Port Credit’s Intersections Reveal its Poetic Past

In the last article I talked about some of the street names in Port Credit, and what we can learn about the village’s history from those names. This time, let’s move out from the village centre to discover what the street signs in east-end Port Credit tell us about the past.

Port Credit’s Intersections Reveal its Poetic Past

We’ll start out in the wilderness of Port Credit by heading over to Forest Avenue. Of course there’s no forest there today, but there’s lots of wood – Briarwood, Elmwood, Oakwood, Rosewood and (just a bit out of rhythm with the others) Woodlawn

The real estate ads in the Toronto dailies in 1912 claimed Port Credit as the place to be – assuring readers that it was just 26 minutes from the city centre. Getting between Port Credit and downtown Toronto in less than a half hour was an exaggeration even for 1912, but at that time commuters at least had a variety of ways to get into the big city comfortably. One could choose to hop the electric “radial” railway along Lakeshore Road, or take a conventional train on the railway line that Go Transit trains still use today. To add to the mix, in 1917 Lakeshore Road was paved between Toronto and Hamilton, putting Port Credit at the centre of Canada’s first highway.

The exaggerated ads were sponsored by International Permanent Investments. This was a consortium of developers who took a risk by buying up vacant land in Port Credit and subdividing into lots before they had buyers for those lots. To encourage buyers, the IPI team marketed their new community as Credit Grove, and gave the streets names that evoked a sense of country living. Credit Grove is still lined with trees. Some of these are over a century old, with canopies that hang over Forest Avenue and its intersecting “wood” streets like cathedral roofs.

A decade later, Port Credit found itself with yet another investment group touting our village as prime residential real estate. Wright’s Development purchased the land on the south side of Lakeshore Road East. This company subdivided the land that locals called “Cotton’s Bush” (after property owner, Robert Cotton) into the exclusive Hiawatha-on-the-Lake neighbourhood.

During my research, it didn’t take long to figure out how the streets in this community were named. Someone in this investment group (possibly Mr. Wright himself) was a fan of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The neighbourhood’s central throughway, Hiawatha Parkway is named after the hero of Longfellow’s 1855 tale, The Song of Hiawatha. Wenonah Drive is named after Hiawatha’s mother. His girlfriend in the poem is Minnehaha but the local road, named Minnewawa, is derived from the Haudenosaunee word meaning “a pleasant sound, as of the wind in the trees”. I was informed by Eric Gibson – a former president of the Mississauga South Historical Society, who lived on Onaway Road – that his street is Longfellow’s expression for “Awaken!”. Longfellow may have derived the word from “onawaw”, the Anishinabe word for dawn, thus linking the morning with the awakening of the day. The longest street in the subdivision is the one that doesn’t fit the theme. Wanita does not appear anywhere in the Song of Hiawatha. It’s a mystery I’ve yet to solve. Maybe you can help?

Cumberland Drive was the other road in the subdivision that didn’t seem to fit, until Matthew Wilkinson – historian for Heritage Mississauga – connected the name to a different Longfellow poem about the sinking of a Union sloop called Cumberland, during the American Civil War.

The aboriginal theme continues east of Credit Grove, where five streets were laid out in 1927. Cayuga, Mohawk and Seneca avenues are named after the three Haudenosaunee nations that found refuge in Ontario after they lost their territory to the Americans. The two remaining streets were named in honour of indigenous heroes who fought alongside the British. Brant Avenue honours Joseph Brant, who allied the Haudenosaunee with King George’s armies during the American War of Independence. Tecumseth Avenue is named for the Shawnee leader who died during the War of 1812.

Next time, I’ll finish the story of Port Credit’s street names with a trip to the west end of the village, and then go on a trip through time to consider the street names in Port Credit’s future. 

 

Written by Richard Collins, Historian

Images: Heritage Mississauga, PAMA, 

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