Portland, Crosby and Elgin are at the core of this region.
By Madeline Kallio | September 2019
There is nothing as peaceful as spending the day by the water with boats gliding past and the sun shimmering on the waves, or in a quiet village in the heart of the Rideau Lakes. You will not be disappointed in a visit to Portland or Elgin. They are communities with rich history and beauty that beckons visitors.
Portland, “The Landing” on the Rideau
Since the late 1700s when survey groups were sent out by Sir Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of Canada, to find resettlement lands for the United Empire Loyalists, the picturesque Village of Portland has been a haven for travellers. Snuggled on a hillside on the east shore of Big Rideau Lake, it was considered an area of choice because of its timberlands, now long gone, and its rich, arable soil. It was then known as “The Landing,” a major stopping point for families travelling to the Perth region. When Colonel By completed the Rideau Canal in 1832, the community thrived with buyers from Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal arranging to ship local potash, cheese, maple syrup, cordwood and produce to the cities. By 1841, steamboats were plying the Rideau and barges were carrying livestock, food, grain, lumber and cloth to the Great Lakes areas. The village, with one store and ten houses, was named Portland in 1843 after the third Duke of Portland. By the 1860’s, the settlement had expanded considerably to require five hotels and, by the early 1900s, cottages were springing up around the lake and the tourist trade had begun.
There is no way to ignore that Portland is a boating paradise. The Bayview Yacht Harbour (613 272-2787), 2785 Highway 15, is a full-service marina and boating store. Len’s Cove Marina/Resort (613 272-2581), 1 Water Street, is also a full-service marina with a boating store. The Galley Restaurant (613 272-5125) is part of Len’s Cove Marina/Resort, sits on the water and creates some tantalizing dishes and has great music. Big Rideau Lake Boat Rentals (613 812-7653), 15 Water Street, offers a variety of boats for rent, including houseboats and pontoons. At the north end of the village, at the bottom of the hill with a gorgeous view of the lake is the Portland Bay Conservation Area, a place to rest and refresh.
The Portland Foodmarket (613 272-2861), Main and Colborne Streets, is full of fresh produce and meats and stocks a little of everything. Highlands Honey (613 272-2588), Z2-6 Old Kingston Road, offers a unique day-tripping experience where visitors can visit the bee colonies, walk the groomed trails and enjoy a gourmet lunch. Old World Country Antiques (603 305-2024), 8525 County Road 42, sells antiques and collectibles in the red barn and has a market garden and sugar bush with farmgate sales from Mothers’ Day to Thanksgiving. Dixie Chips Country Style (613 272-2883), 2765 Highway 15, is a donut and fast-food establishment. Michael Doxey Pottery (613 328-1670), 26 Colborne Street, combines artistic experience with rugged functionality. Marvel at the chandeliers in the trees at Claire Jacob’s Chandelier Tree Fine Art Gallery (613 850-3920), 6 Campbell Street, which stocks original oil, watercolour and flow art paintings, prints and notecards. Claire has also created the Portland Artistas Connection with other artists, all of whom are on the Rideau Lakes Studio Tour.
When you visit Portland, the enchantment will encourage you to stay a day or two and bask in the charm of the village. You can be greeted in English, French, German, Danish or Polish at Merlot Sunset Bed and Breakfast (403 923-1422), 13 Station Road, and enjoy valet service, a hot towel, a complimentary glass of Merlot Sunset wine, and a free breakfast buffet. The establishment also has a free charging station for e-vehicles.
Community spirit comes alive in Portland’s events, many of which are sponsored by the Big Rideau Lakes Association. At the end of January, Skate the Lake, also known as the International Big Rideau Lake Speed Skating Marathon, brings skating enthusiasts together for a variety of races with vendors, food concessions, fireworks and curling. On July 1, there is a Fireworks Display on Cow Island. The end of July brings the Annual Family Aquatic Regatta which offers family fun for all ages with swimming and canoe races. A Heritage Walking Tour of Portland can be downloaded from twprideaulakes.on.ca.
If you are on your way to Elgin on Saturday morning, turn right on County Road 42 to Narrows Lake Road. A collection of wood and log structures on the north-west side of the road bursts into life from mid-May to Labour Day as the Crosby Market (613 267-0667 Eleanor Jones) with up to 24 vendors who sell baked goods, crafts, pottery, vegetables, jewellery and everything imaginable. Opened in 1972 by the Rideau Crafts Association, the structures were built by the various vendors and have withstood the elements since then. Across the road is the Varley Art Gallery (613 272-5270).
First settled in the early 1800s by Ebenezer Halladay, the area was known as Halladay’s Corners, and is memorialized still in the Halladay Burial Place graveyard and the house he built in 1844 on Kingston Street. Hundreds of stone masons who were working on the Rideau Canal came to quarries to cut sandstone for the great dam at Jones Falls, Davis and Chaffey’s Locks. The Mormons came to the area to recruit followers and build a temple in 1841, returning to Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1849. Shopkeeper, Ira Mitchell, called the community Nauvoo, meaning “beautiful” after a Mormon community in Illinois. In 1850, the post office was established and named after James Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, who was Governor-General of Canada from 1847 to 1854. Several historic buildings still remain in the village, notably Guthrie House which was originally built in 1886 by Henry Laishley and is now a family services centre and social point for the community. Built in 1887, the Red Brick School, 3 Halladay Street, has been restored and now is the venue for many events in Elgin.
Often referred to as the “Hub of the Rideau,” Elgin is in the heart of corn country and has been the centre of commerce of the southeast region of the Rideau Lakes since the mid-1800s. The Gordanier Hardware Store (613 359-5656), 15 Main Street, issues driver’s licences, markets souvenirs and t-shirts, and provides a large variety of goods to respond to the needs of the area, as does the Gordanier Grocery (613 359-5227), 20 Main Street. The Rideau Restaurant and Pizzeria (613 359-5868), 9 Water Street, is the gathering place of the village, and serves Canadian and Greek food.
Gunnebrooke Farms (613 359 5071), 206 County Road 8, offers farm gate maple product sales year-round. Bushgarden Farmstead Cheese (613 359-5084), Bush Road, produces artisan cheeses from raw milk. Part of the Local Flavours Project, Marion’s Honey (613 359-1151), 1577 County 42 Road, markets honey, beeswax, queens and starter colonies and is open year-round by chance or appointment. Paradise Ranch (613 359-6067), 200 Lockwood Lane, offers farm gate sales of hormone-free beef, pork, sausage, eggs, maple syrup, honey. Elgin Drugs-PharmaChoice (613 359-5567), 14 Main Street, is a drug store and more and has a coffee machine.
The Rideau River and the plethora of lakes attract hundreds of lodgers to the resorts and camps surrounding the community. The historic Harlem Stonegate Bed and Breakfast (613 272-9110), 2341 Harlem Road, focuses attention on individual preferences, healthy delicious food and local sourcing of ingredients. The second weekend in July is Elgin Days which features a parade, a flea market, a barbeque and much more.
This article cannot hope to describe on paper what you will see, nor can it tell you all of the interesting nooks and crannies, businesses or events that you might discover for yourself. Since it is written several months before publication, contacts have been provided so that you can call ahead. Some businesses may operate seasonally. For more information, you can contact The Township of Rideau Lakes (800 928-2250; twprideaulakes.on.ca), 1439 County Road 8, Chantry.