A diverse cluster of settlers poured into Southwestern Ontario by a meandering inlet on the Lake Erie shoreline early in the 1800’s and established a prosperous little community called Port Stanley. This small yet busy harbour was founded in 1804 by John Bostwick, who established and operated both a mill and warehouse. Today, this prosperous artistic fishing village is rich in charm and history offering generous resort living hospitality year round.
King George VI Lift Bridge
There are several very unique attractions in Port Stanley. Most notably, right in the heart of town, the oldest lift bridge in Ontario – King George VI Lift Bridge. The bridge is the essence of elegant simplicity and engineering magnificence.
It is known as a bascule bridge – meaning it is so finely counterbalanced that in the event of an emergency it can be raised and lowered manually(1). A parade of high mast sailboats, luxury cruisers, and commercial craft vessels can be seen passing below the bridge during the navigation season. A brass plaque on the east tower capture tourist attention by revealing a 1937 tragedy where during construction, 8 of the13 men working were killed.
The Port Stanley Terminal Railroad
A road linking Port Stanley port to neighbouring towns was constructed in 1822 to accommodate the droves of immigrants landing on the North Shore of Lake Erie. In 1844, there were as many as 148 boats recorded in the busy little harbour. By this time in history, there was a vast rail network spreading across North America and in1856 Port Stanley was linked with a new enterprise – The London and Port Stanley railway (L&PS). The L&PS thrived and brought close to a million vacationers a year to the village. Today, tourist can revisit the past and ride in an authentic completely rebuilt and refurbished L&PS railcar circa 1940. Operated by volunteer crews, after overcoming a barrage of hurdles, a group of railway advocates rescued the abandoned railway following a 1982 washout of the tracks. Today there are over 400 departures per year that take place beginning in March and operate well into December with various special rides; including, Easter Bunny Express, Murder Mystery Train rides, and Santa Workshop Tours.
Port Stanley Festival Theatre
For those who wish to take their Port Stanley experience to a whole other level, the Port Stanley Festival Theatre offers a wide variety of theatrical treats. Rivalling the finest theatres in larger cities, Canadian play productions celebrate the artistry in drama, comedy, musicals and a variety of other events throughout the year. It is located on the main street in the old Town Hall building. The Port Stanley Festival Theatre shares the building with the local library and tourist hotspot, interpretive center. The building also home to many visual artists and craftspeople as well as the Stork Club Museum. The once famous Stork Club was a swing dance club boasting the largest dance floor in the area and attracted several big band names in the early 1950’s. For almost 50 years, the entertainment magnet flourished until a fire destroyed the building entirely. The museum is dedicated to the history of the Stork Club and the display of big band memorabilia.
Exceptional Main Beach
Undoubtedly some of Ontario’s greatest riches are the beaches of Port Stanley. Main Beach is the real star. Fully trained life Guards patrol in the summer months and a treasure trove of activity is available for everyone – young and old alike. This beach has been recognized as the only Lake Erie shoreline to achieve a ‘Blue Flag’ status meaning 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. There is an outfitter in town and on the beach who is able to help you enjoy the spacious freedom of the tepid open waters. The municipality has revamped the eastern shores of the main beach with a boat launch, two pier jetties, a large children’s play-structure, and benches. Countless people have witnessed a spectacular sunrise or sunset in the summer months and often stay to take in the star filled skies on a clear hot summer night. Whether you are relaxing to the soothing waves lapping upon the finest sandy shores of this clean award winning “Blue Flag” beach or enjoying a competitive game of beach volleyball you will love your time here.
Tucked away almost entirely out of sight at the east side of town is ‘Little Beach’. Well protected 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 buoyed swimming area. There are no life guards here but a first-aid response area with several life saving implements for emergencies.
Erie Rest Beach
Another hidden treasure that is well worth hunting down is ‘Erie Rest Beach’. Suited for those who want a little privacy and relaxation, this beach is situated several hundred meters west of Main Beach. It’s 250 meters wide and has a beautiful sand beach with a gradual decline into the water. There is a portable washroom and no lifeguards here but the benefit is solitude.
Accommodation and Dining Steeped in History
Inns, bed & breakfasts, and fully equipped cottages are some of the exquisite choices for over night accommodations available in Port Stanley. Imagine a lake breeze kissing your cheek from your room as you soak in the ambience of the vibrant nightlife. Top notch service, tranquil contemporary surroundings, and a restful sleep.
