Best-Kept Secret

Marinas / Marine Facilities

Whitby Yacht Club
An active cruising and racing club that welcomes members from reciprocating yacht clubs, the Whitby Yacht Club has approximately 250 well-protected slips at its facility on the south side of Whitby Harbour. The club can handle boats up to 50 feet long and with drafts to about 7 feet. Call ahead on VHF 68 for slip availability.

Custom Yacht Builder
Master boatbuilder Peter Karadi has been building custom yachts on the site of the Port Whitby Marina since 1978. He also offers repairs to damaged hulls, mechanical work, welding, interior woodwork, engine replacement and upholstery repairs.

Port Whitby Marina
A large and well-run municipal marina located on the northeast corner of the harbor, Port Whitby Marina can accommodate boats to 90 feet long and with a draft of up to about 8 feet. The marina offers 420 roomy, well-sheltered slips. Call ahead on VHF 68 for slip availability.

Port Whitby Marine Supplies
Located outside Port Whitby Marina on Charles Street, go here to find a full range of equipment and accessories for both power and sail, including hardware and fittings, engine parts, anchors, electronics, paints, cleaning supplies, charts and more. They can also arrange prop repairs.

Sit back and relax

Whitby will be home to the brand-new Nordik Spa-Nature, which will be completed in Fall 2019. Located in Cullen Park, this new spa and wellness center will offer five outdoor pools, five saunas, three restaurants, a floating saltwater pool, massage rooms, spa services and more. The resort, which broke ground in June 2018, will be built on a nearly nine-acre lot.


Best-Kept Secret

By Craig Ritchie
In World War II, Whitby, Ontario, was a training base for secret agents. Today, it continues to fly under the radar as one of the best-kept secrets on the Great Lakes.
It’s only fitting that the pretty town of Whitby, Ontario, should enjoy a strong connection to water. Located on the north shore of Lake Ontario some 23 miles east of Toronto, Whitby is named after the English village of Whitby, home to the legendary Captain James Cook who went on to map most of the world in the course of his epic voyages aboard HMS Endeavor.

The name Whitby comes from the Danish and dates back to about 867 AD when the Danes invaded Britain. The Danish “Whitteby” roughly translates as “White Village,” a reference to the white-painted lighthouse that guarded the harbor entrance near where they came ashore. Appropriately, a white lighthouse stands over the harbor entrance today in Whitby, Ontario.

The Lake Ontario shoreline around present-day Whitby was originally surveyed in 1792, and the first settlers arrived from England shortly after. By 1836, the small farming settlement had grown to become a fair-sized village, thanks in no small part to its outstanding natural harbor, which made it easy for local farmers to move their produce to market. The town grew exponentially in the early 1840s after a road was constructed from Whitby north to Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay. This road — the present-day Highway 12 — greatly contributed to the development of the town as a major shipping port, where ships by the dozen loaded grain, lumber, flour, potatoes and beer for buyers all over the world. 

Incorporated in 1855, Whitby grew larger still when it became the Lake Ontario terminal for the newly-created Whitby, Port Perry and Lindsay Railway with its fast, reliable service into Ontario’s fertile Kawartha Lakes region. 

All this traffic going in and out of its harbor made Whitby and its residents incredibly affluent. Magnificent Victorian-era homes and mansions began to sprout up all over town, many of which survive today. One of these — a former Sheriff’s residence — now houses the Trafalgar Castle School, a private girls’ school founded in 1874. It’s one of numerous period estates and former merchant and government buildings that now forms the basis for several heritage walking tours. Other structures are gone, but their beautiful grounds survive among Whitby’s more than 120 parks — a huge number for a town of less than 57 square miles.

Today, with its expansive green space and laid-back pace, Whitby is an enchanting destination for cruising boaters looking for something just a little bit different. But it wasn’t always quite so welcoming of visitors.

X marks the spot

It seems hard to believe today, but at one point in time, poking your nose around Whitby would have quickly led to an encounter with the military police. During World War II, quiet little Whitby was in fact a global center of subterfuge and intrigue. 

With the war in Europe raging, the Canadian government quietly acquired a small farm located on Whitby’s outskirts. They took possession on December 6, 1941 — the day before the Pearl Harbor attack — and quickly established what became known as Camp X, a top-secret spy training facility lead by none other than Sir William Stephenson, the so-called “Man Called Intrepid.” Stephenson, who headed British security operations for the entire Western Hemisphere during the war, was a Canadian master spy and close advisor to both Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Under Stephenson’s leadership, and in close cooperation with the FBI, MI-6 and the RCMP, Camp X became an ultra-secret training ground for Canadian, American and British intelligence agents who subsequently spread all over the world gathering critical information for the war effort. Many were captured, tortured and executed. In view of the sensitivity of their work, survivors received no recognition for their efforts, nor even acknowledgement of their service. 

