This small historic village (pop. 2,700) on the north shore of Lake Erie at the mouth of meandering Kettle Creek has a little bit of everything for the tourist. You can journey here on the arm of someone you love or pack up the kids and enjoy the day on one of Ontario's cleanest beaches, about 3.5 hours from Niagara by car.
Lovely bed and breakfasts and inns abound, but we chose Inn on the Harbour for the evening. A member of Ontario's Finest Inns, it proved to be a sweet spot to visit. Our second floor room which overlooked the harbour, was spacious and smartly organized, reflecting luxury and sophistication. Everyone deserves to be spoiled once in a while!
In the 1930s and 1940s, Port Stanley was known as the Coney Island of Ontario. Harry James, Guy Lombardo, Benny Goodman and other fine musicians played at the
Stork Club Dance Hall. A fire destroyed it in the 1970s.
Today, Port remains a happening place, with an undeniable away-from-it-all feel. We
wandered through the charming village and popped in and out of the dozen or so family owned boutiques, antiques shops, art studios, a bakery and a few giftware and beach shops. When time for a break, we steered ourselves towards Broderick's 50s Style Ice Cream Parlour and sat on the outdoor patio where we enjoyed a handmade waffle cone filled to the top with scrumptious Mocha Almond Fudge ice-cream. You only live once!
Port Stanley enjoys Lake Erie's largest deep water harbour. There's a freshwater fishery where numerous Lake Erie fishermen sell their daily catches of perch, pickerel and more. As the night slowly transformed into morning, I stepped outside at 5 am to the harbour to catch the fishermen preparing to leave for a day of work. In early morning, the world feels still, and I feel like I own it. For the "snooze and you lose" crowd, arrive at about 11 am to watch the boats dock with their catches.
A five minute drive (10 minute stroll) from the centre of the village, lies one of the finest stretches of sandy beaches on the north shore of Lake Erie. Workers check water quality at least three times a week and work crews arrive early daily with an old-fashioned hay loader to rake the beaches.
Old-timers don't worry; Mackie's Restaurant built in 1911 is still on the beachfront, serving their famous Orangeade. And you won't balk at the prices. One restaurant to enjoy a meal of Lake Erie Yellow Perch is the Buccaneer Restaurant. It embodies character. Also nearby is GT's Beach Bar and Grill. There's a 400-seat patio on the beach and live music during the weekend. Once the older set leave after dinner, the youngsters own the place.
For live theatre, don't miss the Port Stanley Festival Theatre in the old City Hall at 302 Bridge Street, beside the historical King George VI lift bridge, the oldest in Ontario. This is an intimate little theatre that's offered professional shows for the past 19 years. The last production of the season is Bedtime Stories, running until September 10th. Tickets are in the $25.00 range.
Time your visit to take a trip aboard the Port Stanley Terminal Railway, run by volunteers and operating between Port Stanley and St. Thomas. It's a 1.5 hour trip that meanders through the Kettle Creek Valley to Union Station. The railway consists of four locomotives from the 40's and 50's and nine restored coaches. Adult tickets cost $13.50 and children 2-12 years of age are $9.00.
If you can't unwind in Port Stanley, consider a stress management course.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.