Parks, Gardens & Conservation Areas
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Lakeside Park is located in the heart of scenic Port Dalhousie, on a beautiful Lake Ontario beach. A popular spot for young and old, visitors can enjoy the beach, picnic areas, pavilion, playground, boardwalk and pier year-round. Seasonally there is a snack bar, change rooms, washrooms and a working antique carousel for a nickel a ride! There are also public docks for visiting boaters.
The Dalhousie Yacht Club, found across the park, offers reciprocal berthing agreements with other clubs. Port Dalhousie Marina, on the east side of the harbour, offers full service berths on a seasonal and occasional basis.
The Lakeside Park Carousel sits as a reminder of this port town's once flourishing amusement park. Local crafts persons and painters have tirelessly worked to restore each of the carousel's figurines, which were carved between 1898 and 1905 in Brooklyn, New York. In 1921, the carousel arrived from an amusement park in Scarborough to Port Dalhousie, and it has stayed there ever since. Listen to the memorable carousel music played on an antique Frati band organ that reads paper music rolls, and photograph the 68 carved animals and four chariots. Thanks to local involvement and lobbying it's still only five cents a ride!
The children's playground is situated between the Carousel and the walkway. The newly constructed playground facility offers more entertainment for children. The wind mitigation rocks lining the walkway in this area, along with the vegetation planted behind them, are used to stop the sand from blowing off the beach. It was in this area of Port Dalhousie that the first Welland Canal made its route, using what was once the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek. However, the direction of wind and waves off the lake made it difficult for ships to manoeuvre, and the second Welland Canal followed a different route.
Young people play volleyball on a regular basis on the beach. All summer long couples and families stroll along the accessible pier that juts way out in to Lake Ontario. Enjoy a lovely dinner in Port Dalhousie, and then walk off the calories as you enjoy the sunset from the pier.
TripClip Audio File
Click to play or download Lakeside Park TripClip (mp3 format).
This destination is also part of the TripClip tour 'Touring the Twelve.'
Dawn to dusk daily.
Lakeside Park Carousel:
Victoria Day Weekend - mid June
Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Friday 4:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Victoria Day Monday 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Mid June - Labour Day 10:00 am - 9:00 pm
Mid September - Thanksgiving Weekend
Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am - 7:00 pm
Thanksgiving Monday 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
QEW exit 47, St. Catharines (Ontario Street)
North on Ontario Street towards Lake Ontario, away from downtown
Left (west) on Lakeport Road at lights
Follow Lakeport Road over bridge
Veer right at traffic lights towards beach
Free parking at Lakeside Park
Lakeside Park has been synonymous with beachfront fun and relaxation for more than a century. Established in 1902, the Park is a popular year-round venue where countless visitors have come to enjoy the beach, picnic areas, pavilion, playground, boardwalk, marina, and pier. Kids splash in the water, build castles in the sand, and feed the birds along the shoreline. Young people play beach volleyball in the sand, seniors stroll on the waterfront walkways, and couples come to sit on park benches and contemplate the spectacular sunsets shimmering off Lake Ontario.
This is the same park that the Canadian rock group “Rush” wrote about in the band’s classic tune “Lakeside Park”. If you visit the park in the summer, you’ll know what drummer, songwriter, and onetime St. Catharines resident Neil Peart meant when writing these lyrics:
“Lakeside Park, so many memories.
Laughing rides, midway lights,
shining stars on summer nights.
Days of barefoot freedom,
racing with the waves,
nights of starlit secrets”.
At the turn of the last century, however, barefoot freedom was a bit more restrained. Public bathing was an illegal act, and it was not until the early 1900s that these Victorian attitudes began to change. Nevertheless, once it started, change came quickly. The passenger ferries Dalhousie City and Northumberland replaced the paddle-wheelers, bringing ever-increasing groups of modestly-clad summertime bathers and picknickers from the other side of the lake. The Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto Railway, which ran a streetcar system in the region, and its sister company, N.S.&T. Navigation, which ran the steamships across the lake, were quick to realize the potential of developing a more ambitous park at the beach.
In 1986, Grimsby author Dorothy Turcotte wrote about Lakeside Park in a brief history of Port Dalhousie called “Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax”. According to Turcotte, beach pavillions, rides, refreshment stands and cafes sprouted in the early years of the last century, and the resort reputation of the waterfront town continued to grow. A baseball diamond was established, followed by a midway with games of skill and games of chance. Concession stands popped up hawking all the requisite treats: cotton candy, honeydew, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, hot waffles with ice cream, popcorn, taffy apples, hot dogs and and hamburgers were all available for sale.
