Picturesque Port Hope grew up around the Ganaraska River that streams through the downtown powering mills and distilleries in the early days. We've got a proud history to explore.

We've been around longer than Canada

Our waterways and idealic location on the Lake Ontario have always been Port Hope's advantage. The town became a hub for 19th century trade and transportation. While farms and orchards flourished in the countryside, Americans built summer estate homes and the railway brought travelers to the hotels. The locals enjoyed the social scene and the Opera House.

Today, tourists and locals appreciate the pristine nature, local foodarts and new momentum.

History of rural Port Hope
The present day Municipality of Port Hope is comprised of, what was once, Hope Township and the Town of Port Hope. When amalgamation took place in 2001 these two areas became one. Henry Hope, after whom this large area was named, was a prominent political and military figure in the 1780’s. Henry was born about 1746 in England and was the son of the first Earl of Hopetown.


The settlement of Hope Township, which has an area of over 69,000 acres, began in 1793 with a group of six families arriving from the United States. With the end of the American Revolution families loyal to the crown made their way to Upper Canada seeking grants of free land. Each immigrant over a certain age was offered 200 acres and once their settlement duties were completed, received the deed of title to the property.

The maximum military grant to those who served was 1200 acres. The Township was surveyed beginning at the Base Line, near Lake Ontario, and divided into 200 acre parcels along the concession roads, which run east to west.

Our first settlers came by several different routes most eventually arriving by water to the harbour at Smith’s Creek (Port Hope). Some arrived on foot as they drove their cattle along the shoreline or by trails between the towns of York and Kingston and from the Bay of Quinte. Some of these trails, originally established by indigenous peoples, continue to serve as roads today. Smith’s Creek became a place for trade and commerce due to its situation on the lake, with a good harbour and the Ganaraska River that provided water power for the mills that were constructed. Settlement through Hope Township took place at a slower rate where farming and agriculture were the primary occupations of property owners.

One of the first essential tasks of these early settlers, after building their shelter, was clearing a portion of their land in order to grow crops. Wheat, the most important, was at first traded by barter and it was not until 1826 that the typical farmer could sell any for cash. Not all roads were open for travel and those living in the township had to make their way to town to have their grain milled and purchase goods, which would have been a difficult journey. As things progressed throughout Hope Township and the population increased, mills, churches, schools and businesses arose. Located primarily at the four corners, where concession roads meet the north south roads, villages, hamlets and communities were established. Many of them became prominent centres for purchases and the need to travel to Port Hope decreased. Today many of these villages have disappeared and little remains of the businesses that once thrived. 

Note - this is an excerpt from the Port Hope Rural Driving Tour. Authored by the Port Hope Archives

History of urban Port Hope
100,000 years ago, retreating glaciers formed the landscape of Port Hope. The first inhabitants called this vast area omingaming (cochingaming), the meeting place, referring to the meeting of the river and the lake. Later, the Huron named the river Ganaraske, or spawning ground. The twice-yearly salmon and trout runs, as well as the abundant game provided sustenance to the First Nations who held the land collectively, while the forest offered shelter and the river transportation. Interactions between the first Europeans, mainly French fur traders in the 1680’s, were sometimes cordial and sometimes hostile. The first treaties between the First Nations and newcomers were established after the British gained control of all the Orth American Colonies. The first treaties gave the First Nations exclusive rights to the North Shore of Lake Ontario, leaving most of the province untouched until after the American Revolution. Fearing that the newly formed United States might try to expand northwards, the British hurriedly passed he famous Gun Treaty which allowed for settlement on the north shore of Lake on Ontario. The British colonization system of the time granted huge land tracts to businessmen, who in turn set up local governments loyal to the crown. Johnathan Walton and Elias Smith – no relation to Peter Smith an earlier petitioner for whom Smith Creek is Named – were just such entrepreneurs

In 1792, they petitioned Governor Simcoe of the First Upper Canada Council for land grants to establish the 5th Township of Hope. A year later, they bought 40 families to settle the area. The river had drawn Walton and Smith here just as it had their First Nations predecessors. The river formed a natural port though which anchor, and was a power source for the newly established grist and sawmills. In the immediate half-century, the area saw a population boom. While small industries continued, Port Hope’s leading source of wealth came from exporting timber, whiskey and grain to the U.S. and Europe. It was during that period that many of the stately homes and buildings were constructed.

By the late 19th century development here slowed as Toronto became an industrial center, the Prairie Bread Basket opened to the west, and the forest were depleted of their timber. Our town continued to slowly mature. While other communities courted heavy industry, Port Hope was content with companies such as ESCO and Davidson Rubber. This fact coupled with the work of fervent champions of historical preservation has resulted in the Port Hope you see today- a place where old buildings live contemporary lives.

Note - this is an excerpt from the Port Hope Self-Guided Walking Tour. Authored by the Port Hope Heritage Business District

Downtown Port Hope aerial

Pin iconThe Best Preserved Main Street in the province

TVOntario attached this claim to Walton Street for staying true to its historic architecture. Take in the postcard-pretty details of building façades and shop windows. Enjoy the treelined streets and shops of our vibrant downtown – and soak up the charm!

Discover the Shops

Unique architecture and heritage downtown

Historic photo of Walton Street

Come explore the Victorian-era architecture downtown and stories of our past while on a self-guided Heritage Walking and Driving Tour.

View of the Capitol Theatre marque in Port Hope

See a show at the restored Capitol Theatre, a designated national historic site - built as one of the first movie theatres by Famous Players in 1930.

Exterior of the Port Hope Archives

Historic maps, postcards and vintage newspapers can be pretty cool to look at. Visit our museums, archives and library for more curiosities.