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Reproduced with the permission of Georgina Beattie

A brief overview of the History of Winona, Ontario
Presented to the Winona Crossing Community Liaison Committee
Dec. 7, 2010

To compress over 200 years of the history and life of the community of Winona into a short presentation has been daunting. I pray that I will cover the highlights and, in so doing, entice you to explore the areas that I have skimmed over  (or have forgotten to mention!).

Winona, formerly known as “The Fifty” and Ontario, centred just west of “the Fifty” Creek between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, has evolved from a landscape of trees. Its history is deep and rich. Winona has a deep and caring sense of community with a long history of working to retain and support that history.

During the American Revolution (1783 to 1791), a group of British loyalists wishing to remain loyal to the British Crown, left New Jersey and Pennsylvania travelling with approx. 410 men, women and children representing approx. 46 families. Between 1776 and 1790, historical records note that the first white settlers, having been well situated in property and home, had left all behind to live under British laws and customs. These people were some of Canada's first immigrants, having escaped many problems and worries, similar to many new Canadians of today.

They climbed mountains, forded streams, negotiated narrow trails carrying their earthly possessions, including the works to the Grandfather clock that I still have today. Imagine the cold, dark nights, the rain, the fear of predators and the unknown, the crying, hungry children, and having to stop to build a fire in order to cook a meal. They reached Fort Niagara on the Niagara River in July 1787 and  pushed westward to The Fifty, judged to be the distance from the Niagara River, in miles. Over time, more than just the name of the Creek, “the Fifty” became the stopping place on the Indian Trail now known as Highway 8, Settlers like my great, great grandfather Silas Smith, Levi Lewis, John Willson, John Pettit, and others settled close to one another, quickly developing a sense of community and caring that has endured to this day, in Winona.
     There is something heroic in the self-sacrifice of these our forefathers who gave up their      farms, their homes and all the ties of neighbouring associations, and came here to battle      with nature in her rudest state, with poverty, age, even starvation staring them in the face,      and all for the love of the      flag. Is there so much devotion now? Would we give up our      farms and homes and flee to some savage wilderness, if revolutionists were to gain the      upper hand?
               Ernest D”Israeli Smith, February 1, 1880 (E.D.Smith) - 4th generation
The area was covered with dense forests which had to be cleared in order to farm. Travel took place both by water (Lake Ontario) and using “the Indian Trails”. The British government of the day bought all the land between the two great lakes from the First Nations and in 1789 established a Land Board at Niagara. At meetings of the Land Board, a settler could present his claim for land. A “location ticket” was issued to be replaced later by a Certificate and finally by the Crown Deed. My family was deeded land that included the land that my family and I still live on today….Lot 2 Concession 2.
Winona's first settlers built a farming hamlet called "the Fifty" close to the creek of that name and tight to the waterfront. One of those settlers was Hon. John W. Willson who, at the age of 14, travelled to “the Fifty” with his mother, brothers and sister. In 1797, John Willson settled on the lake at the foot of Winona Road, eventually building a large residence a.k.a Winona Park Hotel with Winona Park Hotel's Bathing Beach. Eventually the Club El Morroco and currently L.I.U.N.A. Gardens occupies that land. In 1986, an historical plaque was placed at the site of John Willson's residence by the Ontario Heritage Foundation. He is also a 1986 Gallery of Distinction Inductee as one of the most important men in the history of the Head-of-the-Lake. He was a farmer, judge, politician, minister and leader in local Methodist circles. He had a reputation as a defender of civil and religious liberties. In 1810, Willson was elected a member of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada and sat in the Assembly until 1834. From 1824-1828, he was Speaker of the Assembly, and in 1839, was appointed to the Legislative Council of the Province. While in Assembly, Willson introduced and drafted, along with James Durand, the Common School Act of Upper Canada. In 1816, it was passed into law and it laid the foundation of our present elementary school system. Locally, Willson served his community well in a variety of capacities. He did not let his political life interfere with his agricultural pursuits. One of the first things he did was to build a wharf that extended three to four hundred feet into Lake Ontario at Winona Road, then known as Station Road because of the Train Station located at the railway tracks.
Large lake vessels carrying grain, wood, apples from above the Escarpment were shipped from the wharf to places like England, until the railway began to flourish in the 1850's. The first locomotive (The Middlesex) to run on this section of the railway came by boat to “Wilson's Wharf”, was unloaded there and made its way (likely under is own steam as it were!) to the newly built stretch of track at Winona. Willson died in 1860
Also located at the Winona Dock was the Hand's fishing industry from approx. 1840 - 1950. In 1909 it is said that they would haul over a ton of herring a day.