In 1921, Canadian National Railways, by then owners of the NS&T Railway, took over the exclusive management of Lakeside Park, and concentrated on making the park a quality attraction. Countless truckloads of fill were brought in to fill in swampy areas, and the park was doubled in size. Much of the beach sand along the shore was actually trucked in from the sand pits of Fonthill, 30 km to the south. Tent concessions were replaced with permanent wooden buildings, and the touts, shills, and con men on the midway did not have their concession licenses renewed. Operators of games and rides had to meet strict rules. Games could not cost more than 10 cents, and everyone who played had to win something. The baseball diamond was improved, a grandstand and additional bleachers were built, and the park was electrically lit to extend the evening hours. A huge water slide was installed just offshore each year in the swimming season. Renovations included a covered picnic pavilion which could seat 3,000 people, and a dance hall where dance orchestras and bands would play, first to the Flappers of the 1920s and later to the jitterbuggers of the Big Band era. In the 1930s the park featured a dance band in the pavilion from 8:00 p.m. to midnight, six nights a week. Rationing during the Second World War made long vacations impossible for many Canadians, but Ontario families would still treat themselves to day trips and getaways at the park to relieve the stresses of wartime life.
After the Second World War, the park remained lively, but events conspired to signal the beginning of a decline in the fortunes of the amusement park. Don Forsyth recalled the event in a 1997 article in the St. Catharines Standard:
“On June 2, 1949, the steamer Northumberland, freshly painted for the summer trips to begin the next day, caught fire and burned in her berth in Port Dalhousie. That September another ship burned at a Toronto pier, and the federal government imposed strict new fire guidelines on passenger ships on the lakes. CNR decided to end the steamship service. The Northumberland was sold off for scrap and the Dalhousie City was also sold, and another chapter in the history of Lakeside Park came to a close”.
“Sid Brookson, who started at the park as an office clerk, continued to operate the park for years without a regular steamer service. But times were changing: more people had cars, the QEW meant an end to long, tortuous drives to and from Toronto, airline travel and new-fangled televisions diverted Canadians' travel and recreation priorities. A beach that had become increasingly polluted by sewage didn't help, either.”
Sadly but predictably, the midway at Lakeside Park closed in 1969, and the refreshment stands closed the following year. Sid Brookson sued the City of St. Catharines with a charge that the city’s sewage pollution into Port Dalhouse Harbour had destroyed his business. A settlement was reached and the City took the site over. Virtually all the attractions were removed, and the park was grassed over. The only structures remaining were the dance pavillion, the picnic shelter, and the famous carousel. The dance pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1974, but you can still see – and use – the picnic shelter, between the change rooms and the main parking lot, near the edge of the harbour channel.
The carousel and the picnic shelter stand as reminders of those happy halcyon amusement park days, links to a bygone era that still lives in the memories of many older residents. The park has changed, but the visitors still come.
Some other historical notes, from A History of Port Dalhousie - Down at the Park "Frolic and Fun for Old and Young" by Christine Robertson and Dennis Cushman:
"The Park has existed since 1902 and operations for commercial purposes have continued since 1921. The park was originally owned and operated by the Canadian National Railway Company, in association with the Canadian National Steamship Company. In order to transport passengers from Toronto to the newly developed park, the SS Dalhousie City, with a capacity of 1050 passengers, was purchased. A second vessel, the SS Northumberland, built overseas, was added to the fleet in 1920. The steamships ran regularly throughout the months of May, June, July and August, and this service ceased each year after Labour Day."
"By 1926, the park offered picnic table accomodations for 2,000 people, and an excellent restaurant which offered the finest dishes of seafood to be found in Canada at that time, (the restaurant also provided all the bakery goods and meals for the organized picnics which came to the park in subsequent years.) A midway was constructed offering many games of chance and a dance hall was built. The bathing houses were remodelled, and floodlights erected along the water front to supply lighting for swimming and strolling. In the early 1920s the dance hall became popular, the people were dance crazy, and the hall was always filled with Flappers.
A History of Port Dalhousie - Down at the Park "Frolic and Fun for Old and Young " www.portmemories.com www.portmemories.com/park.htm These excerpts are from a book about Port Dalhousie by Christine Robertson and Dennis Cushman, copies of which are avaialable through the Port Dalhousie Library, at 23 Brock Street. The library phone is (905) 646-0220.
Accessible Niagara: www.portmemories.com www.accessibleniagara.com/attractions/portdalhousie.htm
City of St. Catharines, Recreation & Community Services Department: www.portmemories.com www.stcatharines.ca/recreation/pt_p_home.asp
Lakeside Park Carousel pamphlets are available at Niagara's major visitor centres and at the carousel itselfLion's Club Carnival: www.portmemories.com www.portlionsclub.ca/lions_carnival.htm
Niagara Nature Tours: www.portmemories.com www.niagaranaturetours.ca/solstice.htm
Port Dalhousie Harbour Walkway pamphlet available at St. Catharines Recreation and Community Services department on Geneva Street.
Regional Niagara Beach Water Quality: www.portmemories.com www.regional.niagara.on.ca/living/health_wellness/beaches/default.aspx
From June to the end of August, the Niagara Region Public Health Department collects weekly water samples from 36 public beach locations. They post the beaches as safe or unsafe as determined by E. Coli bacteria levels.
The Waterfront Trail: www.portmemories.com www.waterfronttrail.org/wtsk/stcatharines_trip.htm