Officially known as Special Training School No. 103, Camp X was the first secret agent training school in North America and among the first in the world. Fun fact: The CIA went on to name its own training facility The Farm in a nod to Camp X. It’s estimated that up to 2,000 agents trained at Camp X between 1941 and 1945. One of them, a British naval intelligence officer by the name of Ian Fleming, would later go on to achieve international fame as the author of the James Bond spy novels. Fleming later acknowledged that it was his former mentor at Camp X, Stephenson, who provided the real-life inspiration for Bond. 

Apart from churning out scores of spies, Camp X also became a critically important communications center for the Allied command. By May 1942, the camp added a sophisticated radio and telegraph station (code-named Hydra) that was soon transmitting and receiving upwards of 40,000 top-secret messages daily, representing the bulk of the intelligence traffic transmitted across the Atlantic.

Although Camp X was leveled immediately after the war and trees were planted on its site to erase all traces of its existence, rumors and speculation about what actually went on there persisted for years. It wasn’t until 1984 that the camp’s existence was officially acknowledged by Ontario Lieutenant Governor John B. Aird, who unveiled a monument on the site commemorating the facility and the critical role it played in developing international security protocols still used around the world to this day. 

Open secrets

Its cloak-and-dagger past gives Whitby mountains of intrigue and makes it an exciting destination for visitors from all over North America. But there’s a lot more to this secret little gem than just its fascinating history. Whitby deserves a much closer look on the strength of its present-day charms, and the best way to get there and see it all first-hand is the original way — by boat.

The town is easy to spot from the water, as the 300- foot-tall radio antenna belonging to Whitby’s Ontario Provincial Police detachment can be seen for several miles offshore. Watch for its distinctive five red lights, three of which flash. Deep, clear water makes the approach to shore easy, with no shoals, sandbars or other hazards to avoid. As you approach you’ll soon spot a pair of blue and grey condominium towers on shore, which lie directly north of the harbor. Line up on them, and watch for the two sets of red and green buoys that mark the harbor entrance. 

Depth in the entrance channel is maintained at 15 feet, but you’ll want to follow the buoyed channel carefully once you’re inside the piers, as the bottom comes up fast outside the markers. Just as you clear the inshore ends of the piers, the channel takes a 90-degree turn to the west. Shortly after making the turn, you’ll spot the Whitby Yacht Club on your port side, its entrance channel clearly marked with fluorescent red buoys. Continuing past the yacht club, the channel takes another 90-degree turn — this time north toward Port Whitby Marina.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Port Whitby Marina is one of the premier marinas in Ontario, making it the perfect home port or cruising destination. This full-service marina is within walking distance of restaurants, pubs and provisions, and they even offer bicycles, kayaks and SUPs at no charge to explore the area. 

As you greet each new morning with that first cup of coffee, keep an eye out for the swans, ducks, ospreys, bald eagles, snowy owls, blue herons and mink that pass by one after another. You’ll see even more birds and small animals if you wake early and take a morning excursion along the waterfront path, whether on foot, roller blades or bicycle. Whitby’s eight-mile stretch of Lake Ontario’s 485-mile Waterfront Trail system closely follows the lake, bringing spectacular views as it meanders through beautifully manicured parkland.

If you’re in the mood for more of a workout, the Iroquois Park Sports Centre sits within easy walking distance of the marina docks with six ice/floor hockey surfaces, two indoor pools, a sports dome, five lit baseball diamonds and six tennis courts. There’s also a restaurant with an outdoor patio. The complex offers a wide range of recreational programs, concerts, shows and special events throughout the season, and is always worth a stop whether you’re in the mood to work up a sweat or not.

Step up to downtown

Looking at Whitby on a map, the town perches atop Lake Ontario like a three-layered cake. The waterfront with its marine facilities and beautiful parks forms the base layer, supporting the historic downtown mid-layer, which is in turn topped by still more parkland known locally as the Greenbelt. Think in those terms and it’s impossible to get lost.

To get from the waterfront to the downtown you’ll need to head north and cross the 401 Highway, a major Interstate-style thoroughfare that follows the north shore of Lake Ontario on its way from Windsor to Montreal. The distance between the marina and the main drag on Dundas Street is only a little over a mile, but it seems a lot farther when you’re returning with a few bags of shopping in hand. Uber, cabs, public transit or bicycles make the short trip far more comfortable. 

