Sail in Chill out

By John Morris

The family of the Great Lakes, like our own, has members who each enthusiastically demonstrate their own personality. Tough guy Superior can play pretty rough, glamour puss Lake Huron with her luscious curves, seductive secret coves and jewelled islands, all business Michigan, blue collar Lake Ontario lined with steel mills and auto plants. Then there’s the eccentric sibling Lake Erie, the hippie, the music lover, the sun-worshipping devotee of leisure.

Sure, Cleveland, Toledo and Lackawanna were once industrial boomtowns but for the most part Lake Erie was and is is a string of summer resorts that have been hugely popular through the late 19th and 20th centuries, the big band era and the fifties. The US side resorts like Erie and Port Clinton are larger, reflecting the US population centres nearby. The Canadian ports have always been smaller and less commercial, and mostly remain so.

Port Stanley has the time machine locked down pretty well. Commercial fishing defined the town and, amazingly, still does. The fleet remains active and when you visit you can swing by a variety of places like my favourite, the Buccaneer, and enjoy fresh perch that will whisk you and your taste buds back 50 years on the first forkful.

Just about every detail of Port Stanley speaks to the hippie image – artisans, artists, actors, and layabouts. The Kettle Creek Canvas Company founded in the 80s in Port Stanley was once the organic canvas clothing source for [people who once wore flowers in their hair and now wear Tilley hats. That tradition continues in places like Joshua and Company and a few other charming-style shops in the village. In summary, this is a first class cruising destination both for its amenities and for its ability to take you away from life as we know it.  Do they have Internet  – yeah of course they do, but you almost wish they didn’t.

Located roughly at the mid point of the north shore of Lake Erie, west of Long Point the port is formed around the mouth of Kettle Creek. Its name dates from the 1820s when the town honoured Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, who had visited nearby Port Talbot. Lord Stanley later became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and was the father of Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, Governor General of Canada, ice hockey enthusiast and donor of the first Stanley Cup in 1893.

Two piers contain the harbour but the marinas and clubs are all further up the Creek. That requires timing your entry – the bascule bridge opens every half hour on the 30s during the day. You can then follow the channel north to the clubs and marinas that line it up to the railway bridge that essentially ends navigable water.

Just north of the bascule bridge is the Kettle Creek Marina. You can reach them by VHF or email, a good idea since there are only 8-10 slips for transients. Not that it’s a big town, but the marina has the advantage of being close to the village centre with a CIBC and a Foodland.  Next door is the Port Stanley Sailing Squadron, a small but active club with a nice fleet of Solings. It has a few slips for visitors as well.

Just upstream is the family run Stan’s Marina, the only place to get fuel, diesel included, in Port Stanley. It also has a pump-out station and a pretty good chandlery. Stan’s also does mechanical work, steps masts and so on.

At the top of the Creek is the larger Kanagio Yacht Club with a larger membership of powerboats and shallow-draft sailboats. (It’s your last stop if you have a mast or flybridge due to the low-slung railway bridge.) Like all the ports on the Great Lakes, water depth is an issue and dredging is a constant topic for KYC. This is a full-service operation for its members with a slick clubhouse, a travel lift, full social program and a line of barbecues on a perfectly groomed lawn running the length of the mooring dock. According to its history, the club takes its name from the Oneida name originally given to a circular marshy area now occupied by the turning basin of Port Stanley Harbour – the English translation “Kettle” was later adopted.

In the summer resort tradition, Port Stanley offers the whole enchilada of vacationing with an early twentieth century flavour. Once the home of the swing band hotspot Stork Club where Guy Lombardo frequently slipped down to from his home in nearby London, the town retains a reinvigorating sense of times gone by still the beach of postcards. The sand stretches forever and the gift shops, ice cream stand and surf bars are filled with vacationers, including a lot of cruisers.

Port Stanley Terminal Rail is a heritage railway that runs on the historic tracks of The London and Port Stanley Railway (L&PS), which are today maintained by railway enthusiasts. It offers a full menu of tourist runs and its Little Red Caboose is a kids’ birthday party destination.

Near the harbour, Jackson’s Fish Market offers two attractions; the obvious is its great mural depicting the history of the port. Inside, it’s a commercial and retail fish market served by the local fleet. That’s authentic. Fresh fish is the centuries old theme in Port Stanley so take some back to the boat or enjoy some at Mackies, a trad beachfront favourite that dates to 1911.  I have enjoyed more than one plateful at the more sit-down Buccaneer in the Port Stanley Beach Hotel.

There are plenty of other choices, too. Not far from the beach you can dine at The Windjammer, The Wharf, The Kettle Creek Inn and some others that offer various casual settings, all delightful.  Strolling the town takes you to Brodericks Ice Cream, a number of artist studios, gift shops and the Festival Theatre located in the former town hall that has already posted its 2014 lineup at portstanleytheatre.ca/2014plays.php. The Theatre concentrates on Canadian plays and has done so for decades with strong community support.

It’s likely that Lake Erie cruisers have already been to Port Stanley, but for those of us on the other lakes, it’s a fine destination as part of the Erie Hippie Tour. Lake Erie celebrates the whole boating experience celebrating slowpoke pace even denying the brutal truth that you can travel by other means much more easily these days. The ports, and Port Stanley in particular, take us back to the era when touring by water was the only way.

Golem Fisheries  Jackson's Fish Market 
 Russell House  Sailboats on the Hard
 Lift Bridge  John Morris

Read more CY Canadian Destinations


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