“Out of Cat Hollow” has long been a tittle of pride on the great lakes. You will never find either Cat Hollow or the Port of Cramaha on any shipping documents…but both were very real! Cat Hollow was the general name for the settlement on both sides of Keeler Creek flowing into Lake Ontario and formed the boundary between Haldimand and Cramahe Townships. The Haldimand side was known as the Port of Colborne or Colborne Harbor, the opposite side was what the registers called the Port of Cramaha. When the Village of Colborne (3 miles inland) reached post office status, this settlement changed its name to Lakeport. The name “Port of Cramaha” vanished because the name of the noble marquis for whom it was named was too hard to spell.
The name Cat Hollow was always proudly used by the sailors of the Schooner days and even ‘rose to the dignity’ of a post office. The older locals even today affectionately know the village best as Cat Hollow and no…there is no logical reason for this unusual name…but it never fails to makes me smile!
Today the name is better known to the rest of us as Lakeport. Lakeport’s history began in 1793 when Joseph Keeler, a U.S. Loyalist arrived. He obtained a free land grant from the Crown and he landed at what is still known today as Keeler’s Creek. He made his way inland through the forest to the top of the hill now known as Kellwood. It is said that here he climbed a tall tree and looking toward the lake declared, “this is where I want to settle.”
The Keelers were prominent in much of the development of Colborne and Colborne Harbour. Joseph Keeler’s son was the founder of the Village of Colborne, a merchant, a Justice of the Peace and was responsible for Victoria Park in the centre of the town. Joseph Keeler’s grandson published the first newspaper in Colborne known as the ‘Transcript.’
The village of Lakeport is bounded on the north by Factory Road, on the east by Pine Street (Cramahe Township), on the west by Ontario Street and Lake Ontario to the south. The village is bi-sected diagonally by Front Street, more or less following Keeler’s Creek, and is crossed by three streets running east and west, known as Cedar Street to the south, Mill Street and Spring Street as you move northward.
One of the earliest settlers at Cat Hollow was Archibald Campbell from Scotland who built a home and a wharf where he was in business engaged in shipping lumber and grain to the United States and importing coal on the return voyage. The original wharfs had no breakwater or other natural protection and were very uncomfortable places for ‘laying up through the winter’ or ‘fitting out in the spring.’ Most of the vessels would over winter in Cobourg to the west or Brighton to the east. These docks were only used for loading or unloading cargo. It is said that peacocks were once raised in Cat Hollow and were the sailor’s unfailing barometer. Day or night they would scream and clamor against an incoming storm, so consistently that the vessels at the unprotected piers would cast off and make sail for shelter elsewhere when the ‘peafowls’ cries came down the hill. The closest shelter was at Presqu’isle around the corner at Proctor’s Point. Geese were raised on the mill pond and almost everyone in the village had a couple of pigs and a cow.
As a port of entry, Cat Hollow had its own Custom House and Donald McTavish was the Hudson’s Bay Factor. It is not known when the Keeler, Campbell or Cole wharfs were built, but the Campbell dock was last re-built in 1910 and were extended seven hundred feet out into the lake. The last government repair of the wharf was in 1934. Today, there are few reminders of a glorious past.
The Sproule Flour Mill was situated on the east side of Front Street, just south of the Anglican Church and on the opposite side of the road and some remnants of the old foundation stones may still be seen there. The saw mill, woolen mill and plaster mill were north of Factory Road, just east of the canning factory. The limestone from the plaster mill was quarried just south of Factory Road and was used in the building of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Colborne in 1830. Alonzo Dewey’s comb factory once occupied a building which began as a mill. Why a comb factory flourished in Cat Hollow and for how long and what products did it produce are still a mystery to the Ranger!
On a property known locally as The Commons, lying just south of the ends of Front and Ontario Streets there was the large Campbells’s elevator, coal sheds and a lumber yard. Residents can recall at one time this commons would be covered with lumber, telegraph poles, fence posts and railway ties waiting to be shipped out. In the early steam days several cords of wood had to be piled on the end of the dock every day as fuel for steam instead of coal. By the early 1900’s, the flour mill was gone, C.J. McCallum’s coal sheds were demolished and his old elevator which sat empty for many years was torn down and the lumber was re-purposed for farm buildings. The Dominion Canning Factory, later the Canadian Canners building still stands today but has been converted to other uses. Built by Archibald Campbell after the original building burned down, in its heyday, it canned fruit and vegetables such as tomatoes, apples, berries, beans and pumpkins. At one time it employed up to fifty women at 35 cents a day and twenty men at $1 per day. Their tin cans were even produced in-house.
Before Cat Hollow had their own church, the Rev. Peter Duncan of Colborne and Brighton had been holding religious services in the school on weekdays, as he had no time on Sundays. A Presbyterian church was built on property set aside by Joseph Keeler for church purposes and was opened in 1884 (it is still in use as a private dwelling.) A few years later some of the Anglicans withdrew from this congregation and built a church of their own in 1893. This church has since been demolished.
The Port of Cramaha (Cat Hollow), was famous throughout the Great Lakes for its early ship building and some of its earliest recorded launchings were, “The Trade Winds” built at Keeler’s Creek in 1853 and was purchased and sailed by the famous Capt. John A. Allen of Whitby. This was followed by the brigantine “Alice Grover”, the schooner “Mary Grover” and the schooner “Jane Armstrong” all built for J.M. Grover at Cole’s Dock. Some other well- known vessels from Cat Hollow were the 82 foot schooner “Thistle” built by Don Connagher, the “Jura” by John Shaw and the best known was likely the “Octavia” built by John Tait in 1868 for Major Joseph Keeler, MP and the 97 foot “Sibylla” also built for MP Keeler. The well-known two- masted “Paragon” was re-built into the three- masted “Keewatin” in 1889 at Cat Hollow in for Archibald Campbell. She was lost in the Gulf of Mexico during a hurricane in 1917. Many vessels called Cat Hollow home in the old days.
Thanks to local historian Delbert M. Peebles for much of the above historical information.