Port Burwell, Ontario Article

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Port Burwell is located in Southern Ontario
Port Burwell
Port Burwell
Location of Port Burwell in Southern Ontario

Port Burwell is a community on the north shore of Lake Erie, in the Municipality of Bayham in Elgin County, Ontario, Canada. [1] [2] It is situated at the mouth of Big Otter Creek, which stretches more than forty miles north through Bayham to Tillsonburg and Otterville, and with the harbour at Port Burwell was of historic importance in the development of landlocked Oxford County.


view showing lakefront beaches at Port Burwell - the compact 'east beach' in front of the village is free, the miles-long 'west beach' seen to the left requires paid admission to provincial park
1840 Light House circa 1910
Port Burwell 1877 map, showing locations of Market Square, Lighthouse, School House, Odd Fellows' Hall, raceway for sawmills on island in Otter Creek, and English (Anglican), Baptist and Presbyterian churches in village

In 1810, besides finishing a government contract for the survey of a large part of what became known as the Talbot Road in response to petitions from land grant recipient Colonel Thomas Talbot, Mahlon Burwell (1783-1846) received instructions to survey the vacant land between Houghton and Yarmouth townships, and to divide it into two townships, under the names of Malahide and Bayham. The work was done and in 1811, Malahide and Bayham were made part of the county of Middlesex. In making this survey, Burwell selected for himself a block of land in Bayham at the mouth of Big Otter Creek, the site of what became Port Burwell. [3]

Writing of that region to the Surveyor General in June 1815, he said "Otter creek discharges more Water than all the small Rivers which disembogue themselves into the North side of lake Erie excepting the Grand River. When a few drifts are cleared out of it, Boats may descend from the Mills in Norwich [at what is now Otterville, in Oxford County] to its mouth, at almost any Season of the year. There are beautiful Groves of White Pine Timber, on each side of the Creek, interspersed with Groves of other Timber, alternately; there is therefore no doubt, but what ere long considerable quantities of Lumber will be conveyed down that stream, from Norwich and other places to the Lake. It would appear as if Nature had intended the mouth of Big-Otter Creek for a place of greater importance than any other in the District of London. In my mind it is highly probable that such will be the case before many years. I am about to lay out what Land I own on the East side of the mouth in a Town Plot." He urged the government to use an adjacent lot held as a reserve for the same purpose, and "if it should meet with the approbation of His Excellency the Provisional Lieutenant Governor, it would much facilitate the future growth of that part of the Province, to have it laid out by the Government, for a Town at the mouth of Big Otter Creek." [4]

Nothing was done by the government, but Burwell and his family kept up interest in the development opportunity at the mouth of Otter Creek and the potential water route north into Oxford County, particularly as Mahlon Burwell served as the elected representative for Oxford and Middlesex from 1812 to 1820. He finally opened up a town plot on his land in 1830 that became known as Port Burwell. His brother John petitioned the government in 1848 to add Bayham to Oxford County to give it a waterfront port, to improve the harbour, and to build a road north into Oxford from Port Burwell. [5] The government again did nothing, but a private company was formed to build the road. Known as the Ingersoll and Port Burwell Plank and Gravel Road, it was completed in 1852 and was the basis for what eventually became Ontario Highway 19, stretching from Port Burwell north through the length of Oxford County to St Marys at the south end of Perth County. [6]

In time Port Burwell became a shipbuilding and fishery harbour and the export point for lumber and farm produce from the surrounding townships and a large portion of Oxford County, boosted by construction of roads and railway lines. [7] By the early 1900s it was becoming a summertime tourist destination famous for its sandy beaches [8], and a focus for natural gas drilling onshore as well as the collection point for pipelines from gas wells drilled offshore. [9] It also gained fame as the home of McConnell Nurseries, which developed a nation-wide mail order business for seeds and plants and for many years was the largest employer in the area. [10] Most recently, Port Burwell has become the home of a windmill development feeding electricity into Ontario's power grid. [11] Port Burwell was given separate status as a police village in 1900 and was incorporated as a village in 1949. It was reamalgamated with Bayham and the Village of Vienna to form an expanded Municipality of Bayham in 1998.

In November 2012, HMCS Ojibwa—a retired Canadian Navy 'Cold War' submarine—was placed in a permanent site in Port Burwell as part of plans for a Museum of Naval History to complement the Port Burwell Marine Museum and Historic Lighthouse.

