Friday, August 30, 2013

Port Stanley, Ontario

On arrival in Port Stanley, we stayed at the Inn on the Harbour, which was centrally located on Main Street, right next to the harbour as its name suggested.  Each of the rooms is named and decorated after a theme,  such as Maritime Memories, Oriental, Leopard or French Provincial.   Our room was the Safari Club and had a great view of the water and the King George VI lift bridge which is raised every half an hour to allow larger boats to pass between Lake Erie and Kettle Creek.

The pretty harbour is lined by shops, restaurants and inns on one side, and a long boardwalk on the other which provided a walking or cycling path to the main beach.  Port Stanley also has a smaller beach on the other side of town.

We took a self-guided walking tour of the historic buildings that still stand in Port Stanley.  The beautiful yellow-bricked Victorian mansion built in 1873 by  telegraph/telephone operator and first postmaster Manual Payne, is now a bed and breakfast called Telegraph House.  The red-bricked clothing store called Russell House has retained its original name, and was originally one of the first hotels in Port Stanley.  A pine-planked clothing store is housed in the oldest building on the tour.  It was originally the livery, then a candy shop and was even used as the village hall.   Built in 1854, the beautiful home that is now the Windjammer Inn is also named as a tribute to its original owner Sam Shepard, who was known for his fleet of windjammer ships.  Shepard used to give a top hat to the captain of the first boat to arrive in Port Stanley harbour each spring.  The tradition is still continued today.

A small museum recalls the presence of large dance halls and a Coney Island style amusement park on Port Stanley Beach from the early 1900s until almost 1980.  In its heyday, the L&PS Dance Pavilion, later renamed The Stork Club, would host all the popular big bands of the time, including as Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. The band played on an elevated hanging above the dance floor.  Dancers would buy tickets at a cost of 5 cents each per dance and would line up to access the dance floor–this was called a jitney dance.  The Stork Club burned down in 1979 but a small fair ground still seems to be operating today.

Originally run as a restaurant called the Garden Inn back in 1918, the Kettle Creek Inn was renovated and reopened in the early 1980s with a lovely outdoor patio in the back.  The menu prominently features the perch and pickerel that is plentiful in this area.  As a starter, you can order as many breaded perch fillets as you want, served with homemade tartar sauce, or go for perch nachos.  For the main course, there is both a perch dinner and a pickerel dinner available.

The Jackson Fish Market sells freshly caught, in-season fish including yellow and white perch, yellow pickerel, whitefish, bass, and lake catfish.   The Jackson family has operated a commercial fishery for generations and their motto is "Fresh Fish from Our Boats to Your Table."  We were able to attest to this as we witnessed the workers carving up the day's catch.  We were able to purchase two large packages of pickerel cheeks to bring home as a delicacy for less than $15.

A huge mural on the storefront depicts the 1902 rescue of the crew of a schooner which ran aground in Port Stanley harbour during a vicious gale storm.  Across the street from the market sits a cork kiln, built in 1915 for drying the cork used for floating fish nets.

We saw a wonderful show at the Port Stanley Theatre during our visit.  A new musical comedy called "Not in My Backyard" depicts a young couple's struggle to start up a community vegetable garden amidst opposition from their vocal neighbour and the town mayor.  Scheming and dirty politics lead to some hilarious songs.  We were impressed by the quality of the singing and acting by the entire cast, in what we thought was a little local show in a small town.  Reading the credits of the cast, we realized that they were all professionals who had roles in the past with Shaw or Stratford or other theatres. 

One of the highlights of our stay in Port Stanley was the hour-long scenic train ride that we took en route to neighbouring St. Thomas and back.  We rode in specially modified open-air train cars from the 1920s, which were pulled by a diesel locomotive from the early 1950s.  The conductor also acted as the tour guide, giving us history about the railway and the surrounding area.

Part of the ride included a stop that allowed us to get up close and personal with a 1929 snow plow, a restored CN caboose and a circus car.  I sat in the seat of the snow plow and looked out the window.  It was a good thing there was no need to steer this beast.  I also climbed up to the top seat in the caboose and realized that the engineers must have had strong arms and legs to haul themselves up there on a regular basis.

There does not seem to be good cycling trails around Port Stanley compared to what we found in Port Dover.  The cycling "path" to St. Thomas is alongside traffic on a lightly used county road.  The Elgin Hiking trail is supposed to start at the main beach in Port Stanley and continue north for 41km.  We searched for the trail for a while but were unable to find it and none of the locals seemed to know about it.  We may try again on our next visit.

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