Wesleyville is the first of the three ‘sister’ ghost towns located on the beautiful, winding (never originally surveyed) historic Lakeshore Road between Port Hope and Newcastle Ontario. The other two ‘sisters’ are Port Britain (see post: Port Britain, Ontario Ghost Town, July 19, 2017) and Port Granby. (see post: The Port Granby Project, August 2, 2017). You cannot miss Wesleyville, as it is home to the defunct electrical generating station with the fourth tallest (682 feet) chimney in Canada and can be seen for miles in every direction. With only a few homes left occupied in the village, the old school building is privately owned and remains well maintained today. The restored United Church and cemetery will grab your attention immediately and will invite you to stop and explore as well as snap a few pictures. With a little imagination you can easily visualize the deserted road filled with life, horse & buggies and the locals going about their lives visiting neighbors or heading to the post office to mail a letter.
The Lake Ontario shore here has been in turn First Nation, French and British. The Iroquois at one time drove the Hurons out of this region and almost out of existence. The Iroquois in turn, were succeeded by the Mississaugas who now have descendants living in the Rice Lake area. Early First Nation occupation in Wesleyville has been found in plowed fields were arrow heads and flint skinning tools have been found on high land on several farms here. In 1793 the first surveying of Hope Township was started but ague and fever made it necessary for the surveyor to return to Newark that fall and finish the work the next summer. Hope Township was named after Colonel Henry Hope and Clarke Township after General Alured Clarke the Lieut. Governor in 1792. The first settler to Wesleyville in 1797 was Jonathan Brown from Ireland. The Brown family landed on a cleared spot about an acre in size on the beach about a mile west of the Wesleyville Church. This cleared spot in the densely wooded forest was once likely used by the first Nations as a meeting place as many relics have been found there.
The trees in this area were all beech and maple which made a comfortable house, with hand split logs for a floor. The early settlers cut down the trees in rows, some were burned and others dragged to the lake for easy disposal. Fish were plentiful close to shore and is said that “you could take a willow basket, hold it under the waterfall of a local creek and soon have it full of speckled trout.” Jonathan Brown had been a whaler, and later a tailor for the British Army and his wife made homespun cloth, from which Mr. Brown made suits for the settlers. Early settlers had to take their first grain crop to Oshawa by canoe to be ground into flour for their baking needs. J. Brown lived to be one hundred and three years old. He and his wife are buried on their farm here as well as some of their family and several Indians. It is said that he never had his hair cut, but wore it in a long braid down his back.
Some other very early settlers to the area were the Wallaces, the Sisson’s and Waltons. During the War of 1812 the Lakeshore was the only road from Toronto to Kingston. The Walton’s could see the red coats and the glimmering bayonets of the soldiers coming over the Port Britain hill. The soldiers were usually quartered at Marsh’s Inn, Port Britain, but one night some of them spent the night on the Walton’s kitchen floor. The next morning, Mr. Walton was missing two of his pigs, blaming the soldiers for roasting them, the C.O. paid for them… in gold. Sometime later after the soldiers had left, the pigs returned from the woods, where they had been feasting on beech nuts. The story is told that when the powder magazine was blown up before Gen. Roger Hale Sheaffe evacuated York (Toronto) in retreat of the Americans, the report could be heard at Walton’s. In the field on which Walton’s house stood, a local resident found a cannon ball, about the size of a baseball and weighing four pounds and once plowed up an old rusty bayonet. It was during this war that a keg of gold was supposed to have been buried somewhere near Wesleyville!
At the site of Wesleyville’s first sawmill, an old upright saw was used and in the remains of the millhouse could be seen planks almost two inches thick, standing upright and fastened entirely by wooden pins. There were three taverns on the same road within two miles, one owned by Frank Little, another called the ‘Plough Inn, and Drag Out’ and the third in a local farm house. Nearby, a brewery once operated, it had spring water piped in and if you wanted to water your horse, it was said that you were obligated to buy a stronger drink for yourself. In 1800 there was a tavern on the corner where the post office was located, later a cobbler lived here and made boots for his neighbors, a mechanic named Parker had a machine shop here, a blacksmith shop built a threshing mill, field rollers etc. and another blacksmith by the name of Huntington was located here as well as a carpenter, a Mr. Palmer. At this time three immense poplars once stood east of the church, they were so tall they served as a landmark for sailors on Lake Ontario. Local children attended school at Port Granby until a school was built half a mile east of Wesleyville. This same school was either moved to the present site, or another one built there. In 1800 it was torn down and the frame church moved here for a school. This school was destroyed by fire in 1899 and the present school was erected. This school was closed in 1965.
Before a church was built, services were held in the Barrowclough home. The first frame church was replaced by the present brick structure in 1860, built by contractor Jaynes of Port Hope. The church and cemetery land were donated by the Barrowclough family. The church officially closed in 1968. The first post office was opened in 1875 with postmaster John Barrowclough. The village originally called Lakeshore and later Crimea, at this time opted for a name change and added the ‘ville’ to honor the Wesley Church. The post office closed in 1944.
Ontario Hydro (Ontario Power Generation) began buying or expropriating over 1200 acres of land in Wesleyville in the late 1960’s and 1970’s to build a massive one billion dollar oil-fired generating station. With the nuclear powered Darlington (Bowmanville) station also underway, it was thought that a two thousand megawatt bunker oil-fired Wesleyville station would handle the anticipated electrical needs of the province for many years. The mid 1970’s OPEC oil embargo spelled doom for the station and construction halted in 1978 leaving the chimney and most of the buildings near completion but the station was never fired up. Around this era it appeared that Weslyville was in a slow period of decline with the loss of their post office, the closing of the school and church. The generating station failed to be the expected life preserver for the village. Thanks to The Friends of Wesleyville Village for preserving the history of the village and its school, two architectural significant homes, barns and unique church.