Gaff rigged schooners, paddle-steamers, long dresses, and wide brimmed hats, it’s not every harbour on Lake Ontario that can boast an intriguing history dating back to 1838.
First Nations were first to recognize this safe natural harbour, camping near today’s breakwater and fishing the salmon. However the bustle of port activity was not to heard until the mid 19th century when schooners and barges docked at Newcastle in answer to the call from industries which were staring to boom in the town. There was milling and weaving, distilling and machinery manufacture for the large farming community. In 1977 during a re-enactment of LaSalle’s historic voyage to New Orleans in 1777, the “voyagers” once again camped overnight at the Port of Newcastle as they did 200 years earlier.
It was at the Port of Newcastle, known then as Bond Head Harbour, that Daniel Massey started his first foundry producing ploughs and cauldrons for syrup. Massey appreciated the long, deep docks, safe waters, and the convenient location for trade both along and across the lake. It was here, that the foundations were laid for the immense Massey Ferguson Company.
The Massey factory started in 1849 in Newcastle, producing ploughs and farm tools. Daniel Massey, a farmer who lived in nearby Bond Head, had became interested in labour-saving machinery as it arrived in Ontario and was convinced he could improve on the new machines. He started building farm implements in the workshop at his farm in 1847 before moving the operation to the main street of Newcastle. The original foundry burned down in 1864, but was rebuilt on the site.
The Masseys played a pivotal role in the Newcastle history. Not only did the foundry become a major employer (as many as 100 people worked there at one time), but he family was also active in the community. They founded the original Methodist church (now a United Church) and manse, and built several houses. The company flourished under Daniel, his son Hart, and Hart’s four sons. All were astute businessmen who believed in producing the most up-to-date machinery and promoted their products at fairs and exhibitions in North America and in Europe. A Massey harvester won the grand prize at the 1876 Paris National Exhibition and the company began export its farm machinery worldwide. But its rapid growth could not be accommodated in the Newcastle foundry. In 1879, the company moved its headquarters to Toronto.
In 1877 William Henry Pearce purchased 120 acres of land for his farm bordered by the lake to the south, and two marshes; one to the west (Wilmot Creek) and one to the east (Graham Creek). This farm land is home to the Port of Newcastle on Graham Creek and is currently under development for housing.
The clamour for horses, hides and food during the American Civil War led to the dredging of the lagoon enabling the old schooners to fill their holds at the grain elevator and warehouses. The town and the Port of Newcastle prospered during these years. Around the harbour, timber framed barns were built, docks were busy, and so were the hotels. Horses trotted the old cobbled streets pulling casts laden with cargo. Old men puffed at their pipes as local boys ran to secure hemp mooring lines to the massive bollards. A column of steam and a toot on the whistle would signal the arrival of a paddle steamer en route to the ever increasing port at Toronto 35 miles to the west.
However, the Port of Newcastle was soon to experience winds of change – the cargoes were now beginning to be “shipped” by rail: the depression in the United States was also being felt in Canada; added to which a series of fires in the Town of Newcastle destroyed much of the industrial section. Companies, including Massey’s decided to rebuild to the west in Toronto. Later a stricken vessel moored to the breakwater caught fire and took most of the western break wall with it.
So in 1910 the last schooner loaded with local stone sailed out of Newcastle and by 1915, the harbour was derelict. The eastern breakwater fell into disrepair and eventually succumbed to the gales of the twenties. The welcoming beam of the old lighthouse no longer shone out across the lake to indicate the safe harbour.
Between 1877 and 1896, a series of fires destroyed several building in Newcastle. As a result, many workers left the Village, among them, Joseph Atkinson, who went on to become founder and owner of one of the world’s great newspapers: The Toronto Star.
In 1923, Hart Massey brought the family back to Newcastle to spend part of the summers and built the Newcastle Community Hall. (The Masseys built several buildings in Toronto, including Massey Hall, and the University of Toronto’s Hart House).
Until 1969, the harbour was nothing more than a reed filled swamp with the rotting walls of the old retaining wall outlining the channel. The harbour (then known as Jubilee park) was then purchased from the Town of Newcastle by Windsweep Inc. Their goal was to construct a marina that would, when completed, offer today’s mariners modern docking facilities, services, and amenities. At the same time, they intended to retain the charm and simplicity of the old Port, making use of the natural beauty and rustic surroundings of the settings.
Construction for the new marina began in 1971 with the leveling and restoration of 1200 feet of beach and employed purchased dredging equipment to recreate the 8 foot depth of the original harbour.
In October, 1973, the Department of Public Works using rock fill, steel, and concrete commenced reconstruction of the two 400 foot breakwaters.
By June 1974, there were new berths for 70 boats, which included hydro and water, a gas bar, a pump-out station, and lift-out service. A brick* office was also completed later that year housed a small ship’s chandlery, a boutique and delicatessen. (*the brick came from an old bank in Bowmanville).
The Newcastle Yacht Club was created in the summer of 1976. During the winter months of ’76 and ’77 there were several activities on the go which concluded in June of 1977 with the formation of a viable Yacht Club.
Since that time in 1977 to now, the Club has conducted many events for its members and other Lake Ontario boaters. These have included weekly sailing races, weekend racing with various cup races, as well as annual cruises bother east toward the Thousand Islands and west to Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Many potluck dinners, BBQs, and more formal banquets are held annually along with other water and land side events.
The early 1980’s were time of hardship for the owners and Windsweep was placed into bankruptcy in 1983. However, the marina was kept opened for boaters by the receiver – “Price Waterhouse”, along with the help of the Yacht Club.
In the fall of 1985, the marina was purchased by Agnico-Eagle and operated under the management of Rockwood Developments. By 1986 with the appointment of a new manager, Al Wilson, construction was once again underway with improvements being made to the harbour, and the dredging had been restarted. The next year saw a rebuilt office “The Brig”, as new travel lift purchased and two new floating piers installed. With the dredging continuing during 1988, two more floating piers were installed later that winter. In 1989, the marina was starting to look like a real harbour with berths available for 300 boats and at the same time was celebrating its 150th year serving the needs of Lake Ontario mariners.
By 1994 the marina was once again in bankruptcy, and like before, Price Waterhouse was appointed as receiver. During this time Al Wilson and Chuck Sutherland manages the marina for the receiver, keeping it opened for the boaters.
The Wooden boat Weekend was introduced in 1995 with the blessing of All Wilson and five hard working wooden boaters. The first boat show was a resounding success with 62 wooden boats arriving for the weekend. Over three thousand visitors came to admire the boats on display.
In the fall of 1995 the marina was purchased by the Kaitlin Group which has been operating the marina, and developing the adjoining property for housing since then.
The Port of Newcastle has become popular as a picturesque harbour to visit and to sail from. In 1974 Fairbank said in his Cruising Guide to Lake Ontario, the Port of Newcastle… “looks as if it might become one of the lake’s most interesting stops…”
Prepared for the Newcastle Yacht Club 2005
Newcastle Yacht Club
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