Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Resonance - Port Britain style

Regular visitors to this blog know that I am always on about resonance, or echoes, the feeling you get that you have been transported back in time by a landscape or townscape, or an old building. Some places seem like portals inviting us to closer communion with the folks who once lived and died there. Lots of little villages, hamlets, or even ghost towns hum with the energy of times gone by, the domain of homesteaders, early industrial areas, empire-builders.
sadly, this 33 acre farm was for sale - future estate lots

For me, one such place is Lakeshore Road, which winds close to the edge of the bluff/beach of Lake Ontario, west from Colborne. From this winding road which respects the topography (no rock cuts or overpasses to make it an idiot-proof drive) and snuggles up to trees and fences, one can time travel. I won't say more. Just go.

Port Britain, according to an account by Ann King Sculthorpe at an ACO meeting in 1985, was settled in 1796 or '97 by a Samuel William Marsh, UEL from Vermont, who built the Port Britain mill.

The hamlet became a c.19 industrial village, its best years around 1856/7 when the harbour and Grand Trunk railway were built (and if you watched Downton Abbey on Sunday, you know what happened to that endeavour).
the rowlock bond cottage
There is a rowlock bond cottage on Jane Street, the road leading to the lake. The street was named after son Samuel Marsh's wife. Jane Ostrum came came from near Picton.

If this does not strike a chord with you, best visit 'The Settler's Dream', or wait til I post Row,Row,Row.

('Homesteads' by McBurney and Byers has an endearing account of their meeting).

 You might pass the hamlet  by, should your eye not be caught by the diminuitive scale of the homes set so close to the road.
  But in 1848, according to McBurney and Byers, "the community then supported more than three hundred and fifty people, including one wagon-maker, two blacksmiths, two coopers, two shop-keepers, two builders, a stonemason, contractor, stationmaster, harbou-rmaster, postmaster, teacher, veterinarian, innkeeper, fishermen and a tailor...[plus all] those involved in William Marsh's shipping and lumbering busines"s. p.208

I read somewhere that over 200 ship's masts were sold to the Royal Navy in one year. Which no doubt explains the absence of first-growth pine, also noted in Prince Edward County, due to the navy's enthusiasm for our tall straight trees.

perhaps this is the portal?


  1. Thanks so much for making this beautiful, talk about resonating !! I would purposely take Lakesore Rd. back from Port Hope, taking my sweet time as I meandered to Newcastle. First under the railway, via the underpass, then over it, on that rickety little wooden bridge that spanned the rail line. Is that thing safe ?! Loved the sense of history and of towns/eras gone by. (wasn't there also an old village called New Britain in there somewhere too ??). It all culminated in that slight rise near the port of Newcastle as the road sat right beside the lake and curved through the town, itself a faint reminder of busier, loftier days. Driving up Mill st. gave me "those feelings...", and then I would sadly bid adieu before jumping on the racetrack to get home.

    As noted, roads dictated by topography often make for the most distinctive and memorable drives. And I am reminded of McBurney and Byers' beautiful book on Nova Scotia called "Atlantic Hearth". So many of those old places sat on twisty, turny roads (or no roads), where geography ruled.

  2. My favourite house in Port Britain has always been that little stone one that you've taken such a nice photo of!