Port Dover Maple Leaf presents a two-part feature on the celebrations of Canada Day in Port Dover since 1867.
Part one in the June 24th issue tells of the events from 1867 to 1940.
Part two in the June 30th issue remembers the holiday celebrations from 1950 to the present.
See the full issue by purchasing online or at local newsstands.
THIS IS THE STORY OF THE FIRST JULY 1st CELEBRATION IN PORT DOVER. THE PHOTO IS LIKELY FROM A PARADE IN THE 1920s.
AFTER years of discussion, The British North America Act passed through the British Parliament and was signed into law by Queen Victoria in 1867 creating a new nation known as Canada. The enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 was celebrated for the first time on July 1, 1867.
Port Dover residents many thousands of miles away from those historic politicians held a celebration here to mark the great occasion.
The organizers of that first celebration are not known. But they started a tradition which has become the most celebrated day in Port Dover.
While July 1st in Port Dover has seen different events held over the decades, there is strong evidence to say a community celebration has been held in Port Dover every year since 1867. Through World Wars and Great Depressions the celebrations continued making Port Dover, very likely, the only community in Canada to have celebrated every July 1st since 1867.
In 1867, The Maple Leaf was a few years from being established. But there is an account from the diary of Captain Alexander McNeilledge who had immigrated to this community in 1829 from Greenock, Scotland to join his brother, Colin, who had rebuilt the Mills burned during the War of 1812.
He penned these words in his daily journal.
“Monday, July 1, 1867. Cool, clear and pleasant. Alex [his son], Miss Helen Rapelje, Colin and Rapelje, [his grandsons] went to Dover in the new wagon to see the celebration of the new Dominion of Canada, Confederation, which has been talked of the summertime past.
“I left about 9;00 o’clock leaving Mrs. Mc and the dog, Watch, to keep house.
“A large turnout of people from the country around coming in: a steamboat from Port Rowan and the Bay full of folks and the two volunteer company’s of Her Majesty’s gunboat ‘Britomart’. Captain A. H. Allington, dressed it with flags, being a new thing for folks to see. The men paraded with the volunteer company. After that they fired several shot and shell with their two big guns at a target fixed on the reef in a SE direction.
“A large concourse of people down, new thing. There was a fine lunch awaited them by the liberality of the people of Dover and around, in the warehouse of James Riddell, rented by Robert Hellyer. The ladies around did their part, nothing wanted. After, there was a nautical game got up by the sailors. A greased pole on the pier with a pig in a basket at the end of it caused much amusement to see them fall in the water. However, it was won by Seaman Leary. All appeared to enjoy themselves.
“In the afternoon went through the games, etc. and fencing by the sailors.
“I left before evening in the wagon with Alex. His wife’s sister stayed to see the fireworks and concert. Taking all in all, the celebration was highly creditable to all concerned and the day passed off pleasantly.”