Shorebirds of all kinds stop to rest and feed on the sand beaches of this island during their annual migrations. Pelicans, cormorants, gulls and terns are all commonly seen on the sand spit stretching out to the islands eastern tip. Deer, bear, beaver, mink, otter, fox and snowshoe hare have all been observed on the island. Grey wolves have occasionally been seen hunting on the island during the winter months. Several pairs of bald eagles nest there each year.
The small size of the island belies the huge size of its history! Humans have inhabited the Lake of the Woods region for at least 8,000 years, thriving on its rich fishing, hunting, and wild rice. The lakes and rivers have long been part of trading networks that stretched from the Great Plains to the Atlantic by way of the Great Lakes.
European explorers and fur traders entered the area in the late 1600s, building trading posts along the Rainy River and the shores of the lake. A reconstruction of Fort St. Charles stands today at Magnusons Island, 12 miles from Garden Island. And gardens have been recorded at Garden Island as far back as 1734, when the French explorer La Verendrye claimed to have taught the local residents how to raise corn.
Shaw-Shaw-Wa-Be-Na-Se, translated the Falcon, was the native name of John Tanner. Born in 1779 to a pioneer family in Kentucky, Tanner was kidnapped at the age of ten by Shawnees. He was later rescued from them and raised by an Ottawa woman. He grew up around Lake of the Woods and spent much of his time at Garden Island. Known as a great hunter and trapper, he sold furs and hides to local trading posts. Although he was later reunited with his family in Kentucky, he chose to return to Lake of the Woods. His life was rich in travel and adventure, which he recounted in an autobiographical narrative that made him nationally known in the 1830s. In it he frequently mentions working on gardens at this island.
Gardens were still in existence at Garden Island until at least the early 1900s. Native Americans were known to have walked there from Warroad, following the shore of the lake out to the island to tend to gardens. The construction of the Kenora dam later raised the lake level and ended this access. The Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians continues to own 36 acres of the island.
Commercial fishing began on Lake of the Woods in the 1880s. Garden Island supported several fishing operations beginning around 1915. Whitefish and sturgeon were the first species harvested but, as their numbers declined, commercial fisheries switched to walleye, sauger, and northern pike. Today Garden Island is primarily a destination for sport fishing. Its a great place to take a lunch break and stretch your legs, watch the birds, and walk along the sandy beach.
Garden Island is a low, sandy island with beautiful beaches along the eastern tip, where the docks are located. Much of the island is densely wooded, with some marshy areas.