On the corner of Bridge and Main Streets is the Kettle Creek Inn. It is situated on two lots of land that was originally owned by Colonel John Bostwick who sold them in 1849 to the Justice of the Peace, Squire Samual 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 sidewalk out front. 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 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 windjammers – they were considered to be the finest boats that ever sailed into the harbour. He began a tradition, known as the “Shepard Hat”, awarding a top hat to the first captain to arrive in Port Stanley, after the spring break up. The Shepard House stayed in the Shepard family until 1947, today it is a bed and breakfast called the Windjammer. It also is a fine restaurant where you can dine under a shielding porch or inside where you will find a great deal of character. There are 21 superb eating establishments within the village hamlet that will tantalize your taste buds. The majority of restaurants feature their special recipes for Fresh Lake Erie perch.
Stroll the streets of Port Stanley and you will find heaps of treasures in the wonderful family owned boutiques and antique shops. Window shopping, souvenir hunting, chic style searching, or home décor accumulation there is something for everyone. Imported gifts, quality clothing, jewellery, home made candies and unique artistic designs are waiting for you.
One of the oldest structures in Port Stanley, the Livery, was a blacksmith shop among other things and is now known as the Darbyshire House. It has also served the community as a confectionary shop, and the Village Hall – temporarily. Today it is a commercial retail store on Main Street where the main level still has it’s original paneled pine doors and large display windows.
Another centric building is The Russell House on Main Street. Built by John Sweeney, shortly after his arrival in the early 1870s, Russell house was constructed with locally made strawberry bricks. It was one of the first hotels to service the early day travellers who arrived by lake, rail and stagecoach to Port Stanley. Over the years it has served as a butcher shop, a plumbing shop, and offices for doctors, lawyers and insurance agents. It was also a bank, the Sterling Bank. Several of the staff members 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 Landmarks
Col. John Bostwick donated one acre of land in 1826 to erect a place of worship. In 1845 Port Stanley’s first place of worship, Christ Church, was constructed using a combination of British Classical and American Colonial styles. It’s most outstanding architectural feature is its tower and spire. Almost ten years after it’s construction, in 1854, a 400 pound bell was acquired and harmonized to where it is today. The church was an important part of religious and social life for the early settlers in the young village. Today, if the church is open, you are welcome to walk in and view the lovely commemorative stained glass windows and stroll the grounds. There are headstones of prominent church members, the grave of Colonel John Bostwick, and a provincial historical plaque detailing his life.
Down Colborne street, heading south, on the right hand side is another church – St. John’s Presbyterian Church built in 1852 by Congregationalists. It is a perfect example of pioneer architecture – featuring a white classical shape, gothic, and Romanesque windows. A Presbyterian congregation was established in 1854 and rented space in the newly constructed 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. The Port Stanley United Church was originally a Methodist Church, erected in 1889 by a congregation that existed as early as 1836. Complete with a rectory on the north side, and carriage sheds behind, the front vestibule was added after the building became a United Church.
There is a very well preserved single story white home on the Corner of Hetty and Colborne Streets that is basically been unaltered since it was built in 1840. It is known as the Thomson House. Built in a Greek Revival style with cornices and pilasters, this one and a half story white clapboard dwelling was once the home of Eliza Thomson – acting librarian. Around the turn of the century, the south extension of her home served as the Port Stanley library for four decades while the house was her residence. It later served as the office of Dr. Clinton A. Bell.
Port Stanley was and still is, the home of a thriving commercial fishing fleet. In 1910 there were 22 fishing tugs operating from the harbour. An interesting bit of unique architecture is the Cork Kiln, built around 1915 during the boom of the fishing industry in Port Stanley. Located near the end of main street and built into the side of the hill, this design provided a natural dry heat to the cork used for floating fish nets. Just north a few steps is a large gray building located at 194 Main Street. It was once the home of the East Side Fish Company and constructed in about 1917. The unique design had a number of windows that exposed east, south and west symmetrical facades providing natural heat from the sun. It was used as a place where nets could be mended and stored.
Col. John Bostwick’s original residence is also located on Main Street. When disaster struck and his home burned down, Manuel Payne purchased the property and used yellow brick to create an early Victorian style home on the remaining original foundation in 1873. Architectural enthusiasts can still recognize the mixes of Gothic Revival gables, Italianate style quoining, and the bay windows. Manual Payne was a landowner, railway agent, telegraph and telephone operator, a custom’s officer, express agent, issuer of marriage licenses, and the first postmaster of the village.