Island Legends in Ontario

The Detroit River's forgotten island is finally open to the public for exploring.
According to legend, Peche Island is cursed, but being there, immersed in nature, is such a blessing. As I walk on a thin strip of land, I can hear waves sloshing against the rocky shoreline on my right and, on my left, birds are singing as they flit between towering trees around an inland marsh.

Cursed or not, Peche Island is an enchanting natural oasis in the Detroit River within view of both Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, yet few people have had the opportunity to come ashore — until recently. The City of Windsor, which has owned the 86-acre island since 1999, launched ferry service last summer, so people without their own watercraft can visit. 

It’s just a short, five-minute ride on a six-passenger pontoon from the Lake View Park Marina to the island’s southernmost point, yet it feels like another world entirely. When the boat motors away from the dock, I am truly stranded on a deserted island.

Other than a sign welcoming me to Peche Island and picnic shelter facing the marina, there’s little else at the landing spot. Taking the dirt path in front of me, I attempt to stay as mud free as possible while dodging the many pockets of water created by the river washing over the low-lying island as it speeds downstream. The island has lost 20 percent of its landmass to rapid erosion since 1965.

Continuing on, I arrive at a historic stone bridge, which is the first sign that Peche Island ever was inhabited, let alone developed. Hiram Walker spent many years building a summer getaway on Peche after his sons purchased the island for him in 1883. He built the bridge to cross one of the many canals he dug for transporting supplies to the interior of the island, not to mention for irrigating an orchard and other trees he planted.

He also built a huge, 40-room mansion, a greenhouse, icehouse, carriage house, stables and a golf course. According to an article in The Walkerville Times, Walker had been planning to turn the property into a resort for the well-to-do, but nothing came of the plans and he transferred the property to his daughter when his health was failing a little more than a decade later. 

Despite grand efforts to develop the island over the years, nothing ever stuck. Nor did the Walker Mansion, which burned to the ground in 1929. Subsequent owners proposed ideas for a theme park and a housing development, and they also faltered.

That’s where the legend of the curse comes in. In a nutshell, members of a family who owned a 4-acre parcel on the island were pushed out when representatives of the Walker family forced them to sign over their deed. While being evicted in the spring of 1883, Rosalie Droulliard got down on her knees and cursed the island, exclaiming that no one would ever be able to do anything with it.

Standing over the ruins of the Walker summer home at the center of the island, you can almost hear the echoes of the curse — or perhaps it’s just the wind rustling the leaves of ancient maple and oak trees that have stood guard for nearly 200 years.

Subhead: Getting to Peche Island

• Take a self-guided tour offered by the City of Windsor. On Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from June to October, the City of Windsor offers shuttle service to Peche Island. The boat departs from Lake View Park Marina every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Book ahead to guarantee your spot. 519-948-3383,

• Paddle to Peche by kayak. Located at Stop 26 Beach along Riverside Drive, Windsor Adventure Inc. rents one- and two-person kayaks starting at $20 for the first hour and $10 per hour after that. You can also take a two-hour guided tour on Sunday mornings or Thursday evenings for $35. 519-890-4780,