Museum History

Arabella Williams (1867-1950)

The Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time on May 31, 1975, following many months of preparation and planning by a Steering Committee which was established in January of 1974 to develop a Museum in the former Arabella Williams' home at 280 King St. in downtown Port Colborne. The Museum is open daily, 12 noon to 5 p.m. from May to December.

The Williams House which contains the Main Exhibition area, is a clapboard Georgian Revival Style home built in 1861 by Arabella's parents, John and Maria Judith Williams on a block of property which was part of the original Merritt Survey. The property and buildings were deeded to the City of Port Colborne in 1948, two years before Arabella's death in 1950.

Buildings original to the deeded property include the 1869 Williams Home, the 1870 Carriage House, the 1917 Arabella's Tea Room and the garage. All other buildings and structures were moved onto, reconstructed on, or built on the grounds after 1975.

The Carriage House which houses a restored Arabella's Carriage, has had many uses, serving as a Blacksmith Shop until the current Blacksmith Shop was constructed, as an activity centre, a display space, a special event area and as a storage area. It was renovated with funding from the local Jaycees in 1990 to display the Neff Steam Buggy which was on loan during the summer of 1994. In the summer of 1996 it was opened as the Carriage House Gift Shop to sell consignments and items reflective of the site. Currently the building serves as an activity centre for school tours and events.

Arabella's Tea Room is a 1915 frame cottage built as rental income for the Williams Family. It was turned over to the Museum Board by the City in 1976 and was renovated to open as a Tea Room on Canada Day, July 1, 1978. Arabella's Tea Room is operated by the Port Colborne Museum Auxiliary which was established in 1977 and is open daily from June 1 to September 30, serving Afternoon Tea of hot homemade tea biscuits and jam from 2 - 4 p.m.

Several structures described as follows have been added to the Heritage Grounds since its beginnings. 

Yvon Dupre Jr. (1946)

The 1946 Wheelhouse from the tugboat, "Yvon Dupre Jr." was moved to the Museum grounds in 1975 in time for the Museum's Grand Opening. It was built by Marine Industries Ltd. of Sorel, Quebec.

The 1871 Anchor from the propeller ship, "Raleigh" was added later in 1975. It was raised from the wreck which sank near Port Colborne during a storm in 1911.

The 1835 Log Schoolhouse, believed to be one of the first in Humberstone township was reconstructed on the Museum grounds in 1976.

An 1850 Log House built by John and Sally Sherk on Brookfield Road was reconstructed on the Museum grounds in 1980 and a summer kitchen was added in 1983 to house the Graf Loom.

The F.W. Woods and Sons Blacksmith Shop building was relocated from Port Colborne Quarries in 1984 to serve as an 1880's blacksmith operation serving the Welland Canal trade.

The 50-passenger Lifeboat from the "S.S. Hochelaga" was donated to the Museum by Canada Steamship Lines and brought to the Museum in 1991 by Herb Fraser and Associates. The Hochelaga was built in 1949 at the Collingwood shipyards as a bulk freighter and converted to a self-unloader in 1964. Hochelaga

An enclosed Sun Porch with expanded seating space and a fully-accessible washroom were added to Arabella's Tea Room in 1990 and officially opened at Arabella's Pie Social on June 2, 1991.

The Captain John W. Sharpe Heritage Resource Centre, a 3600 sq. ft., 2-story building, was constructed on the Museum Grounds in 1995 to house the Museum's Reserve Collection of 16,000 artifacts.

In 2006 the L.R. Wilson Heritage Research Archives and Visitor's Centre was constructed between the Port Colborne Museum and the Port Colborne Public Library. The building was designed externally to recapture the spirit of Port Colborne's first Town Hall which was built in 1873 and torn down a half-century later. The Archives provides a climate- controlled repository for the documentary history of Port Colborne and area, a research room available to the public and a conference room to accommodate a variety of groups.