Back in the early 1900’s, the small fishing village of Port Stanley on the shores of Lake Erie was a favourite lakefront tourist attraction. Hundreds of visitors would flock there each summer, drawn like magnets to the beautiful sandy beaches. One of Port Stanley’s best-kept secrets is that it also happens to be a wonderful destination at all times of the year, and it’s less than a 2 hour drive from Burlington.
Carol Gates, chair of the Port Stanley Business Improvement Association, calls it the “perfect peaceful getaway in the winter” because there are fewer crowds and still plenty of things to do, from skating on the new outdoor skating rink to enjoying dinner at Mickey’s Boathouse or The Wharf Restaurant.
A favourite attraction year-round is the Port Stanley Theatre; a 150-seat building by the lake that offers shows year round. Gates says people looking for outdoor fun can still enjoy a walk along the beach (just swap your sandals and sunhats for a coat and a scarf). Or if you like hiking or snowshoeing, there’s the popular Elgin Hiking Trail which runs from St. Thomas to Port Stanley. The 41km-long trail weaves through valleys, ravines and Carolinian Forests. If winery tours are your thing, there are several nearby, including the Quai Du Vin Estate Winery in St. Thomas.
Port Stanley is almost as well known for its eateries as its beaches. When it’s time for a nibble, there’s a selection for every appetite, from teahouses to fine dining. Try out the aptly named Killer Desserts and Cafe on Bridge Street, where you can also enjoy comforting grilled cheese sandwiches and soups.
Across the street is the Village Square Coffee House. It’s famous for its Nicaraguan coffee which owner, Michelle Fournier, proudly calls the “best in town.” Little wonder it’s so good – they buy it straight from Nicaraguan farmers and have it roasted once a week so it’s fresh. “We have our own roast which is a medium body, as well as a dark roast and a feature flavour,” says Fournier, adding that people who visit the Port during the spring and fall are always pleasantly surprised. “Port Stanley is a quiet little fishing village until summer hits – then it gets a bit crazy,” says Fournier. “People don’t realize it’s a great place to visit during the off season because you get better pricing at the inns, plus you’ll have all the attention you want at the restaurants.”
The Port is also home to numerous specialty stores, from handmade soaps at the Harbourtown Soap Company to the wealth of spices housed at The Pepper Tree Spice Company on Colborne Street, which opened last year. The store became an immediate hit for its wide selection of oils, balsamics and delectables such as black truffles and old-fashioned organic mustard.
If you stay for the weekend, the Inn on the Harbour overlooking the lake offers reduced getaway rates until the end of April. There’s also the popular Kettle Creek Inn, built in 1849 as a summer home and transformed into an inn in 1918. Accommodations include luxury suites with gas fireplaces, designer suites and cozy guest rooms.
Once dubbed “The Coney Island of the Great Lakes”, no matter when you visit you’ll be guaranteed a fantastic getaway filled with shopping, exploration, theatre, dining, luxury accommodations, and in the summer – wonderful beaches!
Tourism Port Stanley
Village Square Coffee House
Port Stanley Theatre
Inn on the Harbour
Quai du Vin Estate Winery
Elgin Hiking Trail Club
Article written by Denise Davy