Another early family was that of Levi Lewis. Lewis and his son built a political legacy in the pre Confederation era.
Many of the old Winona families intermarried. Levi Lewis's descendents, for example, married into the Henry family and the Bridgman family. The Henrys in turn were related to the Puddicombes and the Van Duzers. Descendents of these families still live on lands original to their families

The Glover family operated a farm at the western edge of Winona.  Glover Road is named after this family with the Stoney Creek Lifecare Centre now located in the Glover home at Highway 8.

Probably the most well known name in Winona is the Smith family. E.D. Smith and Sons dominated the economy and society of Winona from 1890-1980. The Smith name is synonymous with the community, be it for buildings, jobs, or service. E.D. Smith's house 'Helderleigh' and the E.D. Smith Jam factory are only a very small part of a very extensive history of this branch of the Smith family, all of which have been outlined in “The House that Jam Built” by Llewellyn S. Smith and “Silas Smith U.E.L. and his Descendants” compiled by Janet Powell from history collected by Gertrude Smith.

There was even another Smith branch of the family that had some social clout in its own right: the Jacob Smith line. Langside, John Smith's home and John Wesley (J.W.) Smith's house are the two older homes located just east of the E.D.Smith Factory.

The Carpenters were an influential family in the late 19th century. They were even one of the first families to get a telephone around the turn of the 20th century. Although they were eventually surpassed by the Smiths, a number of buildings and farms are associated with this old Winona family. Fifty Point Conservation Area hides one of those landmarks: the Inglehart House. This house, dating back to 1815 came into the possession of the Carpenters, before becoming public property in the 20th century.
Between the “county line” with Niagara and the E.D.Smith Factory, (generally considered the boundary of Winona), there are six historically designated buildings - the Georgian Style Lewis House on Lewis Road which Levis Lewis built  in 1843. Fifty United Church (1869) (designated 1994), the Ira Van Duzer home (1895) (designated 1993) opposite Fifty United, Fred B. Henry House  `Spruceway' just west of that on Highway 8, the T.H.P Carpenter house, Highway 8 and Langside, John Smith home, just east of the E.D.Smith Factory.

As the railway began to flourish, Winona's centre shifted in the late 19th century away from the water and the creek to a new central place built around the railway and roads, and tied together by Winona Road (then called Station Road). At the corner of Winona (Station) Road and Pettit Street, there was the Winona Train Station, a hotel across the track from the station, shipping platforms and the General Store. A grocery store of varying degrees served the community in this area until it burned down a few years ago.

With its vast fruit orchards, Winona was the 19th century "Garden Spot" of Saltfleet.  Into the early 20th century, groups such as the Fruit Service Corps. and the Winona Fruit Corps, came from all over to assist in the fruit harvest. In the early 1900's, the Hamilton, Grimsby and Beamsville Electric Railway Co. operated a line through “the Garden of Canada” for a distance of 24 miles from the head of the lake at James Street S. Hamilton to Beamsville. The traveler travelled literally in the midst of orchards and vineyards, passing by the doors of many palatial homes belonging to the fruit growers of the area. This district became world renown as the most successful fruit producing area in North America. The electric radial railway carried the mail, the daily papers, travelling three times a day both ways. Four freight services each day during fruit season. The 1900 statistical data from the H.G.B.E.R.C. shows 258,000 passengers, 8,705 tons of freight, 280, 000 packages of fruit.

