A few years ago we went east along Lake Erie, as far as Port Dover. We started in St. Thomas. It took us four days. Coming back, we took larger roads. It took about an hour and felt like a time travel machine. My parents used to drive from Belmont, near St. Thomas, to Port Dover of an evening for fish and chips on the beach.
We went first to Port Stanley, planning to spend a couple days there. But the cabins were full, so we thought well, let’s see what’s further east, say toward Port Burwell. Stopped at Port Bruce and walked the beach. Went to Port Burwell, walked the beach and into town. Had an ice cream cone, and drove on.
We had a map, but basically just looked for the southernmost roads heading east. Found villages we’d never heard of, places we’d heard of but never knew where they were. We found Walsingham, where I knew my father’s people had lived but never knew where it was – ‘over that way’ with a vague wave to the east.
Port Rowan, where my dad was born. Hilly, with big brick houses and little old frame houses. A row of boat houses way out into the harbour. Just looking like they’re there for photographers. A perfect little “olde” downtown with small, independent businesses thriving among the chainstores.
A downtown Home Hardware that also sold locally-made items. “Oh, a local man makes those,” the manager said when he saw me looking at a popsicle stick table lamp. It was sitting among the commercially-made lamps and light fixtures. We bought it.
Nearby, inland St. Williams, with a huge antique store and new Mennonite furniture showroom. Must get business from all over the region – not enough people in St. Williams to furnish that many houses.
Turkey Point, a summer playground for party weekends. In September they were gone, leaving only a few people to enjoy the broad silky sand beach. Since being there, I’ve learned that my father’s mother’s people were the first white settlers there. Apparently, there’s a plaque marking the site where in 1794 Frederick Mabee was buried beside his house, in a hollowed out log. The first white burial of the first white man in Turkey Point. I didn’t know that at the time we were there – just as well, we’d have had to tack on at least another 2 days to cover that.
Port Ryerse, a tiny village with a big past. Now a small collection of quaint old houses and a wonderful used bookstore that rambles its way through one of these big old houses. A historical plaque at the end of the road, in the woods bordering the lake cliff, depicting the town’s history as a port for transporting timber and coal across the lake to Ohio.
Pulling into Port Dover late afternoon – bright lights, big city! Beachfront stores sleepy after the summer onslaught. Wanting to roll up the awnings and pack up the flipflops and Harley Davidson emblazoned stuffed animals. Wanting to hibernate until the hogs come back to town next Friday the 13th. We looked at the harbour, the commercial vessels tied up, some for the season, some forever.
Next day, on to Fort Erie? Quite a drive, at our present pace. Would take near a week. Nah, let’s go home and pick up the dog. Almost dark, so no sightseeing. To Simcoe. Stay the night? Doesn’t feel part of this trip – we know where it is on the map. Some new cross-country back roads. Can’t really see anything, just placenames and road numbers on the signs. “Oh, that’s where you turn for Langton, that’s where Judy used to live,” “well, look at that – Mabee’s Corners up there, I wonder if that’s where Grandma came from.” Headlights tracking family history.
Ten years later with more family history known to me, I want to do that trip again. This time, I would know to stop in Houghton, Middleton, and many more villages that we passed through that trip. Placenames that pop up over and over in the family records of the Angers, Mabees and Burwells. This time, it would be for graveyards, farms and crossroads. It will be fun, with a map and a mission. That time, it was with a map and whimsy – not looking for anything and therefore just happy to see what was found.
The ‘banner map’ at bottom is from the website of Gold Coast Real Estate, thanks. For more information on this area, check out The Lake Erie Shore by Ron Brown. He’s got loads of books about the history of Ontario.
My cousin sent me this link to a song “Beautiful Port Dover” by Tia McGraff with photos by Earl Hartlen. Both song and photos are beautiful. Yes, there’s Friday 13th H-D photos, also a lot of the land, lake and fishing boats (my favourite is one called “Frisky” – nice name for a boat, I think).