Port Stanley is a quaint community in Elgin County, Ontario. Located south of London, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. Though once an important route to other inland waterways during the 17th and 18th centuries, a commercial freshwater fishery and abundant tourism support the local economy of this village today.
During the summer months, the large, sandy beach known as Main Beach attracts droves of vacationers, students and young families to the area. This beach is only one of 27 in Canada awarded the Blue Flag for environmental commitment to water quality and safety. Whether you want to just lay on the sand and work on your tan, go parasailing, or play an exhilarating game of volleyball, you will find great ways to keep fit and have fun in Port Stanley.
If golf is your game, you can take in the rolling hills of the Kettle Creek Golf & Country Club. This picturesque, 5,185-yard par 67 course features a historic covered bridge, majestic 3-acre pond, and forested slopes. The scenic terrain challenges any level of golfer.
Before the day ends, stroll the beautiful village full of first-class dining, unique shops, galleries and live entertainment. There’s always something to do in Port Stanley.
Getting to Port Stanley
You will find Port Stanley on the north shore of Lake Erie and south-west of London, Ontario. From Toronto, it is a 2.5 hour drive. Follow the ON-401 West to Colonel Talbot Road in London, exit at 177A and take the ON-4 South (Colonel Talbot Road) toward Saint Thomas. Then follow Sunset Drive to Port Stanley.
If travelling from Toronto without a car, you can catch a train or bus to London, and then take a taxi to Port Stanley. The cost will vary between $90 – $125.
The fast route from Windsor, Ontario is by the ON-401 East to Colonel Talbot Road in London, exit at 177A and take the ON-4 South (Colonel Talbot Road) toward Saint Thomas. This drive is a little over 2 hours. You can also take the train or bus to London and then take a taxi to Port Stanley.
The more scenic, and my preferred route, from Windsor follows Hwy 3 South to Leamington and then east through Blenheim and continuing to Shedden. Then take Hwy 20 through Fingal and follow the signs to Port Stanley. This drive takes about 3.5 hours but is well worth it.
Along the Way
During the drive today, we stopped at McColl Cemetery in Brock’s Creek to capture the glistening sun peeking through the autumn trees. Duncan McColl immigrated to Canada from Scotland around 1820 and established a farm in Brock’s Creek with his sons. When his health began to fail and he could no longer work the farm, he used to cross the creek and rest under a tree to watch his sons. He loved the spot and when he died, his sons buried him under that tree and designated the surrounding area as The McColl Cemetery. Subsequently, other pioneer families have also been laid to rest in the cemetery.
Further down the road, we made another short detour to Elgin County’s oldest estate winery, Quai Du Vin. The vineyards on this scenic country estate were first planted back in 1970, though the winery didn’t open until 1990. Whenever we are in the area, we usually stop in for a quick visit, and purchase some wine. Today, we sampled some wines, purchased a 2016 Chardonnay, a 2016 Merlot, and a bottle of Sangria. Before leaving, we each enjoyed a lovely glass of red wine on the Wine Press Terrace, and captured more autumn pictures in the nearby woods. The winery is located at 45811 Fruitridge Line in St. Thomas. When passing through, stop in and browse the store for wine-related products and fine fines. If you find a favourite, you can then order it online and they will send it right to your door!
Explore Coney Island of the Great Lakes
Port Stanley’s main beach is one of the finest, sandy stretches along Lake Erie’s north shore. And it is safe to swim. This was the first beach in Ontario to have earned the coveted Blue flag designation for strict commitment to water quality, safety, and environment standards.
Once known as the “Coney Island of the Great Lakes”, the main beach is extremely popular during the summer months. This is the town’s main attraction! Come on in, the water is warm. Though often crowded, lifeguards patrol the beach to keep it safe. A large pavilion provides shelter for groups, picnics and other activities. Mats in the sand make the beach more accessible to people using wheelchairs or strollers. Volleyball nets line the back end of the beach and are always busy. Though parking was once free, it is now metered and patrolled.
And if you get hungry laying in the sand, there’s GT’s on the Beach featuring a beachside bar & grill, a large 400-seat patio, volleyball courts and live music. The sizeable menu offers a selection of seafood, chicken, steak and Mexican dishes to combat any appetite.
If you’re looking for a smaller, more family-oriented beach, head over to Port Stanley’s Little Beach. This secluded haven features 185 metres of sandy shore and shallow water protected by a berm. Great for the little ones. Parking and port-a-potty bathrooms are available.
Savoury Good Cooking
Looking for a great place to eat for breakfast, lunch, a quick snack or exquisite supper. There are plenty of good places in Port Stanley. For a quick breakfast or light lunch, I highly recommended That Breakfast Place on Bridge Street. The selection is reasonable, and the food is good, quick, and well-priced.
For something a little more upscale, try the Windjammer Inn B&B. Having stayed here, I can attest that the food is beautifully presented and delicious. The Fisher’s Breakfast from their brunch menu features perfect scrambled eggs with chives, herbed home fries and ancient grains toast and cornmeal-crusted perch. You won’t go hungry.
For a quick afternoon bite to eat, Main Street Taqueria, on Main Street of course, serves authentic Mexican style food. Besides great food, the owner is friendly and welcoming.
