By Steve Sansford
I’ve been following the water level situation on the Great Lakes as the 2017 boating season gets underway here in Ontario, but I wanted to see the effects first hand. The small town of Port Stanley is less than an hour from where I make my home, so I drove down to spend a Saturday afternoon exploring this great boating destination. I wanted to see the impact the tremendous amount of water flowing into the Great Lakes has had on local and visiting boaters. I thought I’d also check out the lay of the land for my fellow boating enthusiasts.
Built on the north shore of Lake Erie, where Kettle Creek empties into the great lake, the town is a summer hotspot for locals and tourists alike. There are plenty of restaurants, shops, attractions and marinas and you can find thirty-four flavours of ice cream on the menu at Brodericks if you need a summer treat. I recommend the ‘Old Fashioned Banana Split’.
As I continued my exploration, I found my way to the beach. Port Stanley has a great beach with all the facilities needed to enjoy a summer day. It’s fortunate for beachgoers here that the lake’s water levels only had a moderate increase. With the shallow slope most good beaches have, it doesn’t take much of an increase in water height to eat up all that sand and drastically decrease the amount of usable beach area. Port Stanley’s beach is in great shape, and is already bustling, despite the cold water.
The standout feature of the town’s waterfront is the massive Port Stanley Pier. Closed to the public since 1996, it reopened in 2015 and stretches out some distance into Lake Erie. It’s a long walk to the end, but the view is spectacular.
The pier is also much more than just an attraction. Along with the stone breakwater to the east, it shelters the man-made harbour and provides an unmistakable landmark for transient boaters.
Further into the harbour, past the many commercial fishing boats moored to the east wall, the harbour narrows at the mouth of Kettle Creek. There’s a drawbridge that allows boaters to transit up the river and access the town’s boating amenities.
At first, it might seem strange to have the marinas, docks and services so far from the lake, until you realize their location makes for a very short walk to the shops and restaurants of the downtown area. If you have need for fuel there’s a dock at Stan’s Marina with both gasoline and diesel. You’ll find Stan’s just past the drawbride on the east side of the river.
As I sat in the small park watching the drawbridge open to allow boats to pass, I realized there is another consequence of high water for boaters. Bridge clearance. It’s not so much of an issue here on Lake Erie. Its water level is only up a few inches. But on the other lakes where water is expected to rise as much as 18 inches, you might want to double check your air draft before crossing under bridges you squeezed under last year. You may find yourself having to wait for the bridge to open before continuing on your way.
Standing on the bridge itself, looking at the water level in comparison to the docks, piers and breakwaters, the basin looked full. I know that’s a strange analogy to apply to a lake, but the water level looked right. Not too high, not too low. The boats sit at a comfortable height in relation to their docks and the river doesn’t appear to be in any danger of overflowing its banks.
The amount of boat traffic shows the season is in full swing. No delays to boaters here, unlike some of the other popular Ontario waterways. The Trent-Severn and Rideau Canal had to suspend their opening by a week to allow time for water levels to stabilize at safer levels. That’s one week less for business owners to service the boaters that flock to those destinations.
Port Stanley is a different story. There were boats everywhere and business was good. The ice cream shop was lined up and the drawbridge was in constant motion. If the high water levels are going to have a negative impact on boaters in Ontario, it’s not going to be here on the shores of Lake Erie.