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Memories of Saltfleet

The following is a letter I received from Howard Martin, dated Mar. 4, 2003,  concerning the origin of the name Vinemount. Vinemont is one of the historical towns in Saltfleet Township.  Howard Martin is a historian who has spent many years of his life collecting and organizing local history.  He has done the updates to the Annuals of The Forty, numerous works from Ancaster and an extensive history of the Gage family.  The following letter will give a look at old Saltfleet through the eyes of someone who grew up here and knows the history.  Howard Martin currently lives near Ottawa and still is active in preserving and passing on history.


Vinemount

The July 31, 2002 edition of Stoney Creek News (p. 12) carried this story of the origin of the place name "Vinemount", an area above the escarpment and several miles east of the pioneer village of Stoney Creek.

Vinemount was named after the grapes that were planted by one of its most famous residents, E.D. Smith.  It is an area of Stoney Creek on the top of the escarpment with its boundaries being the edge of the escarpment.  Tapleytown Road on the west, Twenty Highway and the Town line of West Lincoln in the south and the border of Hamilton and Niagara in the east.  Vinemount makes up a quarter of Stoney Creek.  Two of the most famous things about Vinemount are the creamery and the Vinemount Women's Institute.

The Vinemount W.I. branch was formed on Jan. 6, 1926 and the first meeting was held in the back of the Vinemount general store which was owned by Mr. and Mrs. A. W. Little at the time.  At the first meeting the officers were elected and plans for the other meetings in the year were made.  The first president was Mrs. Little and the first secretary was Mrs. W. Johnson.  There were 66 charter members and the last member, Mrs. M. Sturch, died at the age of 100 in 1992.

Vinemount was first settled by Loyalists who came there in the 1780s.  Sylvester Smith, the father of E.D. Smith, owned a hundred acre grain farm near Vineland on the escarpment.  It was E.D. Smith who in 1875 planted a few hundred grape vines.  He started the grape culture and due to the grapes the village was called Vinemount by the late William Brand.

Around the turn of the century E.D. Smith and Erland Lee formed a joint company and built a creamery.  John Martin built the foundation at ten cents an hour.  The building was later used as a spray plant for the fruit industry.

In 1928 E.D. Smith allowed the Women's Institute to hold meetings in the building.  Later the Women's Institute bought the building for one thousand dollars.  Today the creamery is used as a residential home.

The T.H.&B. Railroad tracks have run through Vinemount since 1897.  They ascend along the escarpment just before Vinemount road and cut through Vinemount on an angle about 30 degrees to the N.E.  The station was built along the tracks behind the creamery.  Mail and daily papers were brought to the station by train and outgoing mail and farm products were shipped from the station.  In 1929 the Vinemount Quarry was struck by lightning and experienced a loss of $80,000.

A popular group of young people in the area, including the descendants of Erland Lee and E.D. Smith, formed a baseball team and called themselves the Pinecrest Crowd.  They played games of baseball behind the creamery and played against teams from Fruitland and Tapleytown.

I was born in 1910 in the Fruitland (Barton St.) house of my (Emerson) Gage grandparents - later number 822 Barton St. E. - and lived on the Lot 3 Conc. 4 Saltfleet Martin farm on the "Ridge Rd" near Vinemount (23 acres of the NW corner of Lot 3 Conc. 4) until called away on Sept. 4, 1939 to the second World War.  Before then, for several years, my brother and I operated the Vinemount General Store and Post Office.  After the war, I was, for about five years, agent telegrapher at Vinemount T.H. & B. Railway station, shortly before it was closed and moved to be a dwelling on the Governor's Road, west of Dundas.  Before the war, I had been on many occasions the night telegrapher at the T.H. & B. Stoney Creek station, perched part way up the escarpment, "hooping" orders onto the big steamers hauling their loads up the "hill", en route to the border.  On wintry evenings, some old men of the village would trudge up the hill to play checkers and tell tales of the old days, in the heated, lighted waiting room.

I never then heard that Senator E.D. Smith named Vinemount, though his family connection with that area was well known.  The story I was told, from childhood on, was that the Canadian Post Office was proposing to set up a new postal outlet on that eastern end of the Ridge Road in Saltfleet.  The mail was being carried by courier up the Fifty Mountain road, from Winona en route to Tweedside.  In much of my younger days, a large old pine tree still stood on the west side of the Fifty Road, just north of the Ridge Road, part way up to the crest of the ridge.  For many yeas this tree still carried a bit of board nailed to it, the remnants (we were told) of the box into which the passing courier had placed Ridge Road mail.  There was also the story of the local family that had trained their dog to go fetch this mail.

Local people were invited to suggest names for their new postal outlet, to be voted on, the contributor of the winning name to become postmaster, a lucrative appointment, given the financial state of those times.  A local clergyman submitted Mount Arrarat, the mount where Noah's ark grounded.  But the winner, entered by the local blacksmith-cum-farmer Jacob Pettit, was "Vinemount", said to have been inspired by the many wild grapevines that grew on the escarpment.

Jacob Pettit (1832-1913, buried in the Fifty Cemetery) owned Lot 4 conc 4 Saltfleet.  His house, which had contained the first Vinemount Post Office, was located, with barns, etc., on the south side of the Ridge Road and was only demolished in recent years - the "oldest house in Vinemount".  His blacksmith shop was almost immediately opposite.  So he may have owned that land too - the Ridge Road meanders.  Our Martin farm was immediately east of the Pettit house.  My grandfather John Martin, a Cornish mason and bricklayer, had moved there on retiring from his Hamilton construction business, perhaps about 1891.  He died in 1916, so these two old men lived as near neighbours for about twenty years.  I never had occasion to doubt the firsthand nature of the story of the naming of Vinemount.  In my earliest recollection, Jacob Pettit, his wife and one daughter had passed away, and spinster daughter Victoria lived alone in that house.  She told the most entrancing stories of life in the old days, of a traveler treed by wolves and having to so spend the night, back where the old vinemount quarry then stood.  I remember that quarry's whistles signaling the end of the Great War, 11 November 1918.  I remember the night when the newly-electrified quarry was struck by lightning and never operated again.

