Niagara is a peninsula between lakes Ontario and Erie. St. Catharines, where we live, is on the south shore of Lake Ontario and Port Dalhousie is part of St. Catharines.
Booths in antiques fair at Port Dover
Travel southwest down the peninsula for an hour and a half and you arrive at Port Dover on the north shore of Lake Erie. The two little towns have similarities: a downtown area, Victorian homes, plenty of bars, a beach and a pier out into the lake with a lighthouse. However, they differ in ways that are notable. The downtown area of Port Dalhousie is falling apart and will soon be developed to include Port Place featuring a hotel and condominium, upscale shopping areas and restaurants. It will be new, yes, but it will replace the bars whose patrons have been the bane of the area for decades. “Port” was a drinking hole for sailors and the ship builders who worked the dry docks there back in the 1800s. The third Welland Canal went through Port Dalhousie and the men who built the canal, and then sailed it, became regulars in Port Dalhousie. Seedy drinking spots, prostitution and the rowdiness that can go along with hardworking men letting off steam were very common. The stone, one-cell jailhouse still survives and will be preserved. It has no heat. It’s a wonder drunkards didn’t freeze to death when thrown in during the winter. The term “cool off” took on a deadly connotation back then.
Downtown Port Dalhousie has always been a hard drinking area and it still is. A dozen bars within a two-block area were entirely possible. There are about six now. However, the hassle the young bar patrons cause the homeowners of Port Dalhousie far outweighs any benefit they bring economically.
It’s a bit ironic. The first people to patronize those bars likely were the people who eventually built the town. I lived there for many years and my second home on Bayview Drive was originally the home of the first butcher to set up shop in Port Dalhousie. If I remember right, his name was Barnes.
Now bar patrons are being discouraged for annoying the people living in the homes of the people who were likely the original bar patrons and those who set up shop to serve them. Things change.
On the other hand, Port Dover welcomes to their town thousands of bikers every Friday the 13th. The bikers flood in once or twice a year, spend their money, drink in the bars, eat in the restaurants, buy the memorabilia and leave. Port Dover’s main business area looks a bit like Port Dalhousie but is much larger. There are empty shops and you can tell it isn’t booming. The bikers save its’ bacon. The shops in Port Dalhousie are centuries old and they are in Port Dover as well. Most, but the new ones and the beach shops in Dover, are inaccessible. New shops in Port Dalhousie are totally accessible.
Lake Erie is shallow so you can wade out for about a half mile and the water will only be up to your waist.
Enjoying the water on Erie Beach
Port Dalhousie is not like that. You have to be careful and stay fairly close to shore. Port Dalhousie seems to be under a pollution watch much of the time and yesterday, when we were at Port Dover, there were hundreds of people enjoying the water. I don’t know if Erie Beach isn’t polluted or they just don’t warn people.
Every year in mid-August there’s a community festival in Port Dover. We enjoy it because it is a quiet affair featuring a fairly large art and craft show in Powell Park and an antiques and collectible market on the side street beside the park. I always go to the antiques market first looking for anything that strikes my fancy. I have a small collection of miniature farm animals no higher than one inch at the shoulder. Some goats are lead and came from vintage lead soldiers sets. I’m always looking to add to my collection. And I’ve never seen an art and craft show I didn’t like.
We drove down to Port Dover in the late morning and the drive is enjoyable. None of the roads are really busy and you pass thousands of acres planted in corn and soybeans. Huge old farms with century old red brick farmhouses are common. Large dairy herds roam the pastures and every now and then there’s a small town like Balmoral, Cayuga or Jarvis. Jarvis always holds a corn festival the same day as the Port Dover event. Someone stole the sign for Dog’s Nest. It always made us laugh and told us we were more than halfway there.
We usually arrive around 12:30, park over by the yacht club, and walk/roll over the Lynn River lift bridge and into the beach area where we have a delicious hamburger at the Arbor Restaurant where they hook up the flaps to open for business and start serving the lines of regular customers. The foot long hotdogs, hamburgers, fresh-cut fried and Golden Glow drink, has been offered up for something like 85 years. After eating standing on the street, we go down to Powell Park where we enjoy the show.
Because I sit low on my scooter, I’m at the right
level to talk to babies and dogs. It’s fun and I see some beautiful babies and really lovely dogs. I also always enjoy talking to artisans as I made jewelry for years and sold my pieces at Harbourfront in Toronto where Ron and I dealt in antiques for about five years when we were first married. I know how hard it is to get enough stock together for a show, make it as perfect as possible, price it all, put together a display and then sit there and wait; hoping it will sell.
Every now and then there’ll be an announcement from the bandstand in the middle of the park asking a husband to show up. The bandstand is surrounded by benches where weary husbands congregate while their wives shop.
Charlie aka Chuckie-boy
On one of the side streets is a line of portable toilets and the accessible one suits me on my scooter, accompanied by Ron, just fine. Since Buffalo where I learned to use the urinal while sitting on my scooter, I no longer have to try to use one of these usually very wet, messy facilities. I use the urinal, dump it in the toilet, Ron helps me with my slacks and I’m out of there. We wash out the urinal and return it to its plastic bag in the bottom of my scooter basket. The terrible worry of where I’m going to go has been reduced significantly.
We walked down to the beach area and onto the pier lined with benches with the names of the people who died on the lake carved on the back. Many were sea-going men who died on Lake Erie while fishing. There’s also a large bronze monument there that tells of the many who lost their lives on the lake over the years working in the fishing
Ron on one of the memorial benches
industry there. Lake Erie may look lovely and be extraordinarily shallow but it is that very shallowness that means waves can come up very quickly and makes it extremely dangerous.
A long cool drink and good hot meal of Lake Perch and sweet potato fries at Callahan’s Beach house set us up for the journey home.
I drove the 90 minutes back to give Ron a rest although I noticed his foot on an imaginary brake several times. Exercising my right shoulder regularly has kept it in good enough shape to withstand being help up on the steering wheel with my hand in the quad grip for that length of time. No surgery if I can help it. Steering the van with my right arm and pushing on the gas with my left hand means both shoulders are in play all the time. I have to keep my shoulders and neck in good shape or I really suffer trying to drive.
Linda holding a lovely little Min-Pin named Bambi
We were back on time for All Creatures Great and Small, one of our favorites on PBS, and a couple of hours reading the weekend newspapers before bed.
Both of us had a good time and it was so good to have a change of scenery. God willing and we’re both well, we’ll go back next year to visit the antique dealers, the artisans, the babies, the dogs, the pier and the good food.
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