United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, est. 634 residents
Westport, Ontario, is a beautiful village with several natural views that are sure to take your breath away. The Mississauga were the dominant indigenous group living in the area before settlers from Europe arrived after 1810.
After forcing the indigenous peoples to move to a reserve, the Crown granted the area of Westport to a Mr. Hunter, who never actually settled in the region. Reuben Sherwood ended up purchasing the land in 1817, some of which was also bought by the Stoddard and Manhard families later on.
A Growing Village
At first, the small community was known as Head of the Lake. Sheldon Stoddard built the area’s first sawmill in 1828, and a year later, the Manhards followed suit, constructing a sawmill and grist mill. The town grew and became known as Manhards Mills before becoming Westport in 1841. Two local merchants, Aaron Chambers and Lewis Cameron, had the honour of naming the town and chose Westport because of its location at the west end of Upper Rideau Lake.
A large number of Irish immigrants flooded the area between the 1840s and 1860s following the Great Famine. St. Edward’s Catholic Church was built in 1859 as an early cultural centre for the predominantly Catholic Irish immigrants who made the area of Westport their home. Around this time, the village grew to 300 residents and had several prosperous businesses, including a general store and sawmill.
The construction of the Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie Railway helped Westport grow as a thriving commercial centre through the 19th and 20th centuries. The ambitious project was proposed by an entrepreneur named Robert G. Harvey in 1882. Strong local support for the rail line meant construction commenced in 1886 and was completed in 1888, moving goods, mail and people to and from the St. Lawrence River and Westport. The railway helped Westport grow to 900 inhabitants, and the village became incorporated in 1904.
The Cheese Industry in Westport
Cheese making was an incredibly important industry in Westport, with many cheese makers sending their products to Kingston using steamboats on the Rideau Canal. Later on, the cheese was packaged in boxes and loaded onto the Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie Railway — reincorporated as the Brockville, Westport and North-Western Railway in 1903. The cheese would make its way to Montreal before being sent by boat to England.
Since the railway brought more commercial opportunities, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, several cheese factories started popping up between the two towns. The rail line would eventually become known to many as the “cheese run,” which also made the dairy industry integral in the creation of cheese. Most of the cheese factories in the area were located around four kilometres from a dairy farm.
The popularity of the rail line and Westport’s natural beauty also brought many tourists to the area. Despite the Brockville, Westport and North-Western Railway line ending in 1952, the area still attracts many visitors looking for a unique town with gorgeous sights.
The Cove Inn is the perfect place to stay while in Westport. The building was constructed as a private home in 1876 by the Fredenburgh family, who also owned the area’s sash and door mill. In the late 1920s, the structure was converted into the Lexena Hotel. As time passed, the hotel’s ownership and name changed multiple times, but what stayed the same was it being one of the best places to stay on the Rideau. In 1988, the Cowans and the Carvers undertook renovations to restore the Cove Inn to its original state and have done an incredible job doing so.
Today, the Cove Inn offers comfortable accommodations, incredible food, and excellent live entertainment, on top of having an exceptionally kind staff. The building is comprised of 12 guest suites — each with its own unique personality — a full-service 200-seat restaurant and a 100-seat patio. In the warmer months, guests can enjoy the large outdoor seating area, which overlooks the stunning waters of Westport Pond and Upper Rideau Lake.
The Rideau District Museum was founded in 1961, making it the oldest museum in Leeds and Grenville. A group of concerned citizens started by going from farm to farm in the community and amassed a collection of items people were willing to donate before they even gained possession of the former blacksmith shop, which is where the museum now resides.
The barn-framed structure was built in the 1850s as a furniture, coffin and boat-building business by Conley and Truelove. In 1873, the shop was purchased by Joseph Shillington, who built the forges, transforming it into a blacksmith and carriage-making business. Since the Rideau District Museum took ownership of the building in the 1960s, they have completed multiple renovations to ensure the historic integrity of the structure remains intact.
Foley Mountain Conservation Area consists of over 800 acres of mixed forests, ponds, and fields with seven marked trails over 10 kilometres long. The natural space opened in 1973 after the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority acquired the majority of Foley Mountain’s land from the government. Harold Foley had donated the property with the intention of preserving the forest. Other adjacent lands were also acquired in 1984 and 2001 through a combination of purchases, donations, land swaps and leases.
Today, one of the most popular features of the conservation area is the Spy Rock lookout, which provides a breathtaking view of the Village of Westport and the historic Upper Rideau Lake. The outlook was created when a meteor slammed into the planet a few kilometres to the southwest of the area. The impact caused a large earthquake, which forced a chunk of Foley Mountain to fall away, creating the abrupt, high cliff with a spectacular panoramic view.
Cynthia and John Pringle opened Life is Good in April 2008. Their mission was to create an independently owned and socially conscious business, which they have certainly accomplished. Life is Good sells clothing and accessories decked out in positive sayings, perfectly matching the brand’s optimistic vision.
Westport is a captivating village with activities that everyone can fully appreciate. Spend the afternoon going back in time with a historic walking tour, supporting some of the wonderful local businesses or taking in the remarkable scenery Westport has to offer.
A big thank you to Seamus Cowan from The Cove Inn for the wonderful sponsored stay, as well as Christine from the Rideau District Museum for providing me with more information about Westport.