Chronology [12]

  • 1812 - first settlers in what was originally known as Otter Creek [13]
  • 1830 - village plot surveyed by Mahlon Burwell on height of land above Lake Erie and east bank of Big Otter Creek; free village lots offered to settlers taking up residence; Customs tax officer appointed for harbour shipping [14]
  • 1832 - Port Burwell Harbour Company formed to improve and operate harbour, first tavern built, and construction of first church begun in village [15]
  • 1834 - first shipyard opened for schooner construction [16]
  • 1836 - population 200 [17]
  • 1840 - lighthouse constructed on west edge of village land height (now part of Port Burwell Marine Museum and Historic Lighthouse)
  • 1849 September - Ingersoll and Port Burwell Plank and Gravel Road Company formed to construct a toll road 31 miles in length, half in Oxford County (Ingersoll to Tillsonburg) and the remainder through Bayham township connecting Tillsonburg, Vienna and Port Burwell [18]
  • 1849 Dec 31 - export totals from area sawmills recorded for Port Burwell harbour: 8.4 million feet lumber, 3.1 million shingles, 119,155 staves, 193 vessels loaded [19]
  • 1851 - first steam-engine sawmill, with capacity to cut 1 million feet of lumber per annum [20]
  • 1852 - completion of final three-mile Port Burwell section of Ingersoll and Port Burwell Plank and Gravel Road [21]
  • 1877 - population 700 [22]
  • 1895 - completion of railway line linking to Tillsonburg and Brantford [23]
  • 1899 May 12 - fire destroys entire business district on main street; rebuilt in the course of the following [24]
  • 1900 - organized under Ontario Municipal Act as a police village; harbour develops as major terminus for coal shipments into Ontario from Pennsylvania through harbour at Ashtabula, Ohio; sandy beaches running along lakeshore west of harbour for two miles increasingly drawing tourists for summer day visits [25]
  • 1949 - incorporated as a village under Ontario Municipal Act [26]
  • 1967 - Ontario government begins acquiring lakeshore property west of harbour for new provincial park
  • 1971 - campground adjacent to beach area begins operation as Iroquois Beach Provincial Park
  • 1983 - population 700 [27]
  • 1986 - expanded lakeshore beach and parking areas and 230-site campground and nature trails on 243 hectares reopened as Port Burwell Provincial Park [28]
  • 1998 - merged with village of Vienna and Township of Bayham to form Municipality of Bayham as part of restructuring of Elgin County
  • 2012 - retired cold war submarine HMCS Ojibwa installed as museum attraction
  • 2018 - wheelhouse from Great Lakes freighter installed as new attraction at Port Burwell Marine Museum and Historic Lighthouse

See also


  1. ^ "Ashtabula (Ferry), U203071, sunk by collision, 18 Sep 1958". Maritime History of the Great Lakes. Retrieved 2011-11-14. Sunk in collision with steamer BEN MOREELL in harbor at Ashtabula, Ohio, September 18, 1958.
  2. ^ "Coal Car Ferry 'treed' in Lake Erie". The Windsor Daily Star. 1954-04-20. Retrieved 2012-11-21.
  3. ^ Archibald Blue, "Mahlon Burwell, Land Surveyor", in Proceedings of the Canadian Institute, 1899
  4. ^ Archibald Blue, "Mahlon Burwell, Land Surveyor", in Proceedings of the Canadian Institute, 1899
  5. ^ Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, Volume 6, page 111
  6. ^ see the Highway 19 page
  7. ^ Nick and Helma Mika's Places in Ontario (1983), volume 3, pages 228-230
  8. ^ Lake Erie, North Shore Trail, Ontario, Canada (1927) by Ontario Tourism
  9. ^ https://www.offshore-mag.com/articles/print/volume-59/issue-1/news/general-interest/intensive-drilling-sustains-lake-erie-gas-production.html
  10. ^ St. Thomas Times-Journal article published February 17, 1968 put the number of jobs at 150 in winter and 350 in spring, in 113,000 square feet of greenhouses
  11. ^ see the Port Burwell Wind Farm page
  12. ^ Based on texts of Thomas Shenston's Oxford Gazetteer (1852); Page & Company's Illustrated Historical Atlas of County of Elgin (1877); and Nick and Helma Mika's Places in Ontario (1983), volume 3, pages 228-230
  13. ^ Mika's Places in Ontario
  14. ^ Page & Company's Atlas of County of Elgin
  15. ^ Page & Company's Atlas of County of Elgin
  16. ^ Page & Company's Atlas of County of Elgin
  17. ^ Page & Company's Atlas of County of Elgin
  18. ^ Shenston's Oxford Gazetteer
  19. ^ W.H. Smith's Canada, Past, Present and Future (Toronto, 1851) volume 1, page 98
  20. ^ Page & Company's Atlas of County of Elgin; W.H. Smith's Canada, Past, Present and Future (Toronto, 1851) volume 1, page 98
  21. ^ Shenston's Oxford Gazetteer
  22. ^ Page & Company's Atlas of County of Elgin
  23. ^ Mika's Places in Ontario
  24. ^ Mika'sPlaces in Ontario
  25. ^ Mika's Places in Ontario
  26. ^ Mika's Places in Ontario
  27. ^ Mika's Places in Ontario
  28. ^ Ontario Parks, Port Burwell Park Management Plan (2015)

Further reading

  • Souvenir book, Port Burwell centennial, July 19-26, 1930.
  • Prothero, Frank and Nancy (1986). Memories - a History of Port Burwell. Port Stanley, Ont.:Nan-Sea Publications.

External links

PORT BURWELL ONTARIO Latitude and Longitude:

42°38′48″N 80°48′10″W / 42.64667°N 80.80278°W / 42.64667; -80.80278