At Port Colborne Ontario on Lake Erie you can watch the big ships squeeze their way through the narrow Welland Canal and start their climb up the Niagara Escarpment. Join the annual Canal Days and celebrate the area’s marine history.
Port Colborne is a small but important city on the north shore of Lake Erie. It’s a key transportation hub, as ships coming from Lake Erie enter the Welland Canal here on their journey north to Lake Ontario.
Photo above courtesy of the Port Colborne Tourism
Located about 25 km west of the Niagara River, which divides Canada from the United States, it’s about a 30 minute drive from the American border.
The Welland Canal runs through the heart of the city and is very popular with tourists. Freighters from all over the world fascinate visitors, who also enjoy watching one of the few remaining lift bridges on the canal.
If you’re interested in Ontario history and heritage, Port Colborne has some interesting background and buildings to explore. The settlement of the “The Port” (as it’s known locally) dates back to the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists who were fleeing the USA after the American Revolution. Port Colborne’s growth, however, really took off in the 1830s with the extension of the Welland Canal.
Shipping has contributed much to the local economy and culture and the city celebrates this fact every August with Canal Days, a festival featuring food, outdoor concerts, games for kids, and tall ships.
Alongside shipping, heavy industry became another economic driver in Port Colborne Ontario in the 20th century, when giant flour mills, a grain elevator, a nickel refinery and a cement factory provided jobs for thousands of workers and wealth for a smaller number of owners and managers.
Traces of that wealth remain in evidence in some of the luxurious heritage homes still lovingly maintained in the town. The Roselawn Centre, once a beautiful mansion, is now a cultural complex hosting live theatre, literary readings and other community events:
Roselawn Photo above courtesy of Port Colborne Tourism
In recent decades, however, the city has lost much of its heavy industry, although it has gained some other food-related factories. The new businesses, though, haven’t prevented the slow decline in population since the 1970s.
The Historical and Marine Museum is a good place to start if you’re interested in the history of Port Colborne Ontario and the Welland Canal. This is a small living history site comprised of a handful of historic buildings.
In this 1869 Georgian-revival style house you’ll find the main exhibit galleries, which are changed frequently:
Other buildings on site include the Carriage House, log schoolhouse, an 1880 Marine Blacksmith Shop and this log home from 1850.
An adorable 1915 Edwardian Cottage houses Arabella's Tea Room where volunteers serve Afternoon Tea of hot homemade tea biscuits and jam.
The tables are beautifully decorated:
Arabella was the daughter of the original owner of this property and the tea room used to be a rental house they built on their land to bring in some income. Arabella left the property to the city to become a museum when she died.
Some of the marine artifacts on site include the Wheelhouse from the Yvon Dupre Jr. Tug Boat, the anchor from the Raleigh and a Lifeboat from the S.S. Hochelaga, as well as a reproduction of the parapet of Port Colborne lighthouse. Another interesting artifact in this museum is Canada's Century Car, the 1901 Neff Steam Buggy, one of Ontario's oldest existing automobiles.
If you’re a heritage fan, pick up a map of the historic buildings in town.
Cottage Life in Scenic Port Colborne Ontario
“Summertime .... and the livin’ is easy...”... at least, that’s how it must have felt back in the late 1880s in an exclusive gated community of 25 summer homes on the shores of Lake Erie just west of the Welland Canal.
The cottage owners were Americans from Tennessee who came north each summer to escape the heat. It all goes back to a time when a family from Memphis, Tennessee, was en route to another destination and the son got sick. They wound up staying in the area until the child recovered and they fell in love with it so much that they decided to return every summer and brought their friends and family.
Photo credit: Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library
The resort had its own private train, a great iron gate with stone pillars, a dining hall, a bowling alley and casino. In a newspaper interview of the period, one of the visitors described it as “like living in the open air” (apparently without a trace of irony). The good times lasted until the dirty thirties; in 1933, during the Great Depression, the club folded and the City seized the land for non-payment of property taxes.
Although most of the grand old houses are gone now, some traces of the resort remain along Tennessee Avenue (now you know where that name originates). The gates are still there, although they stand open now and even the humble can drive through the grounds of the former Club. The close proximity of the houses recalls the fact that this was once a cluster of summer cottages, not an ordinary street. The casino at 19 Tennessee Avenue still stands, but now it’s a private home. Houses in this area still sell for two and three times more than houses in the rest of Port Colborne, which in general has very modest property costs.
If you continue west along the lakeshore, you’ll come across more cottages, some new and some old. Between the properties, you often catch glimpses of the lake, which is beautiful in any season.
Recreation in Port Colborne Ontario
Another great place for lake views is the marina. Are you a boater? (Or a wanna-be-boater?) The Sugar Loaf Marina, right near the canal, has slips for more than 500 boats and a small park with some cool views:
Fishing is a popular sport in the area and the city came second in 2012 for Canada’s top fishing town.
You may enjoy
If you’re interested in ships and the Welland Canal, you’ll enjoy the Welland Canal Centre in St Catharines Ontario. It’s about a half an hour drive north of Port Colborne.
Jordan Ontario (another Niagara town)