Rossport is named after John Ross (c1820-1898), construction manager for the north shore of Lake Superior route of the Canadian Pacific Railway from August 1882 to June 1885. His construction headquarters during that time period were in Port Arthur, Ontario and at Rossport, then known as McKay's Harbour.
McKay's Harbour was named after Alexander McKay who operated a small fur trading post at Pays Plat and his son, Charles McKay, who was a lighthouse keeper at nearby Battle Island from 1878-1913.
After the end of CPR construction in 1885, Rossport became an important commercial fishing centre. Bowman Street is named after John Bowman (1858–1950) who operated a fishing company there.
Tiny Rossport garnered a wide reputation for being a source of prime fish. An article in the Dominion Illustrated from October 1888, speaks of how dealers from Eastern Canada had travelled to Rossport and other North Shore communities in order to contract for Lake Superior’s fine freshwater fish. Another article from November 1888 talks of a trial shipment of ten barrels of fish from Rossport being sent to Belfast Ireland where it was quickly sold.
In 1901, Rossport joined other North Shore port communities in becoming a regular stop for steamships belonging to Francis Clergue. The vessels operated between Sault Ste Marie and Port Arthur.
In 1907 tenders were called by the Dominion Public Works Department for the construction of a wharf at Rossport.
Most interesting is how a small local competition in 1937 morphed into an international event. There was a time when the Rossport Fish Derby was a staple on every sports fisherman's calendar. An August 1952 article in the Toronto Star describes over 4,000 people attending that year’s self-proclaimed “greatest amateur fishing event in North America”. Cars, tents and people would be visible along the highway for a distance as participants arrived and staked out a piece of land to camp on for the one-day event. The arrival to the Lake of a non-native species, the Lamprey eel, caused devastation to the Lake Trout population and, over time, brought about the downfall to the days of the derby.
In 1911 the luxury steam yacht Gunilda, owned by William L. Harkness, floundered on the McGarvey Shoal and sank 8 kilometers from Rossport. The actual date of the sinking varies from August 11 to August 29 to August 31st depending upon the article. A Toronto Daily Star news item contained in the Friday, September 1, 1911 edition states that the vessel ran aground on Wednesday, which would be August 30, and then refers to the sinking as occurring "yesterday" or August 31, 1911. This timeframe could reflect accuracy as after the vessel ran aground on the shoal and stabilized, a small boat was sent to Rossport where arrangements were made for the dispatch of a rescue tug from Port Arthur. It would take time for that tug to travel to Rossport. Therefore there would be a difference in the time between when the Gunilda ran aground and when it was actually pulled off the shoal only to sink.
Painters from the Group of Seven (artists) visited Rossport and the surrounding area to several times in the 1920s. In 2018 a plaque was installed in Rossport Community Park celebrating their visits and Lawren Harris' painting "Rossport, Lake Superior - 1921" as part of the Moments of Algoma tourism initiative.
On October 3, 1933, Rossport's waterfront suffered great damage as a result of an unusual tidal phenomenon with Lake Superior
HISTORY BUFFS will enjoy a visit to the Rossport Museum, housed in a caboose donated by the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Once an overnight stop on its line, passengers would disembark at the CPR hotel, now the Rossport Inn, a designated historical site: two other historical sites are the Union Church and the first auto shop, now the Forget-Me-Not Gift Shop. The Rossport Marina and the docks reflect the village's past as a major stop by the voyageurs on the fur trade route to and from Fort William, and of having a primary economy of fishing for many years. If possible, one must plan a boat trip to historic Battle Island Lighthouse.