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Port Stanley Charm
A diverse group of settlers poured into Southwestern Ontario from a meandering inlet on the shore of Lake Erie in the early 1800s and established a small prosperous community called Port Stanley. This small but busy port was founded in 1804 by John Bostwick, who established and operated both a mill and a warehouse. Today, this prosperous artisanal fishing village is rich in charm and history offering generous resort hospitality throughout the year.
King George VI Lift Bridge
There are some very unique attractions in Port Stanley. Most importantly, right in the heart of the city, the oldest lift bridge in Ontario – the King George VI Lift Bridge. The bridge is the essence of elegant simplicity and engineering grandeur.
It is known as a base bridge – meaning it is so counterbalanced that in an emergency it can be raised and lowered by hand(1). A parade of tall-masted sailboats, luxury cruisers and commercial vessels can be seen passing under the bridge during the sailing season. A bronze plaque on the east tower draws the attention of tourists revealing a tragedy of 1937, where during construction, 8 of the 13 men working were killed.
Port Stanley Terminal Railway
A road connecting Port Stanley with neighboring towns was built in 1822 to accommodate the flocks of immigrants landing on the north shore of Lake Erie. In 1844, up to 148 boats were registered in the busy little port. At this time in history, there was an extensive railway network that spread across North America and in 1856 Port Stanley was connected to a new enterprise – the London and Port Stanley Railway (L&PS). The L&PS flourished and brought close to a million vacationers a year to the countryside. Today, the tourist can revisit the past and ride in an authentic fully rebuilt and restored L&PS railroad car circa 1940. Driven by volunteer crews, after overcoming a barrage of obstacles, a group of railroad advocates saved the abandoned railroad after a washout in 1982. Today there are over 400 departures per year that occur starting in March and run through December with various special trips; including, Easter Bunny Express, Murder Mystery Train Rides and Santa’s Workshop Tour.
Port Stanley Festival Theatre
For those wishing to take their Port Stanley experience to a whole other level, the Port Stanley Festival Theater offers a wide variety of theatrical treats. Rivaling the finest theaters in major cities, Canadian play productions celebrate the arts in drama, comedy, musicals and a variety of other events throughout the year. It is located on the main road in the old town hall building. The Port Stanley Festival Theater shares the building with the local library and tourist hotspot, the performing arts centre. The building is also home to many visual artists and artisans, as well as the Stork Club Museum. The famous Stork Club was once a dance club with the largest dance floor in the area and attracted some big name acts in the early 1950s. For nearly 50 years, the entertainment magnet thrived until a fire completely destroyed the building. The museum is dedicated to the history of the Stork Club and displays memorabilia of the great bands.
Outstanding main beach
Arguably some of Ontario’s greatest assets are Port Stanley’s beaches. The main beach is the real star. Fully trained lifeguards patrol the summer months and a wealth of activities are available for all – young and old. This beach has been recognized as the only Lake Erie beach to achieve ‘Blue Flag’ status which means it meets strict international criteria; including water quality, safety and environmental practices. Stroll along the seemingly endless shores or spend quality time engaging in recreational activities. In town and on the beach there is a cleaner who can help you enjoy the wide freedom of the warm open waters. The municipality has renovated the eastern shores of the main beach with a boat launch, two piers, a large children’s play structure and benches. Countless people have witnessed a spectacular sunrise or sunset in the summer months and often stand to gaze at the starry skies on a clear hot summer night. Whether you’re relaxing in the soothing waves crashing on the finest sandy shores of this pristine Blue Flag award-winning beach or enjoying a competitive game of beach volleyball, you’ll love your time here.
Hidden almost entirely out of sight on the east side of town is ‘Little Beach’. Well sheltered shallow water with ample parking and can easily accommodate hundreds of sun seekers. It is best suited for families with small children with its shallow water and swimming area. There are no lifeguards here, but a first aid response area with some lifesaving equipment for emergencies.
Erie Vacation Beach
Another hidden treasure worth tracking down is Erie Rest Beach. Suitable for those who want some privacy and relaxation, this beach is located a few hundred meters west of the Main Beach. It is 250 meters wide and has a beautiful sandy beach with a gradual drop into the water. There is a portable bathroom here and no lifeguards, but the benefit is solitude.
Accommodation and dining steeped in history
Inns, bed and breakfasts and fully equipped cottages are some of the great choices for overnight accommodations in Port Stanley. Imagine a lake breeze kissing your cheek from your room as you soak in the vibrant nightlife. Top notch service, quiet contemporary surroundings and a restful night’s sleep.
At the corner of the bridge and main streets is the Kettle Creek Inn. It is located on two parcels of land originally owned by Colonel John Bostwick, who sold them in 1849 to Justice of the Peace, Squire Samuel Price. In 1918, The Price family sold their home to the Williamsons, who opened The Garden Inn. During this time, two frogs were sculpted and placed on the front sidewalk. The Kettle Creek Inn was established in 1985 and is currently open year-round. Guests can relax on an outdoor patio with a smorgasbord of delicious menu choices.
