By Rochelle Burns, PhD, social historian
Many early European pioneers to Canada loved the taste of wine. So, when it came to making wine in the Mississauga area, bringing their taste buds with them wasn’t enough. They quickly learned to depend on the Indigenous people to provide the know-how in their new environment.
It’s believed the first commercial wine in Canada (or, at least, one of the first) was made in the Cooksville area in the early 1800s.
Those early wine entrepreneurs got help from three sources. First, from such tribes as the Seneca, who were making wine before the first Europeans even knew there was a North America. Second, in the late 1600s, Jesuit missionaries in the area copied the Indigenous skills to make wine for their religious services. Third, many creative and industrious early pioneers experimented with different berries to produce wine, at first, for their home tables.
Johann Schiller, one of the early wine-making entrepreneurs, received a land grant to build a house on Dundas Street. Before coming to the area, and starting his 20-acre vineyard, he had worked in vineyards in his native Rhine Valley.
Alas, by the 1880s, all wine producing in the Cooksville area came to an end, with increased competition from other areas, such as the Niagara Peninsula. Some vestige would remain, in jam production, from the grapes in the area.
Cooksville wine making had an interesting sidebar. The French government requested vine samples, from areas like Cooksville, so famed scientist Louis Pasteur could figure out how to stop the blight then plaguing French vineyards.
A century later, Ontario Agriculture Minister and Dixie resident, T. L. Kennedy, requested grapevine cuttings from France to help Ontario’s wine industry. France remembered the help given by the long-ago pioneers. So, in spite of not being the French practice to share almost anything from their wine industry, they did send some cuttings.