It was my grandfather, said John Martin, who built the foundations for the Vinemount Creamery.  My grandfather, with his son-in-law John Batey as helper, also built Tweedside United Church from the bricks of the dismantled Bartonville church (the cemetery still exists:, one of the earliest Protestant churches in Hamilton below the escarpment - the other was the "lake church".  The salvaged bricks were "teamed" to Tweedside by Archie Tweedle and his sons.

Years later, I was one of the many who helped restore the old Creamery building as a Women's Institute hall; it had the best dance floor for miles around.  My mother, Ethel Martin, was a charter member of the Vinemount Women's Institute.  The building had fallen on hard times since its creamery days.  The railway had lowered its grade, largely draining the creamery's cooling pond.  The local T.H. & B. agent, Norman Burdick, stabled his horse in one end of the ruinous building: the steam plant was rusting away in the other.  The engine room made a wonderful W.I. kitchen and many's the great feast that came out of it - oyster suppers, etc.  1928 would be about the right date for the acquisition by the Women's Institute of the old Vinemount Creamery building.  The story then was that the wife of the Vinemount Store proprietor had persuaded her husband to buy the building, the Institute to repay him as funds became available.  Alfred William Little, in those heady days, it was whispered, was the only man in the area wealthy enough to actually pay income taxes!  Advancing the money to the W.I. would not be out of character for Mr. Little:ittle, for he was known, as no doubt were many other small merchants, to have assisted the financing of farm operations.  Some farmers and their wives were noticed dropping in on the Littles in the fall, not doubt to settle accounts.

Three women living at or near Vinemount community centre were that centre's movers and shakers.  They were of course assisted from the outlying areas, but they were central - Mrs. Walter Johnson, Mrs. George Gliddon and Mrs. A. W. Little.  But Mrs. Little was the prime mover and shaker.  Born Annie Richarson of a Scottish settler family of Fergus, Ont, she was a school teacher who married Alfred Little, who had acquired his business experience in Northern Ontario enterprises.  In those days, lady school teachers who married were obliged to retire from teaching.  Something about social mores, perhaps, since it was OK for men to continue teaching after marriage.  The Littles had several children, but all had died at birth.  In later years, I several times drove the Littles to visit and tidy their infants' graves at Elmvale and to visit relatives there.  I expect they are all now reunited there.  I've thought that Mrs. Little, denied both a teaching career and motherhood, "mothered" the community.  She had two spinster sisters, one a teacher, one a nurse in Hamilton who regularly visited at Vinemount weekends and holidays.

The Institute and the Hall formed the nucleus of a lively and active community.  We young people rehearsed plays in the Fall and put on performances at the hall in the winter, often carrying our performances to other rural centres.  And not just young people; the more mature characters were well portrayed by elders from the area.  Who was it who said of Canada's rural populations of those days that they were "lumpy with talent"?

In return, the Institute did much for us young people.  I still recall being sent to Hamilton for weekly lectures at the Y.M.C.A.; one lecture was given by Arthur Lismer, then an unknown, but later one of the Group of Seven.

My especial thanks to Mrs. Little were for bringing a branch of the Saltfleet Library to Vinemount.  She was a member of the Library Board, and personally read every book selected by them.  Now she coaxed her husband into giving up some shelf space in his store (in the Post Office section) for a library outlet.

The name "Vinemount" identifies more than the post office, the lost railway station and the ebbing memories of community.  It has been applied to the "Vinemount Moraine" (The Physiology of Southern Ontario).  The name "Ridge" of Ridge Road does not refer to the height of the escarpment, but to the meandering ridge that runs along the top of the escarpment, extending, I believe, as far as Rochester in the USA.  It marks a final push of the glaciers coming down from the North in the last ice age.  Our cherry orchard, atop this ridge, having been freshly worked, would sparkle like diamonds after a shower of rain, quite unlike the dull limestone of the rest of the farm.  This was caused by rock fragments brought down from the Canadian shield.

Because of its high and dry nature, the "Ridge", the moraine, may have formed an aboriginal trail.  The Martin farm is a registered Ontario Archaeological Site, because of the perfect spear point found thereon, made of material traceable to the Penetanguishene area.  Lady Simcoe's diary tells of the husband, the Governor, in order to fulfill a promise, having a trail made so his Lady could ride above the escarpment from Grimsby to Stoney Creek.  She may have been the first tourist to visit the area.

The Vinemount Moraine blocks the natural south-north drainage atop the escarpment, and created the "Wentworth swamp" and the "sink-hole" creeks.  In Depression years, when there weren't funds to clear the manmade "Swamp Drain", the whole area would freeze over and it was possible (for I've done it ) to skate from above Stoney Creek to Beamer's Falls above Grimsby and to hold skating parties around hug bonfires.  It was much safer than our alternate sport of young men and ladies riding bob-sleds down our mountain roads at night.  Upcoming parties signaled at curves with barn lanterns to descending "meteors" to show that the way was clear.  There was one lady teacher at Grimsby High School (Jean L. Scott) who used contraptions called "Norwegian snow shoes" but our world was not yet ready for skies.

So the name Vinemount will persist, no matter how economics and politics move to destroy it.

 Note from site owner
I am a great + granddaughter of John Martin and cousin to Howard Martin and with his permission I will reproduce more of the letters he sent me as they are a wonderful insight into the area and the people who lived there.