The name of Port Hope’s Ganaraska River was attributed to the area by the indigenous peoples of the region and is what they called the river that flows through the town. The name originates from Ganaraske, the Cayuga village first located at the current site of the town.
The Cayuga, part of the Iroquois Confederacy, had migrated there from New York in 1779, after suffering extensive damage at their homeland in New York State while fighting as British allies during the American Revolution.
In 1793, Loyalists became the first permanent settlers of European heritage in Port Hope, which they called Smith's Creek after a former fur trader. Mills and a town plot were developing by the turn of the century.
After the War of 1812, more British settlers were wanted, and a better name for the community was required. The village was renamed in 1817 as Port Hope, after the Township of Hope of which the town was located in. The Township of Hope had previously been named for Colonel Henry Hope, lieutenant governor of the Province of Quebec. In 1834, Port Hope was incorporated as a town.