Things to Do in Port Colborne, Niagara’s Ship Shape City
Despite growing up in Niagara, I’ve only been to Port Colborne a handful of times. Since returning to the area, I’ve made it my mission to explore more of my own backyard that I didn’t take advantage of before – with one of these destinations being Port Colborne! The town has always been a regular part of conversation at home as my dad is a retired marine engineer who worked with transport ships along the Welland Canal, but I’ve never really taken the opportunity to explore it. Well, better late than never, right? See what I found and check out these fantastic things to do in Port Colborne!
As I mentioned, my dad was a marine engineer and with the Welland Canal running through the city, you can guess that a huge part of Port Colborne’s identity is tied to the water. It’s hard to miss the industrial vibe Port Colborne has, though don’t let this deter you from visiting. There are plenty of adorable shops, great restaurants and lovely parks to explore! Plus, the feat of seeing one of these massive transport ships make its way into the start of the canal is pretty impressive and not to be missed.
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Take a Stroll Along the Port Promenade
What better way to start your visit than to get acquainted with Port Colborne. Head to West Street and take a stroll along the Port Promenade. You’ll enjoy some beautiful views of Lock 8, the southernmost lock of the Welland Canal and the gateway to the waters of Lake Erie.
Before you get into your stroll, pop into the Green Apple Coffee House and grab something to sip on. I mean, walks are best enjoyed with a beverage, especially when it’s chilly out! I opted for their mint tea latte and cannot recommend it enough. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of mint, I was going out on a limb as the flavour can often be overpowering. Not the case here! It almost tastes like those white English mints but in liquid form. Delish!
With a drink in your hand, head to the intersection of West and Sugarloaf streets. This is where you’ll find the first stop on Port Colborne’s self-guided walking tour. Learn about the history of the area starting at the time of colonization when European settlers in the 1780s first made contact with the Indigenous including the Haudenosaunee, Attiwonderonk (Neutral) and Mississauga Peoples. As you follow the route, you’ll learn about the Welland Canal’s history and how it transformed the area and became the canal you see today.
This route is actually part of the much larger Welland Canal Parkway Trail which spans the entire series of locks from Lake Ontario to Port Colborne. At 45 kilometres in length, it’s a popular biking trail in the summer months and definitely one of the top trails in St Catharines and the Niagara Region.
Watch the Ships at Lock 8 Gateway Park
While the Welland Canal is closed in the winter as the transport ships are tied up, they will be well on their way as soon as the icebreakers clear the waters in March!
Here you’ll find a large park with a view platform that gives you a solid vantage point to watch these large transports as they slowly make their way to Lake Ontario. There’s a playground perfect for kids, a picnic shelter, a kitschy water fountain and some interpretive signage. Here you can learn about how the locks work, the different types of ships you might see traversing the canal, and more.
Lock 8 Park is also one of the stops along the self-guided tour, though the sign was missing when I last visited. Luckily you’ll be able to read all of the signs at the next stop on this list!
Visit the Port Colborne Historical & Marine Museum
With over 200 years of history to uncover, a visit to this local museum is a must – especially if you’re a bit of a boat nerd! The Port Colborne Historical & Marine Museum is the result of passionate citizens coming together to collect and display the city’s history. Since its establishment in 1974, over 18,000 artifacts have been donated!
The museum itself is located on what was once Arabella Williams’ property. A well-known local businesswoman, she left it and family home to the people of Port Colborne when she passed in 1950. Almost 25 years later, it became a part of the museum you see today. The 1870s carriage house is original to the site, along with the 1915 era home that has become a tea room. Additional heritage buildings such as the log schoolhouse and home along with the blacksmith shop have been relocated to this site.
The museum is open daily from May 1 until December 20th from 12-5 pm and the tea room daily from June until September from 2-4 pm. Guided tours are also available but must be booked in advance. With everything going on, check the city’s Facebook page for up to date information on operating hours.
Admire the Architecture
The museum isn’t the only heritage building in Port Colborne! In fact, there are over 30 historical sites in the city, many of which feature some stunning architecture. A few points of interest include the Roselawn Centre for the Living Arts at 296 Fielden Avenue, the old Imperial Bank of Canada building at 212 West Street and the St. James Anglican Church at 55 Charlotte Street.
My advice is to just go for a stroll along the city’s streets and see what all you can find! There are also a number of gorgeous homes for one to admire. If you’re curious to see more historical sites, click here.
