Schooner Days No. 253
Little Lost Ports: Port Granby
By C.H.J. Snider
Bowered in green and drowsing in the sun, Port Granby feels the sap of new life stir in its veins when summer reopens the half dozen homes which have been closed all winter and thereby increases the population by one hundred and fifty percent.
You may find it on the road map and in the postal guide still, but for the sailorman it is now as nebulous as that harbor in Ararat, where Noah moored the ark.
You could sail up to it and past it a dozen times, and never see it. The Canadian Hydrographic Survey chart of Lake Ontario dated 1923 shows no sign of it. yet it is well enough landmarked. It is so pretty, so unspoiled by service stations, hot-dog stands and tourist cabins, that you must excuse me from publishing directions to it by road. It is farther than Lovekin and nearer than Newtonville; fifty miles from Toronto and ten from Port Hope. It is not on the highway nor on the railway - so leave it in its peace.
Granby was the first name; still used sometimes to the great annoyance of postal people, who are sure addressers should know that Port Granby is in Ontario and that Granby is in Quebec. Both get their tangled names from John Manners, Marquis of Granby, target of Junius, Colonel of the Blues in the Horse Guards, master-general of the ordinance, and finally commander-in-chief, through some luck and some talent displayed in Germany in the Seven Years War. "A road near the Village of Granby" is mentioned in the Upper Canada legislative papers in 1841 and in 1846 William Rowe and others were petitioning for an act to incorporate the "Granby Harbor Company." The act, passed in 1848, fixed the name as "Port Granby."
Seventy years ago Port Granby shipped out 95,000 bushels of Durham County barley in one season, besides a quantity of wheat and rye, a little lumber, more shingles, thousands of cords of hardwood, and hundreds of long masts from the pine ridges of Clarke and Hope townships to the north.
It was all wood and grain going out and money coming in, in those days; the export trade was over $200,000 a year. Port Granby imported little - sometimes a schooner broad in a load of apple trees or nursery stock, or settlers' effects, but the country was self-sustaining.
So was the port. There were three grain elevators, a gristmill, a sawmill, a distillery, a malthouse, a schoolhouse, a Methodist church, two taverns, and thirty or forty happy families in the village. A census taken in 1862-63 found a population of 250. Whiskey at 25 cents for the four-quart pailful was carried to the cradlers, rakers and binders reaping barley by hand in blazing August weather; when the price went up to 50 cents a gallon there were loud protests and threats to join the blue-ribbon brigade. For seventy-five cents a fiddler would saw the strings from nine o'clock at night till four in the morning, for the polkas, mazurkas, schottisches, waltzes, round and square dances, which whiled away the winter evenings. The long ballroom above the driving shed and stable of March's Port Granby Hotel was the grand rendezvous.
David March was hotelkeeper, carpenter, builder, postmaster, grain dealer, elevator operator and general merchant, which means in country parlance that among his multifarious duties he "kept store." Beneath the dancers' feet, in the draught driving shed below, buffalo-robed cutters and sleights would rank runner to runner and their steeds snorting to the music as they munched their oats. There were good times in Port Granby, winter and summer.
The Elliotts were the big shots of the place, George senior built the grist mill and still house, George junior one of the elevators. David March and James Robinson were the other elevator owners. David Carson also dealt in grain. Mrs. Carson kept the general store fifty years ago. Thomas Lyon ran the mill in 1871. Wm. Goodenough and Joseph Snow made boots and shoes. Wm. Bradley was the blacksmith and Thomas H. Kinsman made edged tools. Hendersons, Robertsons, Rowes, Wades and Welshes were farmers with homes in the village. The old Montreal Telegraph Company, preceding the Great Northwestern., had an office in Port Granby and William Colough was the telegraph operator. John Gifford was constable.
Port Granby lay between two fine headlands - Bouchette Point and Crysler Point on the chart - past the Peach Stone and towards the end of the Highlands of Newcastle. It was beside a creek - Decker's Creek -big enough to run a sailboat, though too small to berth a schooner. The best lakemark for it was, and is, the L-shaped grove of poplars on the high land to the eastward. "Lay" you may notice, not "lies." Port Granby as a port, has been dead an buried all this century and longer. As a village it still lives and has a post office. Four families inhabit it all year round, and ten in summer, for it is a lovely spot.
Of this port, which once had launching ways, elevators, a storehouse, and a dock, nothing remains but a 700-lb. anchor, bedded in the lake. This was used for mooring vessels waiting to load at the pier, or for heaving them off when they were ready to sail. It was buoyed, and they would run their lines to it and haul out, to the tune of captain pauls and windlass brakes. Of the pier nought is left but a few big stones which once filled its cribs, and were too heavy for the stonehookers to steal. There are also some of the ninety square timbers of beech and maple which, bolted together in a solid mass, thirty-six feet each way, formed the pier head.
Stones, timbers and anchor are all under the waves, visible only to the airman or the gull. Even as they have disappeared so too have the elevators, storehouse, distillery and mills vanished under green ripples of grass and billows of shrubbery. The only indication of them are a few posts and some field stoned that once formed a foundation wall. The sites of the buildings are traceable from the green lines of the wagon ramps, once thronged with tossing teams of farm horses. One long log-walled tavern has vanished completely from its knoll. The other- March's Port Granby Hotel - has lost its characteristic stoop and ballroom and driving shed, and survives as a small neat building embowered in late-blooming lilacs and bridal wreath. The wagon road which once formed the main street to the pier is now a grassy lane, gate-crossed and almost overgrown with old garden shrubs. Projected, it lines up with the left-over cribstones, submerged pierhead, and long-bedded anchor.
Every anchor has its story, and next week we shall hear some of those shackled to this Port Granby ground tackle by the links of memory.