises over the River.

He would became next-door neighbour to another 1000 Islands pilot who also became enamoured of the region during flights over the 1000 Islands: Renowned aerial photographer and author Ian Coristine.  The Hudson Quebec pilot bought Raleigh Island in 1995 after falling in love with the region while flying over the St. Lawrence River in his Challenger float plane. 

Paul’s island is across from Raleigh Island. Photo by Kim Lunman

Dave Paul, sister Dana Wren, left, and wife Janice, right with Raleigh Island in the background. Photo by Kim Lunman

Son Dave Paul, who hops in a kayak from a boathouse on the mainland and paddles to the island in a matter of minutes, says the place is a perfect getaway  even though he jokes you can a hit a golf ball onto the mainland from here. “We’re just a drive from shore,” said Paul, Brockville’s since retired Director of Economic Development, with a laugh in our interview on the island seven years ago. Still, said his wife, Janice: “It feels like a different world here.” Family and friends gather on its small shores every summer. They even fly a Paul Island flag.

“It’s the smallest island in place but we pack it with the most people and have the most fun,” said Dave Paul’s sister, Dana Wren.



David Paul next to a painting of Paul Island by Brockville artist Larry Sherman. Photo by Kim Lunman

Bill Paul said he never considered trading one love for another – his plane for an island – a sacrifice. In his later years, Paul didn’t get out to his island as much but kept a painting of the island with its distinctive Elm tree on his living room wall in his Brockville home. I’ve flown over Paul Island several times while taking aerial photographs of this amazing archipelago in floatplanes and helicopters. Flying over the little island after Bill Paul died, I looked down on its distinctive Elm tree rising from the granite as the panoramic sky stretched over the River in front of me and couldn’t help but smile. This is a place for dreamers. And Bill Paul’s Dream is still very much alive. 


Photo by Kim Lunman