Winona's churches have been a source of stability in a shifting landscape.  Fifty Church was first organized in 1795-1796 with the current building built in 1869, adding the steeple in 1967 as part of the Centennial Celebrations. St. John's Anglican Church was opened in 1890. Winona Gospel Church first held Sunday School classes in 1893 and organized in 1914 on Glover Road. After negotiations between Bishop Ryan of Hamilton, the family of the late E.D.Smith and the Franciscan Order, in 1951, a Friary was established in Helderleigh, the former home of E.D. Smith to care for all Catholic souls in the area. The first parish mass was said in the house in 1952.

Winona's first school was a private school, built about 1795 on land later owned by Eric Carpenter, now part of Fifty Point Conservation Area. That building deteriorated into a shed where I would pick up fruit as a teenager. In 1816, Winona, then called Ontario, had a school near Fifty Road and the Upper Road, now Highway 8. A new location for a four room school was chosen in 1866 on the NW comer of Station Road (now Winona Rd.) In the early 1980's, the Wentworth County School Board began a review of local school needs and, once again the community rose to the challenge, protecting the school and the sight.                 

In 1957 the Property Committee of the Saltfleet High School Board chose the site for what was to become the Winona High School. Finally in Sept. of 1962, students entered their new school at the corner of Barton Street and Lewis Road. In 2009-2010, after the rocky existence of the building, the building was demolished to allow for the building of the new Winona Public School, under the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

Winona's centre shifted again, from being focused on the lake front, on the railway tracks, and on Fifty Road, in favour of Highway 8, the escarpment, and Winona Road where St. John's Anglican Church and Winona Public School were and are located. Prior to the current Winona Post office building, a bank was located below the Winona Institute Hall on the SW corner of Highway 8 and Winona Road from 1903. In 1964 the bank moved to new premises on the SE corner. The Hall also housed a grocery store and the post office, which then located to the front part of the Howard Barnard home, now known as the His and Hers Hair Salon. The four corners at Winona Road and Highway 8 re even acknowledged as the Urban Centre on the draft S.C.U.B.E. Secondary Plan. It is generally accepted that complexes such as Winona Crossing negatively impact Urban Centres such as this one.

The citizens of Winona area, somehow, were always first in getting the services needed and expected. In 1885, telephone service became possible when a long distance line passed through Winona from Hamilton to St. Catharines. The first telephone agency was opened in W.K. Secord's store in 1891 at the corner of Lake Street, (Station Road now known as Winona Road) and the Tracks mentioned earlier at this location. John Budge was the first manager in 1893. In 1900, phone numbers were introduced and in 1906, 24 hour service was introduced. As time passed, Stoney Creek customers were separated from the Winona Switchboard and the new dial building was on Barton Street was opened Feb. 2, 1958.

In May, 1950, a project to provide the first water main in Saltfleet Township authorized a call for tenders with construction from E.D. Smith east to Lewis Road. Since E.D.Smith could not provide anymore water, my father, George O, Smith, along with Roy Bailey and Albert Papazian reached an agreement with Town of Grimsby to receive water through the mains of North Grimsby. (This agreement remained in place until just the last few years) In 1952, Township council formed the Water Advisory Board to regulate the rates and maintain the system.
As the John Willson estate became chopped up into housing lots, Winona Park on the Lake changed. In approx. 1950, negotiations between the Winona and District Men's Club and Keith Millikin were undertaken for the purchase of 12 acres as a new park on Barton Street, now the home of the Winona Peach Festival. In 1967, gates to the park were erected in honour of Christina (Mrs. E.D.) Smith, founder of the Winona Women's Institute.

Winona was first serviced by a few books in the home of Mrs. Dave Jacobs, later taken over by Mrs. Howard Barnard. Still later, Mrs. Keith Millikin became the librarian…all these ladies using the corner of their respective homes for a library. On July 4, 1967, Winona Library, a branch of the Wentworth County Libraries, was opened at 1256 Highway 8, thanks to the Winona Men's Club. Years later, the library was moved to 1304 Highway 8 but this location was closed and the branch amalgamated and located in the Stoney Creek Municipal Centre at 777 Highway 8, Fruitland.