Eat at Some Port Colborne Restaurants
If you think there aren’t any spots for delicious eats, you are wrong! There are quite a few restaurants in Port Colborne and while I have yet to eat at all of them, it’s something to slowly work towards.
One place you HAVE to eat at is The Smokin’ Buddha. Located in what was once the city’s train station, they’re serving up delicious eats from across the globe. For the days when you can’t travel (like right now), at least your taste buds can with flavours from Thailand, Korea, Indonesia and more. Plus the restaurant itself is full of playful items (maybe even souvenirs?) with vintage maps adorning the walls and bicycles hanging from the ceiling. Their Nasi Goreng was tasty as huge pieces of pulled pork and shrimp mingle with cucumber, green onions and fried shallots in this spicy Indonesian stir fry. It was the perfect fuel for my day of exploration!
INSIDER TIP: The Smokin’ Buddha has specials on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays. They also have special features that are only available on certain days so be sure to take a peek at their menu before you visit!
Another spot for a bite to eat is The Pie Guys Bakery & Cafe. I popped in on a whim because, well, who doesn’t love a sweet treat? This adorable spot is owned by partners Rob and Brennon while following their dream to make delicious handmade goodies with locally-sourced ingredients. Though you will definitely laugh as I didn’t get a sweet nor a savoury pie… but rather their mini-cheesecakes. I know, I know, it’s The Pie Guys after all but assuming their pies are as good as their Turtles cheesecakes, I know I’ll be walking out with at least a few next time I’m in town!
As for additional Port Colborne restaurant suggestions, I already have my eye on a few. My dear ol’ Dad says that Minor Fisheries has some seriously amazing fish and chips, especially since it’s sourced right from the lake. They also have the Ocean Wise stamp, meaning they sustainably source their fish which means they get a thumbs up in my books! Walters & Neptunes has been a Port Colborne staple for over 65 years, serving up Greek and Canadian eats. I mean, when a restaurant has been around for that long, it has to be good! If you have any other suggestions of Port Colborne restaurants to try, let me know in a comment below!
Explore the City’s Parks
Port Colborne has a number of parks that are perfect for stretching your legs and enjoying some fresh air. Right along the waterfront, you’ll find HH Knoll Lakeview Park. Established almost 100 years ago, this 9-acre park overlooks Sugarloaf Harbour and Lake Erie’s Gravelly Bay. You’ll find an accessible paved path along with an outdoor stage, playground and splash pad. In the warmer months, you’ll be treated to the gorgeous blooms of the rose garden. Don’t forget to stop by the millstone memorial to Zavitz Mill where the last shot and last death of the War of 1812 occurred.
A few hundred metres away from the aforementioned Lock 8 Gateway Park, you’ll find the Derek Point Memorial Garden. Marking the spot where the Old and New Canals meet, it was renamed to honour Derek K Zavitz, a resident of Port Colborne who was lost at sea in 1996. You’ll find a memorial sign commemorating this as well as another one of the self-guided walking tour signs speaking more to the area. Take a stroll along the paved path and then check out the pedestrian bridge to see the brilliant turquoise water moving rapidly beneath you.
Enjoy Some Art
Head north on the western side of King Street and you’ll spot a gorgeous mural tucked down an alleyway. This brilliant collection of colours was made possible by the Port Colborne Art Crawl, a yearly summer festival dedicated to getting crafty in the city! While I didn’t spy any other murals during my visit, I’ll be keeping an eye to see if I can find more during my next visit.
If you’re looking for more ways to get your art on, head to Arts Place Gallery on King Street. Established by a crew of 11 local artists in 1992, the gallery is located in what was once a local gas station. Inside you’ll find works of art from painting to sculpture including pottery, jewellery and more! There are typically nine new exhibitions each year so chances are you’ll see something new with each visit. Arts Place Gallery also hosts workshops and poetry readings as their goal is to encourage and support local artists while sharing knowledge and experience.
Grab a Beer at Breakwall Brewing Company
Did you know Port Colborne has a bit of brewing history? Way back in 1852, the first brewing operations in the city were constructed by Jacob North. It grew quickly but due to a run-in with the Fenian Brotherhood, he sold it. Though with the arrival of prohibition in 1919, the brewery closed and later relocated to Welland to eventually be sold once again.
Fast forward to 100 years later and say hello to Breakwall Brewing. Owned by a father-son duo, the brewery sits close to where the original brewery once stood. With an ode to Port Colborne’s shipping industry, stop by for a pint and enjoy some Ontario craft beer brewed with as many locally sourced products as possible. If beer isn’t exactly your thing, stop by for a bite to eat instead, especially if it’s patio season!