The Samuel Shepard House is located at 324 Smith Street on the southwest corner of William and Smith Streets in Port Stanley. This beautiful turn-of-the-century home was built in 1854 by Samuel Shepard, who was an insurance agent and merchant specializing in grain and produce. Samuel Shepard was also a designer of wind vans – they were considered the finest boats ever to sail the harbor. He started a tradition, known as the “Shepard Hat”, of giving a top hat to the first captain to arrive at Port Stanley after the spring break. The Shepard House remained in the Shepard family until 1947, today it is a bed and breakfast called the Windjammer. It is also a good restaurant where you can dine under a sheltered veranda or inside where you will find great character. There are 21 fine dining establishments within the Village Village that will delight your taste buds. Most restaurants feature their own special recipes for Fresh Lake Erie perch.
Stroll the streets of Port Stanley and you’ll find a wealth of treasures in the wonderful family boutiques and antique shops. Window shopping, hunting for souvenirs, searching for chic style or collecting home decor there is something for everyone. Imported gifts, quality clothing, jewelry, homemade candy and unique artistic designs await you.
One of the oldest structures in Port Stanley, the Livery, was a smithy among other things and is now known as Darbyshire House. It has also served the community as a sweet shop, and the village hall – temporarily. Today it is a retail store on Main Street, where the main level still has its original pine paneled doors and large screen windows.
Another central building is the Russell House on Main Street. Built by John Sweeney shortly after his arrival in the early 1870s, Russell’s house was constructed of locally made strawberry bricks. It was one of the first hotels to serve the early travelers who arrived by lake, rail and coach at Port Stanley. Over the years it has served as a butcher shop, a plumbing shop and offices for doctors, lawyers and insurance agents. There was also a bank, Sterling Bank. Some of the staff lived in rooms on the second floor, including a young banker named Mitchell Hepburn, who later became Premier of Ontario. Today it is a retail store.
Other interesting points
Col. John Bostwick donated an acre of land in 1826 to erect a place of worship. In 1845, Port Stanley’s first place of worship, Christ Church, was built using a combination of classical British and American colonial styles. The most prominent architectural feature is its tower and spire. Almost ten years after its construction, in 1854, a 400-pound bell was purchased and aligned to where it is today. The church was an important part of religious and social life for the early settlers in the new village. Today, if the church is open, you are welcome to walk in and view the magnificent memorial stained glass windows and stroll the grounds. There are the tombstones of prominent church members, the grave of Colonel John Bostwick and a provincial historic plaque depicting his life.
Down Colborne Street, heading south, on the right hand side is another church – St John’s Presbyterian Church built in 1852 by the Congregationalists. It is a perfect example of pioneering architecture – with a classic white Gothic form and Romanesque windows. A Presbyterian congregation was established in 1854 and rented space in the newly built church. By 1871 they were able to purchase the building for $420. Today the church still continues to worship and provide community services as well as joint ventures with the Port Stanley United Church across the street. Port Stanley United Church was originally a Methodist Church, erected in 1889 from a congregation that had existed since 1836. Complete with a rectory on the north side and carriage house behind, the front porch was added after the building became the United Church .
There is a very well-preserved one-story white house on the Corner of Hetty and Colborne Streets that is essentially unchanged since it was built in 1840. It is known as the Thomson House. Built in a Greek Revival style with cornices and pilasters, this white one-and-a-half-story dwelling was once the home of Eliza Thomson – acting librarian. Around the turn of the century, the south extension of her house served as the Port Stanley library for four decades while the house was her residence. Later it served as the office of Dr. Clinton A. Bell.
Port Stanley was, and still is, home to a thriving commercial fishing fleet. In 1910 there were 22 fishing tugs operating from the port. An interesting piece of unique architecture is the cork kiln, built around 1915 during the boom of Port Stanley’s fishing industry. Located near the end of the main road and built into the side of the hill, this design provided a natural dry heat to the cork used for floating fish nets. Just to the north a few steps is a large gray building located on Main Street 194. It was once the home of the East Side Fish Company and was built around 1917. The unique design had a number of windows that exposed the symmetrical east, south and west facades providing natural heat from the sun. It was used as a place where nets could be mended and stored.
The original residence of Col. John Bostwick is also located on Main Street. When disaster struck and his house burned down, Manuel Payne bought the property and used yellow bricks to create an early Victorian house on the remaining original foundation in 1873. Architecture buffs can still recognize the stone mixes of Gothic Revival, Italianate style, and bay windows. Manual Payne was a landowner, railroad agent, telegraph and telephone operator, customs officer, express agent, marriage license issuer, and the village’s first postman.
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