By Craig Cole
(November 2018) – The property on which the cottage was erected was owned at one time by my great uncle John Kay Darch, but I have some doubts that this was really the site of Port Stanley’s first summer cottage. We do have some interesting photographs. Looking at the first of these might suggest that “Port Stanley’s First Shed” would have been a better headline for this column. The assertion that this was Port Stanley’s first summer cottage comes from an article published several years ago in the London Free Press. It tells us that the building shown in the photograph was built as a summer cottage by the Rev. J. W. P. Smith.
The property on which it was built was on Orchard Beach, just to the west of Little Creek. This land had been granted to John Bostwick by the Crown in 1804. Land records in the record office indicate that the land changed hands 18 times between then and 1888 when it was bought, for $125 by the Reverend, later to become Canon, Smith.
The next photograph shows a slightly larger version of this cottage which the Free Press article tells us was used by Rev. J.W.P. Smith of London and his brother the Rev. Sylvester Smith of St. Thomas. Their annual summer migration to Port Stanley was a slow one. On at least one occasion the Smith brothers were accompanied by the family cow. A society column in the St. Thomas newspaper recorded the Rev. J.W.P. Smith and cow passing through St. Thomas en route to take up summer residence at Port Stanley.
In 1894 this property was sold to Charles Moore, and in 1907 to John K. Darch. I have a family photograph which shows the Darch family posed in front of their much-expanded cottage (it now has a second story), and that cottage, with many renovations, still exists today.
The Darch family owned a prosperous harness business on Talbot Street in London, just west of Covent Garden market. It was run for many years by my great grandmother Jane Darch who built London’s first skyscraper, a six-story building on Talbot Street. In the first half of the last century, the family spent every summer at the family summer cottage on Orchard Beach, where I happily joined my four maiden aunts. They were known locally as “The Darch Girls.”
Those of our readers who are familiar with Orchard Beach will realize that the relentless erosion of the Lake Erie shoreline in the first half of the last century would have necessitated numerous relocations of a lakeside cottage such as the Darch cottage. In those years most of the lots were long narrow lots. As the lake ate away the shoreline, people jacked up their cottage and hauled it back 25 or 30 feet from the encroaching lake. Family legend says that the Darch cottage was moved at least four times, and I can remember it being situated several hundred feet south of where it stands today.
Was this the first summer cottage in Port Stanley? In an earlier Villager column, I talked about the Fraser House on Invereie Heights, an area which appears to have been developed for summer use at an earlier time period than Orchard Beach. In looking for a likely location for Port Stanley’s first summer cottage, we would also have to consider Hillcrest, where John Bostwick had his home, but it is fun to speculate that the Darch cottage might have merited the title of Port Stanley’s first summer cottage.