In 1967, Winona, in the heart of the Niagara Fruit Belt, held a summer long party with Festival Days at the peak periods of the fruit growing season, from the crowning of the Blossom Queen  on May 19 and the Cavalcade of Blossoms on May 20 to the Strawberry Social on June 21. On July 1st, the fruit growers celebrated Canada's 100th birthday with a parade, a carnival and fireworks. The finale was the Festival of Fruit held August 18 and 19 by closing Winona Road. The Men's Club were so pleased with the success of these Celebrations that, the next August (1968), the Fruit Festival was moved to Winona Park as the Winona Peach Festival, celebrating the 45th Festival in 2011.

In 1792, the first parliament of Upper Canada was held. In 1798 an act divided Upper Canada into 22 counties. In 1816, following the War of 1812, the new district of Gore was formed from parts of Niagara (which included Saltfleet township and thus Winona).Following the rebellion of 1837, the Act of Union resulted in the first semblance of self-governance by joining Upper and Lower Canada and renaming them Canada West and Canada East. This is all relevant because, under the British North America Act of 1867, Canada West became Ontario, the same name as our Post Office, creating mail delivery problems. When this came to the attention of the Post Office Department in Ottawa, the name of the post office was changed. to Winona. Winona has always been designated by the post office since Winona has no official boundaries. However, when members of the Stoney Creek Council and Canada Post tried to remove the use of the community name “Winona”, members of the community took Canada Post to court. Canada Post noted that all they really wanted was for the residents to use the new postal code and the CMB's! Another success for the residents!

According to the Ontario Geographic Names Board, the name Winona is a Sioux word meaning “first born Daughter” possibly after the great Indian chief Tecumseh. It is considered that the first born female of a First Nations Chief is a Win-o-nah. A male is a Win-o. Some say that the Daughter of Tecumseh jumped to her death from the Niagara Escarpment. The accent is on the “o”, the middle syllable. The “i” is softly pronounced as in win and the “a” as in father, phonetically similar to “binocular”. We are `winners' in Winona!


Beneath the mountain's calm and gentle crest
Winona village here does quiet rest,
To live amidst the peaches and the vine
How passing fair, life in this town of mine.

A city shines across the inland sea
Like jewel bright, in sun-lit majesty,
But here my town in quiet beauty blessed
Contented I, with friends who pass the test.

To walk enjoy the pleasant air of spring
Hear above, the geese who northward wing,
See the first shy pattern of the grass
All promise winters buffet soon will pass.

Gentle rains bless valleys and the hills
Announcing soon the dancing daffodils,
To linger long, and no longer roam,
For here content, my dear Winona home.

By William Rogan,
7 Fifty Church Road, (now Bridgman Lane)
Winona, Ontario L0R 2L0

As printed in the Stoney Creek News


1) Saltfleet - Then and Now     1792 - 1973             Copyright 1975
     The Corporation of the Town of Stoney Creek          
     Printed by D.G. Seldon Printing Ltd., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

2) The House That Jam Built     Llewellyn S. Smith     Copyright 1995
     Baby Boomer Press, Markham, Ontario Canada          
     Printed by WEBCOM Ltd., 3480 Pharmacy Ave., Scarborough, Ontario M1W 3G3

3) WINONA Souvenir booklet, produced by the Winona Men's Club for the Winona and      District Centennial Celebrations, Winona, Ontario, Canada     1967

4) Anne Bridgman, Bridgman Lane, Winona, Ontario

5) ANNALS OF THE FORTY     Published by the Grimsby Historical Society 1957
     Revised and reprinted 1967

6) Winona, Ontario - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winona

7) Virtual Museums - Erland Lee (Museum) Home, Stoney Creek, Ontario

8) The History of Fifty United Church, Winona, Ontario 1796-1996   
     Compiled by John H. Durfey

9) Ontario Place Names          by David Scott and Lone Pine Publishing, #206, 10426 - 81      Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T6E 1X5                Copyright 1997

10) Last Hail from the Chief     Richard C. Van Duzer           Copyright 2008

11) Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wentworth County          1875
     Published by H.R. Page Toronto, Ontario