Today a vibrant community that’s home to nearly 130,000 people and more than 2,200 businesses, Whitby is best-known as a pedestrian-focused town where the bicycle is the preferred means of getting around, whether it’s exploring the historic downtown or enjoying its vast green spaces. The village boasts an inviting bike network that includes more than 10 miles of multi-purpose pathways and another 13 miles of dedicated bike lanes — so break out the bikes and go native while you’re there.

It may come as a surprise to some visitors, but the historic downtown is actually one of the most bicycle-friendly neighborhoods in Whitby, where dedicated bike lanes on Mary Street and Dunlop Street (which parallel Dundas) offer safe and convenient access to pretty much everything, including Peel Park, the library, shopping and restaurants. 

The downtown makes a perfect starting point to check out Whitby’s past. As Whitby was once the administrative center of the former County of Ontario, a number of historically-significant buildings speak to its past importance and affluence, including the county courthouse, the county jail and the land registry office. Visit the town website ( to download illustrated guides to five separate walking tours that explore the town’s colorful history through its magnificent historic properties. 

One thing you won’t experience in Whitby is hunger, as the town is home to a thriving culinary scene with many excellent restaurants, eateries and pubs to choose from, everything from authentic Italian food to classic steakhouses and more avant-garde fare. A personal favorite is Cupcake Junkie on Brock Street South — a little purple house that bristles with great coffee and tasty baked treats. Try the tiramisu cupcakes at your own risk, because it’s simply impossible to eat just one.

There’s also a first-rate farmers market featuring locally- grown produce, baked goods and hand-crafted items held every Wednesday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. in Celebration Square, just outside the Whitby Public Library on Dundas Street West. If you need to provision, this stop is hard to beat.

Getting thirsty? The local craft brewery scene is also making serious waves. From 5 Paddles and Town Brewery to Little Beasts and Brock Street Brewing Co., Whitby is home to a vibrant and energetic beer culture, with more artisan breweries popping up every year. From mild to wild, you’re sure to find something tasty that hits the spot.

Once you’ve been wined and dined, you might want to walk off lunch with a little retail therapy. That’s where downtown Whitby shines, with an enticing variety of unique boutiques and home décor shops that line the main streets, providing the perfect opportunity to find that special something to accent the boat or fill a void in your wardrobe. 

Or, head north to the Greenbelt and pick up one of countless multi-purpose trails that bisect this delightful tract of woodlands and open meadows. Whether biking, running or simply enjoying a leisurely stroll, there’s no better place to reconnect with nature and enjoy the day.

It’s a date

For a smaller community, Whitby literally buzzes with activity as the home to more than 200 special events each year. The town’s website ( includes a packed event calendar with full details on the where-and-when. 

Visit in May and you can reward your senses and your stomach at the same time at the Food Truck Frenzy, where every imaginable style of street meat and sidewalk snack is presented for your full enjoyment. Come back in July and indulge your inner carnivore at one of Canada’s largest ribfests, or set your horticultural heart aflutter with the Whitby In Bloom Garden Tour.

Through the summer, events like Culture In The Square, Fresh Air In The Square, Music In The Park and Movies In The Park celebrate life al fresco and make the most of the beautiful summer warmth. 

Without question the biggest party on Whitby’s social calendar is the annual Canada Day celebration each July 1. The fun starts early with a variety of free children’s activities, including face painting, a petting zoo and jumping castles, live entertainment for the adults in the crowd throughout the day, a farmers market, food of every description, and a fireworks display to cap things off. Much of the activity takes place right along the waterfront, with a water taxi service operating between the marina and the yacht club to make getting around a breeze.

The other big date on Whitby’s summer calendar is the Great Ontario Salmon Derby, a seven-week-long fishing festival that typically kicks off in late June and runs through mid-August. Although the derby is a lake-wide affair, the hottest activity takes place right off the Whitby waterfront, where a deep drop-off located close to shore puts the big fish within easy reach — as evidenced by the fact that nearly one-third of the prize-winning fish in the 2018 derby were weighed in at the Whitby scale. 

With more than $300,000 in prizes — including boats and SUVs up for grabs — the salmon derby is a big deal that attracts anglers from across North America. Even if you’re not in town during the derby, Whitby is always a good place to wet a line just for fun, with a wide variety of fish available year-round. 

With its colorful past, enticing downtown, first-rate natural harbor and bustling entertainment calendar, it really is amazing that Whitby manages to fly under the radar of Great Lakes cruisers. The best-kept secret on the Great Lakes? Absolutely, and all the more reason this delightful port of call stands out as a must-see destination for anyone who enjoys a hint of intrigue. 

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