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Port Colborne is a Niagara Peninsula city of over 18,000 residents located at the southern terminus of the Welland Canal on the northern shore of Lake Erie. Following the completion of the canal in 1833, this small settlement on Gravelly Bay was named a port-of-entry in 1834 and given its present name in honour of Upper Canada's then Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Colborne, who was instrumental in securing funding for the canal project.
First Nations people, pre-dating European settlement by thousands of years, had long inhabited this shoreline edged by a mature Carolinian forest and covered by a cranberry marsh further inland. Following the close of the American Revolution, U.E. Loyalists and others settled within the boundaries of Sugarloaf East (later Humberstone) Township. The name Sugarloaf came from the distinctively shaped hill on the shore which had long been a navigation aid to those travelling the lake. The shape of the hill reminded people of a "sugarloaf," the cone shape in which sugar was sold in the early days of sugar refining. During the War of 1812, Sugarloaf Hill was used as a signal beacon to warn of impending American attacks, but proved to be unable to halt a small attack on the Sugarloaf Settlement shoreline. Meanwhile, a short distance inland, another small settlement called Stonebridge (later to be called Petersburg and then Humberstone Village) was beginning to rise from the now partial-drained marsh.
Ever since the first vessel emerged from the canal here in 1833, the presence of the Welland Canal, which effectively bisects the city, has been the major determining factor in the city's pattern of growth. Throughout the 19th century, Port Colborne developed into a business community serving the marine trade along the Welland Canal. By 1870, the population of Port Colborne had grown to 1030, which prompted the citizens to become an incorporated village. By the 1880's, Port Colborne had become an important summer tourist resort as side-wheeling steamers, steam engine locomotives, and high wheeled bicycles brought hundreds of tourists on a daily basis to lake-side amenities such as Lake View Grove. In 1889, the Humberstone Club, composed of wealthy summer residents from the southern states chose Port Colborne as their destination of escape from the summer heat. The architecture of Tennessee Avenue today gives us a glimpse into its southern roots. The discovery in the late 1880's of significant amounts of natural gas in the area led to the rapid industrialization of Port Colborne and the surrounding area as companies such as the Erie and Foster glass companies and the Ontario Silver Company situated here to utilize the new source of fuel. Through most of the 1800's, the Neff Foundry and Machine Shop in Humberstone produced many types of metal products for both local and distant markets, culminating in the manufacture of bicycles in the 1880's and 1890's and finally the Neff Steam Buggy in 1901, one of two automobiles built by Benton Neff of Humberstone.
As the 20th century progressed, improvements to the harbour and the enlargements of the Welland Canal facilitated industrial development and small 19th century commercial and manufacturing works began to increasingly be displaced by larger conglomerates.
Cronmiller and White Brewery's property was taken over by the Canada Furnace Company, Reeb's Lime Kilns and Stone Quarries were bought out by Canada Cement Company, and in 1918 the International Nickel Company was established here. From a small beginning at Christian Zavitz's Grist Mill at the Sugarloaf in 1792, the flour milling industry in Port Colborne grew to be among the world’s largest by the mid 20th century.
In 1918, Port Colborne was officially declared a town with a population of 2837. In the succeeding decades of steady growth, the Village of Humberstone and the Town of Port Colborne continued to grow towards one another geographically and this reality was officially recognized in 1952 with their amalgamation.
In 1966, Port Colborne was officially accorded the status of 'City'. As the industrial base began to decline during the last decades of the 20th century, Port Colborne once again began to look towards the potential of tourism and toward that end began promoting its cultural and recreational facilities and the lure of the Welland Canal.
Today, Port Colborne is a small multifaceted city, which combines a large service sector with its business, industry, culture, recreation and tourism industries to maintain its unique character into the 21st century.
Visit Port Colborne's Historical & Marine Museum