For a great cup of coffee, slip into the Harbour Merchant Coffee Company on Bridge Street. Many consider their micro-roast blends to be the best-tasting coffees around. The shop is tastefully decorated. A large roasting machine in the corner and bags of coffee beans create a pleasant atmosphere. Lots of pastries and treats. We had Americano coffee with cheese pretzels. Hit the spot and kept us going.
for dinner and something a little more up-scale, consider Solo on Main. Chef Lo’s creates hand-crafted dishes from scratch using fresh, local ingredients that result in a flavourful taste experience. The restaurant is warm and inviting. Perfect space to share great food with someone special. I suggest reservations.
The Main Street Experience
One of the more enjoyable activities in Port Stanley is strolling up and down Main Street, popping into the many shops, galleries and food establishments. Stores like rhumba, a woman’s clothing establishment designed to provide a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding shopping experience. Customers can browse and find that unique style they can call their own.
Frankly Scarlett is a jewelry store offering quality fashion accessories at reasonable prices. No matter what your style, you will find the perfect accessory here, whether it be jewelry, handbags, scarves, watches or more. Every piece is a statement piece.
Port Stanley is an artist haven. If you are looking for local, original fine art, check out the Art Emporium, an artist-run gallery operated by local artists. Over 30 area artists display and sell their work. Or, just down the street, pop into Portside Gallery, another artist run gallery offering work in a wide range of styles, mediums and techniques. The gallery encourages art lovers to come in and browse the work of its 18 members.
Antique shopping doesn’t get any better than at Little Beach Antiques. They offer a varied collection of old, salvaged, and restored items that would be perfect for home or cottage. The owner is warm and welcoming. The shop is full of treasures. You will surely find a gem or two.
Port Stanley Terminal Rail
The Port Stanley Terminal Rail (PSTR) is a heritage railway that uses the abandoned tracks between Port Stanley and St. Thomas, Ontario. Abandoned in 1982 after falling into disrepair, railway preservationists purchased this section of track in 1983 and turned into a heritage railway. In 1987, the group received a provincial railway charter to operate trains between St. Thomas and Port Stanley. In 2012, North America Railway Hall of Fame inducted the Port Stanley Terminal Rail.
Classified as a tourist railway, all boarding is done in Port Stanley. Rain or shine, all trains depart from and return to the Port Stanley station next to the King George Lift Bridge. Return trips last one hour and trains run most weekends. During the summer, the trains run daily. Special rides, like the Santa Express and Murder Mystery series, are scheduled throughout the year.
Besides regular tourist rides, the Little Red Caboose is available for birthday parties and can be scheduled on any regular, or special event, run. The caboose holds 22 – 26 people and a minimum of 10 fares are required to book. Adult tickets cost $15 each and tickets for children under fourteen cost $9. A single additional charge of $10 is also applied for the use of the caboose. Parents must supply food and party favours.
Stay the Night
There is so much to do in Port Stanley that you may want to stay an extra day or two. No problem. From upscale inns to vacation properties and Airbnb rentals, you will surely find the perfect getaway to fit your budget.
The Kettle Creek Inn offers guests exceptional accommodations and a delicious cuisine experience. Originally a home constructed in 1849 for the local Justice of the Peace, the main building was converted into an inn in 1918 and upgraded in 1983 and 1990. The property features lovely English gardens and charming gazebo for relaxing solitude. Rates vary by season.
The Telegraph House Bed & Breakfast offers guests a choice from two grand suites, with either ensuite or private baths, in a two-storey Victorian home. Originally owned by Manuel Payne, the Postmaster of Port Stanley, this heritage building offers guests a unique view into the history of this quaint fishing village. Added touches make guests feel welcome. Book early to ensure a room. Rates vary by season.
The Windjammer Inn offers guests a choice from five rooms. There are 3 cozy rooms with private bath in the main house, and 2 larger rooms in the carriage house. The carriage house, hidden within the garden, features a cozy queen bed, Jacuzzi tub, television and fireplace for that perfect romantic getaway.
More To Do
The former Town Hall building now houses the 200-seat Port Stanley Festival Theatre featuring Canadian works in drama, comedy and musical-comedy, and other celebrated plays. Off-season, the theatre focuses on musical productions featuring world renown tribute acts. The theatre also sponsors a Youth Theatre Camp during the summer months to introduce young people to the special magic of theatre. Through a stimulating and enjoyable environment, performers develop presentation skills and build self-confidence while expanding their creativity.
A day in Port Stanley wouldn’t be complete without a leisurely walk along the harbour and Kettle Creek. The area has undergone a major redevelopment in recent years. The now picturesque harbour blends perfectly into this quaint fishing village. Stroll out to the end of the docks, watching the fishing boats as they return and unload their catch in the afternoon sun. Or sit quietly in the park next to the King George Lift Bridge. The bridge, completed in 1939, is so finely counterbalanced that it can be raised and lowered manually if necessary.
Port Stanley, this beautiful village full of unique shops, fine restaurants, world-class beaches and fabulous entertainment truly has something for everyone. I make the trip to Port Stanley at least twice a year.