How did Port Hope Look 150 years ago?
When Port Hope was incorporated as a town in 1834, of course it looked very different than today. Even the older parts of Port Hope looked different. Not only were the buildings almost all wooden, even the streets themselves were not all laid out yet.
But Port Hope was not brand new, either, in 1834. Both buildings and streets were in their second phase. For our first 15 years, before the war of 1812, the little village at Smith’s Creek was a North American frontier settlement.
John David Smith and other sons of the loyalists who had fled to Canada a generation earlier could not develop the province all by themselves. Smith’s mills, built on a creek in the virgin forest, needed customers. Farm settlers were wanted. Village lots could be sold.
In this phase of Port Hope, 66-foot-wide North American Streets were the style.
King Street had many of the earliest log houses. To the east and west ran Walton Street (the east leg was later re-named Ward Street). Mill Street and Queen Street were part of the first phase.
Even Thomas Ward, Port Hope’s first lawyer, built only a log house on King Street when he first moved here in 1806.
The Smith family and their partner, Johnathan Walton, owned and sold most of these village lots.
Jonathan Walton had returned to the United States to try to sell more Americans to “own a piece of Canada”, so the war of 1812 found the owners of the new townsite on opposite sides of the battle lines.
After 1815, American settlers were not welcome, but suddenly British settlers were available.
After the end of the long Napoleonic wars, Britain fell into a post-war depression that led to the brink of civil war. Naval and army officers took early retirement to Canada on half pay and brought new properity to Port Hope. Hundreds of destitute immigrants from the north of England and the north of Ireland took up lots in Hope township.
The style of the town changed. English immigrants were the market. Smith’s Creek became Port Hope.
A second generation of fine frame buildings was erected in Port Hope. Such buildings can still be seen in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Thomas Ward built a large frame home on the Cobourg Road, quickly renamed Ward Street. The Anglican Church on King Street is one of the few survivors of this period.
John Street and Cavan Street were laid out only 40 feet wide, British style. From this phase also date Armour Street, Shaw Street, Catherine Street, Harris Street (then called Fourth Street), Hagerman Street, and Maitland Street.
By 1834, Port Hope was growing fast, in a wave of British immigration. John David Smith was selling lots in his new subdivision north of Walton Street and west of Cavan. South Street was open, North Street was about to be opened, in the best 40-foot style.
But further prosperity was to come, submerging the Port Hope of 1834. The third phase would be the railway boom of the 1850s, when we tore down our version of Niagara-on-the-Lake and built hundreds of brick buildings. By then, we were laying out new streets 50 or 60 feet wide, settling on a compromise between the British and American style. But the 1834 fabric, transformed, still underlies Port Hope.