Port Dover, a small town on the north shore of Lake Erie, is a quiet, somewhat reclusive place in the winter, but when the warm weather arrives, so do the tourists and the town comes alive. Entering Port Dover along Highway 6, about 50 minutes south of Hamilton, the view is spectacular. A quick look to the left takes in the glittering water of the Lynn River flowing out through the harbour to Lake Erie past a quaint Marine Museum housed in a refurbished fishing shanty and a lighthouse, the original which dates back to 1847.
Crossing the bascule bridge that raises and lowers on the half-hour to allow boats to navigate the river beyond, the lake sparkles straight ahead, luring you to the sound of lapping waves and the fine sandy beach. You begin to feel the tension fall away as the scenery opens up to reveal a mini-putt, an old-time carousel, the piers and numerous establishments selling fresh Lake Erie perch and pickerel, french fries and the usual hotdog/hamburger fare. For a twist on the fast-food choices, you can also enjoy a bison burger or perogies or my favourite - delicious apple fritters peeled, sliced and cooked fresh while you wait.
The beach and harbour areas are busy on hot days with swimmers and sunbathers, boaters and people simply out for a walk, enjoying the leisurely vacation-directed pace that encompasses this part of town. There is another renovated fishing shanty near the pier where you can buy handmade leather sandals and bags crafted by a longtime resident of the area, the Sandal Maker, Johnny Miller.
A short walk from the beach, Main Street embraces the same easy-going style along with the slight feeling that you've stepped back in time a couple of decades. The Arbor, one of the longest standing fast-food booths in Port Dover (originally built in 1912) still serves a drink they call Arbor Glow, made from freshly-squeezed oranges. On the next corner, you can stop for a quick pint at The Norfolk Tavern which dates back to 1836, and even has a separate bar in the basement called The Brig, which was a makeshift jail during the Fenian Raids of 1866 when the American renegades were held there.
There is an art gallery called Perch Gallery, where art of all kinds can be discovered and purchased. Mac Curwain, the owner, has a talent for gathering together pieces that could be described as quirky, edgy, and colourful along with finely crafted, sculpted, and painted works, and displaying them all in a unique space that complements each one. A few steps up the street from the gallery you will find Lighthouse Festival Theatre, a bright gem in this lovely lakeside town, that boasts professional live theatre from May to September and concerts throughout the fall, winter and spring by musicians from far and wide, thanks to local music-lover and organizer, Barry Englert.
Across the street from the theatre, in the centre of town, is a one-acre haven, Powell Park. This downtown park sits empty much of the time, a chunk of open green space, old-style lamp standards with flowering baskets hung from each and picnic tables set here and there enticing families to take the time to relax. In the centre of Powell Park is a gazebo-style bandstand, where local musicians perform free concerts on Sunday evenings throughout the summer months.
If fast-food is not your style, Port Dover also has many places to eat that offer casual and fine cuisine at reasonable prices and a place to sit indoors - Hemming's Broken Plate, The Erie Beach Hotel, David's Fine Dining, Fisherman's Catch, Capt'n Billy's or The Beach House. Fabulous soups and sandwiches are also available at Imaginations and The Coffee Shop on Main Street.
Over the past decade, bikers - motorcycle enthusiasts from around North America - have become familiar with Port Dover through an event held each Friday the Thirteenth. The event began in 1970, when a local biker, Chris Simon, planned with some fellow-motorcyclists to host a party on Friday the Thirteenth. Over the years, word of mouth, and more recently, media coverage, has turned that private party into an event that finds the small town of Port Dover hosting 100,000+ visitors, many riding Harley Davidson's, for a day-long celebration of bikes and the biking lifestyle.
Port Dover hosts various other festivals throughout the year as well: Polar Bear Swim on January 1st, Marine Heritage Festival in June, Canada Day Parade and activities, Summer Festival in August, Antique Show and Sale in October, Christmas Fest and a Christmas House Tour. There is a Norfolk Studio Tour at the end of September that invites interested art-lovers to visit the studios of 20 local sculptors, painters, soap-makers, photographers, jewelers, and artists who work with glass, textiles, metal, wood, clay, wool, and found items. It's a weekend made in heaven for anyone searching for unique gifts.
Every day is a great day to fish once the ice leaves the harbour, but the end of April is especially lucrative because of the annual Fish Derby. Thousands of dollars, boats, bicycles and other prizes are waiting to be awarded to those who catch the numerous tagged fish released into the river and lake. And if by chance, you don't catch anything, there is a market selling fresh fish, already cleaned and ready to cook, right near the pier.
Cottages, bed & breakfasts, and hotels offer varied accommodation but reservations are definitely required from May to October.
Janet Hepburn writes regular articles in a weekly newspaper as well as poetry and fiction. She is an active member of Canadian Authors' Association and the Ontario Poetry Society.
If you go
www.inportdover.com: Port Dover information or call Board of Trade 519-583-1314
www.lighthousetheatre.com: Lighthouse Festival Theatre, Main and Market Street, or phone 1-888-779-7703 ext 226
www.pd13.com: Friday the 13th Motorcycle Event information
www.eriebeachhotel.com: Erie Beach Hotel, Walker St. or phone 519-583-1391
www.thebrokenplate.ca: Hemming's Broken Plate, 602 Main St., or phone 519-583-9595
www.branthillinn.com: Brant Hill Inn, 30 John St., or phone 519-583-1501
www.portdovercottages.com: Wilson Family Cottages, St. George Street, or phone 519-583-2263
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