Take a Hike at Mud Lake Conservation Area
Located on the outskirts of town, Mud Lake Conservation Area is a bit of a happy accident. When construction began on the current Welland Canal in the early 1900s after World War I, the soil was dumped in this area. As an existing railway was covered in the process, it unintentionally formed a dyke – along with a shallow lake which encouraged wildlife. Upon realizing this, the Ministry of Natural Resources leased the land and now the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority protects the vegetation and wildlife in this area.
Spanning over 100 hectares of fields, woodlands and wetlands, Mud Lake has become an important resting and feeding stop for migratory birds. There are three trails for hikers to enjoy or you can also hit the water by canoe or kayak for fantastic photo opportunities thanks to the three wildlife viewing blinds.
More Things to Do in Port Colborne
As I visited on a chilly March day, I’ll need to return to explore even more of the city and surrounding area! Here are a few of the things on the docket for my next day trip.
Nickel Beach – Located on the eastern side of the canal towards Fort Erie, Nickel Beach is a popular Port Colborne beach to soak up the sun on those hot summer days. Access is free for everyone though non-locals must pay for parking. Visit the City of Port Colborne Facebook page for up to date information.
Incredible Shrinking Mill – I discovered this completely by accident on Google Maps but this optical illusion is not to be missed. Drive along Lakeshore Road West heading East. Once you pass Cement Road, you’ll start to see the mill located across Gravelly Bay. As you get closer to the water, it will look as though the mill is actually getting smaller. It’s a kitschy gimmick but I definitely found it amusing!
Enjoy a Festival – This might be a little up in the air with everything going on, but Port Colborne is home to a number of events that you’ll want to remember for future years. While the Flavours of Niagara Festival and International Walleye Tournament are a hit, the top event is hands down the Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival. Join locals and visitors on the August Civic Long Weekend as the city celebrates the history and heritage of the area along the Welland Canal.
Make it a Weekend in Niagara!
While one day in Port Colborne might be enough for some, there’s always more to see and explore. There’s plenty to see along the Lake Erie shoreline, not to mention in the entire Niagara Region! Let’s just say that it’s easy to make this a weekend adventure.
Just east of Port Colborne, you’ll find the town of Fort Erie. Chances are you know it for the Fort Erie Racetrack, but it also has more to offer. Crystal Beach is a popular destination in the summer months and there are a few conservation areas scattered throughout. I’ve also heard rumours of an abandoned theme park, so I’ll keep you posted once I’m able to go investigate!
Head north from Port Colborne and you’ll find my hometown of St Catharines. While many blow past it on their way to other hotspots in Niagara, the city does have quite a bit to offer. There are lots of fabulous hiking trails, great restaurants to eat at, lots of street art to admire and of course, the infamous DeCew Falls. It’s often seen as a more affordable spot to stay when enjoying a weekend in the Niagara Region.
Just 15 minutes east of St Catharines, you’ll find the adorable town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Famous for its icewine, its picturesque nature attracts visitors from across the globe. It’s a popular spot for a romantic getaway in Ontario, especially thanks to the plethora of wineries surrounding it. It also offers great hiking and biking opportunities with the Niagara Parkway Recreation Trail which follows the Niagara River. Not to mention all of the great restaurants in the heart of town, too! Check out my guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake to plan your visit.
Last but certainly not least, what many consider the crown jewel of the region – Niagara Falls. I have spent many a night in Niagara Falls as this has always been the go-to spot to take out of town visitors, especially if they’ve never visited before! It’s also been a fun spot for a girls getaway and I have many memories playing games in the arcades and attending some of the local events. I highly recommend planning a visit in the winter to see the Festival of Lights as it’s one of the top spots for Christmas Lights in Ontario! No matter when you visit though, don’t miss my insider tips to make the most of your Niagara Falls visit.
Of course, these aren’t the only places to visit in the Niagara Region! There are plenty of other adorable towns including Grimsby and Lincoln, as well as hidden gems scattered throughout. I mean, would you guess that you could stay in a treehouse in Niagara? Or that there are 10+ waterfalls in Niagara just waiting to explored? Well, it’s true – and I’m sure you now understand why it’s easy to spend a full weekend exploring the area so check out some hotels and book your stay!
With beautiful views of Lake Erie, the chance of catching a boat sailing the Welland Canal, great eats, beautiful beaches and more, you have to plan a stop in Port Colborne! It makes a great day trip from Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake so if you find yourself in the area, make your way south for a visit.
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