Port Credit Harbour
By Robert B. Townsend
Port Credit has survived the names “Port Starvation” and “Port Hardscrable” when times were tough and the “Gooseberry” and “Credit to the Lake” when times were good.
The old dusty two-store Lake Shore road staked with nibbled hitching posts and promenaded by cows, turned to a motor highway with buses, banks, barbershops, cafes, picture places and a post office of palatial proportions. Staggering frame houses that never had a lick of paint from the day were built have spruced up or disappeared, replaced by architect-designed homes of brick, stone or concrete, set in landscaped gardens where there was the native bush or the broken-down barn and cowshed.
To the east of the old port the was “new” Industry of the 19th century, the starch factory, which supplied a small market for the farmers potatoes, by the mid 20th century expanded to a huge many-storied works with its own water plant, railway sidings, and a payroll with many more names on it than the whole two-legged population of Port Credit. including the geese, of fifty years before.
To the west of the old port the brickyards became populated by cylindrical tanks, aluminum painted. Oil steamers load and discharge by pipeline from a crib out in the lake in the spot where the old Augusta drove ashore in 1901, a total loss with some of her 701 tons of coal. A big oil refinery was built where her shattered masts were dragged inland by farm team for winter firewood.
But the schooner-thronged port of other years has disappeared. In its glory days one could count thirty-seven schooners and yachts wintering there.
The yachts included the old Condor, which drew nine feet of water, and the Seabird big but shorter in the legs; the Estelle, Gertie, Mollie, WaWa, and the little Cyprus, Will Fife’s first example of clydesdale built plank-on-edge cutter. And there were the steam yachts Sonntag, and Esperanza, all well known Toronto names. Even the Beaver, Canada’s Cup defender, wintered there. And the hookers, among them were the Rapid City, Barque Swallow, Margaret Ann, Mary E. Ferguson, Mary Ann, Defiance, Blackbird, Lone Star, Brig Rover, Maude S., Lithophone, Olympia, Reindeer, Lillie, Minnie Dunn, George Dows, Rapid, Newsboy, Paddy Young, Coral, Cornet, Zebra, Lillian, Mary, and WhiteWings, these last yachts fallen from that high estate into the stone trade. There was the Enterprise, too, and the Hope, and still others. Now there was not a mast except te beanpoles of pleasure boats, and not many of these. The fishboats, of mackinaw rig, ha all turned into long-nosed power boats.
The Lake Shore highway leapt across the harbour on two handsome concrete bridges, unnoticed by the traffic. It used to creep down to a little wooden bridge, to which even the largish Rapid City could moor, then across an island, and then to a rattling clanking iron bridge where the Hookers used to throng, packed so close there was no need for foot passengers to use the bridge they muzzled. You could walk across the harbour on their decks.
Apart from the five hotels, where whiskey could be bought at 3 cents glass, the old village was as quiet as a schoolhouse on Saturday, but down at the port it was always brisk and :busy, with piles of cordwood, brick, tan~bark and building stone waiting for shipment. There was a wharf on the lake front where steamers called daily. You might still find the old cribs of it yet. out in the lake. At one tie there were at two piers, with a hundred foot entrance between, and more wharves inside, before you came to the fishnet reels, whimpering and whispering on their wooden axles as they dried their gillnets in the wind.
Fishing was a staple industry. Jack Yorkshire, fisherman, had the outermost cottage and a garden on point on the west side of the harbour, and there were two other houses on it besides. Point, cottage, houses, and a whole street once paralleling the water, and known s Lake street, have been washed away by the ever-eating lake. Yellow-curled Peggy Yorkshire’s lover, crossing Ontario from ‘Niagara in an open winter to keep a tryst with her on St. Valentine’s day, was washed up on her father’s door-step months afterward, and Peggy~ never married. His schooner, the Nine Brothers; was found on her side, with reefed sails, among the ice twerty miles east of, the Niagara Bar. Long ago, long ago. The year was.1845.
Inside Jack Yorkshire’s point in the harbour, were Goose Point and Goose Bay, where rode triumphant flocks of snowy geese. Goose dinners were the chefs d’oeuvres of the Port Credit hotels and of the many alleys of visiting schooners that lay overnight in the Credit picking up grain cargoes and unpaid for pôultry. Farmers lined up for a mile back on the centre road and the old Stavebank road leading down to the lighthouse, waiting to unload their sacks of wheat or barley Into Ben Clarkson’s warehouses on the wharf, or into the schooners thronging the era, loading by wheelbarrows.
Every little house had an acre more or less of garden. And very other house had an old topmast upended on front of it and a long cone-shaped schooner’s fly, or wind cone, swinging at its truck. Very much of a sailor port, for Port Credit mariners were in demand all over the Great Lakes. One went to South Africa in the Sea Gull when she carried the cargo of lumber and buggies and what-not from Toronto to Natal in 1865.
The only industry in Port Credit in those years. apart from the harbourl was the village blacksmith shop, and that was not apart from the harbour either, for when the blacksmith was not setting wagon tires, shoeing .horses, or repairing ploughshares and coulters he was hammering out ship spikes, chainplates, shackles and caulking irons.
There were shipyards on either side of the river — one patronized by Toronto yachts, $10 for a haulout and winter storage, any size—and a third yard, the most ancient, on the bank crowned by the old hotel which had been built upon the side of the old government blockhouse, where presents were given, to the Indians annually. A post office is there now.
Here the Brig Rover (so christened though she had only a pikepole topsail to merit it) was built - bottom up, turned over, and ‘launched down a long runway.