Port Britain, Ontario Ghost Town


Because there were no roads, aside from 1st Nations People trails, the only access by early settlers to Hope and Clarke Township from Port Hope, Ontario was by boat only. Lakeshore Road, was constructed in 1799 from York (Toronto) east to the Bay of Quinte and at first, this road was used mostly by soldiers from Toronto to Kingston. Nervous about this road and fearing attacks by the Americans during the war of 1812, a new road was built soon after further north of the U.S./Canada border. This new road became known as the Kingston Road and later Highway #2. Today from Port Hope to Newcastle,  Lakeshore Road is a very scenic, low speed, narrow and winding road favored by cyclists and ‘Sunday’ drivers.

In the 1840’s a new harbour was in the works for west of Port Hope to be called Port Britain. A partial quote from Port Hope History – Port Britain Harbour gives more information on the reasons for the location of the harbour:

Prospectus of the Port Britain Harbour Company:

Port Britain is situated on Lake Ontario, in the centre of the Township of Hope and County of Durham, known to be one of the best wheat growing sections of Canada. The country to the rear of it and directly its tributary, is unsurpassed for fertility of soil and quality of its productions. There are several grist mills, saw mills, and distilleries in its immediate vicinity, it is sixty miles eastward of Toronto, and about equal distance from Belleville, at the head of navigation of the Bay of Quinte. It lies to the westward of the Town of Cobourg and contiguous to Port Hope, and nearly opposite to the City of Rochester, from which it is distant only about sixty miles. Port Britain presents natural advantages for a harbour, unequalled by any port on Lake Ontario; surrounded by hills and heavy bluffs jutting out into the Lake, it forms a secluded bay in which vessels may seek shelter and safely ride out the most severe storm.

The highest engineering and nautical talent of the country have pronounced it to be the place best adapted for a harbour of refuge. Unlike most of the ports on Lake Ontario, it has good anchorage outside (blue clay,) and any vessel which might miss the harbour would be sure to hold on in safety by her anchor. The inner harbour is proposed to be formed inside the present line of lake beach, where there now exists a natural basin of about twelve acres of deep water, along two sides of which it is proposed to pile so as to form commodious wharves, and to open a channel two hundred feet wide through the beach to twelve feet deep water, which it is intended to protect with cribbing on both sides. Added to these natural advantages, the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada have erected a Station at this point; this, coupled with the fact that it is the only place where the line of railway comes to a convenient grade above the level of the lake, for shipping purposes, forces the conclusion that it will eventually be the place from which transhipment must be made for all freights and merchandise shipped from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, via the eastern ports of Rochester, thence across Lake Ontario, Simcoe, and Huron Railway, without cost of carriage, storage, or excessive harbour dues, transhipment being made direct from the vessel to the cars, and vice versa.

De Grassi, Toronto, 9th December 1856.


Port Britain was established on Lakeshore Road a few miles west of Port Hope by William Marsh in the 1840’s. Other than the reasons stated in the above prospectus of the Harbour Company, this location was chosen for its large and very deep lagoon on the lake. This is where Marsh floated his logs for rafting and built his many ships. He also shipped his forest products like tar, tanbark, potash, pearlash (note: pearlash is a lye-based chemical ‘leavening’ agent), lumber, shingles, staves and timber to the U.S. and overseas markets. His launching ways were at the foot of the side road west of Lot 22 just west of the mouth of Marsh’s Creek and east of the present day Willow Beach Road.


Port Britain was also a station stop on the new railroad, this is the place where the first locomotives for the Grand Trunk were landed at the mouth of Marsh’s Creek. There was plenty of evidence of a very busy harbour port as early as 1843 and by 1853 there was a wharf where early rails and rolling stock for the early railroads in Upper Canada were unloaded for shipment to many places. Grains, flour and lumber products were shipped out from here.

“Where a dynasty routed in British connections, rose, flourished, built it’s family seats, furnished them with pianos built by their own imported workmen, launched fleets of schooners and sent them to sea, and they faded, leaving to the lonesome lake gulls the remnants of the greatness of Marsh’s Creek and Port Britain.”   Robert B. Townsend.

This section of Lakeshore Road is lined with three ‘sister’ ghost towns, Port Britain, Westleyville and the most interesting and history laden is Port Granby. The later because of its interesting early history and its on-going story of low level radioactive waste storage from Port Hope’s Eldorado Mining and Refining Ltd. (Cameco). Port Granby’s story will be told in a future post.

Regards,   Ranger.


  1. Heather · · Reply

    Great information! Very interesting. Thanks


    1. 2oldguyswalking · · Reply

      Heather, Thanks for your comment, we always appreciate knowing our readers enjoy something we have written, there is so much beauty and history along the Lakeshore Road.


  2. Karen Cashin · · Reply

    Great stuff for research! Keep up the good work!


    1. Karen, thanks for your comment re: Port Britain. Great to know readers appreciate our site.


  3. As a child, I was fortunate indeed to travel to Port Britain in the Summer with my family, renting a cottage there and spending a few weeks in a truly magical place. Fifty years later, and that experience still resonates. There was an original ‘A’-frame bridge over Marsh’s Creek, which was reached by the old Grand Trunk Railway bank, now a Nature Reserve. I have done many sketches and drawings of these places, including the bridge (twice!). If you are interested in a photo of the old bridge, please let me know. It will sit nicely in this article…


    1. Wes, thanks for your comments, really like local sketches (and bridges). I will keep your offer in mind at a time when un update is needed.


  4. Ingrid Kern · · Reply

    Hi,2 0ld Guys.
    We discovered Lakeshore Road last week while on a “Sunday drive”. It sure is lovely! We drove around searching for the 3 Ghost Towns. And I bought honey from a lovely lady at Willow Beach farm, once a busy port, it appears !
    Thanks very much for your Blog about the long, lost towns. Your information has brought the whole area to life for us. What a great history, and no one now knows about it !
    Much appreciated . sincerely,
    Ingrid Kern, retired Nurse


    1. Ingrid, Thank you for the great comment. The 2 Old Guys love comments from our readers. Lakeshore Road is one of the most historic and scenic drives anywhere in southern Ontario, glad you discovered it. Willow Beach was once a an important port and the local ‘ghost towns’ are still very active. These towns were the result of the ill-fated Oil powered generating station at Wesleyville where the Ontario government purchased hundreds of acres of land in this area and built the generating station that never generated any electrical power! The ‘silver lining’ to this story is a lot of land is now protected from future development and will keep this lakeside area so great for generations to come. Thanks again for your comment.
      The 2 Old Guys


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