PSVA member Craig Cole supplied the following brief history of Port Stanley. Thanks Craig!
Port Stanley is a village rich in history. To reveal the truth of this statement, residents and visitors to our village need only stroll along Bridge and Main street, or explore the new walkway around the harbour, reading the many historical plaques which have been erected by Heritage Port Stanley, the Port Stanley historical society. The flavour and ambiance of this once tiny settlement remains.
In 1804 John Bostwick, who had arrived in Canada from Great Barrington, Massachusetts in the wake of the American Revolution, received from the crown a land grant of 600 acres at the mouth of Kettle Creek. He took up residence on his land grant in about 1817 (the exact date is unknown) and the wonderful old half timbered home which he built a few years later still exists in the area known as Hillcrest.
The early development of Port Stanley was goaded by the waves of immigrants who were pouring into Southwestern Ontario in the early years of the 19th century. Many of them would have arrived in Buffalo via the Erie Barge Canal and then embarked on a sailing vessel or an early steamship for Port Stanley. They ended up settling on the rich farm land that surrounds our village or moving north to St. Thomas and London.
To the west of this little settlement, there was a large tract of land owned by Colonel Thomas Talbot, who was visited in 1824 by Edward George Stanley, later to become Lord Stanley. It is thought that Port Stanley acquired its name in his honour.
It did not take long for mills to be established on Kettle Creek (one of them owned by Bostwick), and warehouses to store ashes, grain, lumber and other products which were being produced by the surrounding farms. In 1822, 653 barrels of flour were shipped from Port Stanley.
The mouth of Kettle Creek formed a natural harbour at Port Stanley, but silt and sand washing down Kettle Creek, as well as the tumultuous storms for which Lake Erie is infamous, created problems which necessitated the development of a succession of piers and breakwaters. In subsequent years these would turn Port Stanley into one of the most important ports on the north shore of Lake Erie.
The first bridge spanning Kettle Creek at its mouth was built in 1843, but most of the commercial development was on the east side of the Creek. This changed in 1856 when the first railway was built, linking Port Stanley to St. Thomas and London, with a southern terminal west of the creek.
Soon after this, the development of Port Stanley as a summer playground would commence. Huge commercial picnics were held in the summer months on Fraser Heights west of Kettle Creek, and the bathing and amusement beach west of the village would be developed. To the east, the first summer cottage on Orchard Beach was built in 1883 at the mouth of Little Creek.
On the main beach, west of the harbour, the Stanley Beach Casino, boasting the largest dance floor in Canada, was built in 1909. It was supplanted by the London and Port Stanley Pavilion, which was later renamed the Stork Club. And who can forget the Incline Railway which for 5 cents a ride would take you up to the picnic grounds on the top of the cliff?
For anyone who would like to learn more about the history of Port Stanley, Heritage Port Stanley has published a book entitled Port Stanley: The First Hundred Years. Copies are available for purchase from Craig - you can email him at [email protected]