Port Hope in its early days was so rich in history and it was very well recorded. It seems that there were many interesting characters that had so many tales to tell that were not so well known. Fortunately for us, we have a record of some of them. Thanks to the late historian William Arnot Craick and his book “Port Hope: Historical Sketches” we can today enjoy some of their personal stories. Below are just a few that I have come across in my research and would like to share.
A Mr. Myndert Harris, one of the earliest settler in Port Hope was coming up the shore from Gage’s Creek one fine day where he spotted a large buck standing in the stream. It appeared to be in distress for its eyes glared and it was standing very still and it was evident that it had been chased recently, likely by a wolf or coyote.
Mr. Harris, without a second thought, waded out to it and seized it by the horns and forced its head under the water. For a while, there was a fierce struggle but the strong pioneer was easily an equal match for the tired old buck… it eventually succumbed.
Another tale of Mr. Harris was about an occasion while he was maple-sugaring in the woods, he came across a bear which was about to attack him. Not having his trusty shotgun at the time, he picked up a syrup-trough and rushed at the bear. After some rather heavy blows he succeeded in killing it!
In yet another tale, a James Sculthorpe would tell about the abundance of salmon in the creek. James arrived in Smith’s Creek (Port Hope) in 1801 to live with his grandfather Elias Smith the most famous fisherman of the town. In one night with an uncle, they caught three hundred salmon…the pair refused fifty dollars for them! (A lot of money at that time!)
On another occasion, setting out in a boat with a friend named Taylor, they entered a cove near the mouth of the creek. Soon after, Taylor was seized with convulsions and fell overboard. The boat upset and Sculthorpe was lucky he made it to shore. On gathering help, a search was made for Taylor, who was eventually found on a hillside where he had crawled to safety!
This commotion in the cove had scared the ‘heck’ out of a huge shoal of salmon and in their haste to escape, the frightened fish had carried the boat along with them. The next morning the fishermen returned to retrieve the boat and found it lying bottom-up on the shore. Imagine their astonishment on turning it over, they found thirty-two large salmon wedged into it!
A sad tale surrounding the hulk of a schooner that at one time lay near the shore to the east of the east pier. It was all that remained of the schooner Niagara, which was the first steamer to call regularly at Port Hope, she first appeared here in 1827.
This sunken schooner was driven aground there by a fierce storm on December 3rd, 1856. The Niagara was on her way from near-by Bond Head Harbor headed to Port Hope carrying a full load of coal. On her attempt to make the harbor she struck the eastern pier and was forced around by the gale-like winds and driven ashore.
Ironically, the Commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club had only recently commented on the poor layout of the harbor. He stated “During a south or south/west gale this port cannot be made safely by larger vessels drawing over nine feet of water owing to the tremendous swell rolling in from the lake. Besides, the piers only being one hundred and twenty feet apart at the mouth and the basin very small, there is not room to check the speed of the vessel or to snub her without damage to herself or others”.
Well, it happened! The crew consisting of a captain and five men, were forced to climb into the rigging to escape the raging waves of an angry Lake Ontario. The residents of Port Hope by now had gathered in a large crowd on the shore to offer any help they could. A rescue party under the command of Captain Alward started out in a boat but failed to reach the wreck.
Shortly after, a Captain Paddock and five men tried for a second rescue attempt. His boat actually reached the wrecked ship but immediately it foundered. The Captain unfortunately was drowned as was one of his crew by the name of Campbell!
The survivors from the Paddock crew succeeded in boarding the wreck, now making a total of ten men to be rescued. Captain Alward led a third rescue party and to the relief of the anxious watchers on the shore, succeeded in bringing off the ship-wrecked crew. For his bravery he was presented with a gold watch by the grateful people of Port Hope.