Ask Alicia -Grapes Anyone?


It is Grape & Wine Festival time again which got me wondering about the history of this popular local festival. Do you have more information on how this tradition got started?



Hi Candace,

Thanks for your question. The inaugural year of the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival was 1952.  The idea was conceived by George Hostetter, Order of Canada recipient and past researcher for Bright’s Wine’s Ltd.  Hostetter believed that he needed to help put the grape and wine industry of Niagara on the map.  With the help of agricultural journalist Bevis C. Walters he wrote a proposal and gained endorsement by the Ontario Grape Growers Marketing Board in July 1952, giving them only two months to plan the big event.

Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum

The first festival served as a venue for local grape farmers to celebrate the grape harvest.  The day included a parade which had 27 floats, 14 bands and lasted 40 minutes.  There was folk dancing at the armouries directly after the parade.  There was also a dance in the evening with music provided by “Czarda” Hungarian Gypsy Band and later Bruce Anthony’s band.  The dance included a spot dance and prizes. The night would end with a celebration that included noise makers and streamers!  It was mostly grape growers and their families who attended the festival. The event planners were unable to obtain a liquor license so attendees were not permitted to drink wine, however after a few years, with many individuals sneaking a sip or two, the Liquor Board agreed to issue the license.

The first festival was planned by a board of governors and advisors which was made up of all of the mayors and reeves of the local towns and townships. Mr. A.C. John Franklin was mayor of St. Catharines at the time. There was also a committee of 53 individuals and ten sub-committees that helped plan the event, which included a ladies’ committee.

1st Grape Queen 1952: Jeanette Lakowska. Photo Attribution: StCM 1984.86.1

Each year Grape Royalty were chosen to preside over the festival. Beginning in 1952 a Grape Queen was chosen. Any woman in attendance was eligible and the Queen would be elected by popular applause at 10:00 p.m. following the dance.  The winner was awarded $500.00.  The first Grape Queen was Jeanette Lakowska, age 18, from Toronto. In later years women were nominated from participating local social and service clubs.

It wasn’t until 1956 that the festival included a Grape

1st Grape King 1956: Tom Davis Sr. Photo Attribution: StCM 1984.86.36

King.  The Grape King (or Grape Grower of the year) is chosen to preside over the festival, attending many of the events.  Individuals are nominated by fellow growers and the honour is awarded to the nominee who most demonstrates excellence in their field.  The first Grape King was Tom Davis Sr. 

What would a royal family be without a Prince and Princess?  The Grape Prince was chosen from among the 4-H Gape Clubs in the Niagara area. At that time there were more than 50 4-H Grape Club members – mostly men but also a few women were members of the program.  The first Grape Prince, Brian Stouck, was chosen in 1959. The Grape Prince or Princess was chosen on the basis of field work and academic work related to grape growing. For each aspect of the work, those participating in the contest were awarded points based on the quality of their work. Points were awarded for tending a plot of grapes, exhibiting a basket of grapes, writing an essay, and passing an exam on the grape industry. The contestant with the most points was the winner.  In 1960, the winner was the first Grape Princess – Janet Whitty. Janet Whitty was a 4-H Grape Club member and was 17 years old when she won the award.

None of the festival events could begin until the Grape King was chosen and crowned.

In 1954 the event was moved to Niagara Falls but it was later moved back to St. Catharines. Also, the festival name has changed multiple times over the years, from “Niagara Grape and Wine Festival” to “The Niagara Grape and Vintage Festival” and finally settling on the current name; “The Niagara Wine Festival”.

Another interesting fact is that 1971 Grape King Bill Vaughn had travelled to the Port of Spain, Trinidad with his wife to represent the Niagara Region as reigning King. During his visit Vaughn made many great connections and was surprised by how widely recognized he was as the Grape King of Niagara. Port of Spain and St. Catharines were twinned in 1968, under Vaughan’s reign, thus starting the long relationship that still exists today.  This is one of the main reasons you still see Trinidadian steel drums and calypso performances in the parade.

The first Mayor’s Invitational Grape Stomp was held in 1974 with Mayor Joseph Reid who sported a toga. Reid did not win the Grape Stomp until the 1976 competition. This portion of the festival was the idea of Merritton alderman Dave Lewis and still continues with Mayor Walter Sendzik vying for victory. This year Sendzik has added a charitable spin, challenging his opponents and members of the public to “Help Stomp Out Poverty” by making food donations for local charities.

As you know, the Niagara Wine Festival has grown over the years to become a ten day event at the end of September that includes everything from the traditional grand parade as well as the Pied Piper parade for children, to food and wine tastings, tours of wineries, specialty lunches and dinners with celebrity speakers and many musical performances and more.

1988 Mr. Grape Festival Mascot. Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Standard Collection, St. Catharines Museum S1988.6.23.165

Attendance has also expanded to include people from all over the Niagara Region as well as tourists from anywhere and everywhere. Many visitors attend just to enjoy the food and festivities, but also to gain more knowledge about local wines as well as cooking techniques and recipes.

Just in case you are interested in seeing if you have royalty in your family, here is a list of past Kings and Queens.


1952 – Jeanette Lastowska

1953 – Rita Bennett

1954 – Barbara Brandon

1955 – Carol Dawson

1956 – Kay Henshaw

1957 – Sylvia Swayze

1958 – Carnis Graham

1959 – Joyce Hull

1960 – Lucy Riley

1961 – Kathi Coons

1962 – Elizabeth Cook

1963 – Patricia Schwenk

1964 – Maria Delhez

1965 – Wendy Bowman

1966 – Lucy Arsenault

1967 – Marguerite Bealieu

1968 – Lorene Cameron

1969 – Kathy MacDonald

1970 – Sonja Laliberte

1971 – Daphne Balthazar

1972 – Susan Smith

1973 – Wendy Cheropita

1974 – Vilte Zubrikas

1975 – Roxanne McDowell

1976 – Rhonda McMillan

1977 – Bonnie Dolizny

1978 – Christine Stevens

1979 – Delia Iafrate

1980 – Robin Crooks

1981 – Sandra Nash

1982 – Carolyn Paliska

1983 – Karen Vine

1984 – Jackie VanGentevoort

1985 – Helmy Duyvestein

1986 – Joanne Barich

1987 – Teresa Donatis

1988 – Cathy Niesink

1989 – Janice Gardner

1990 – Christie Salmon

1991 – Sue-Anne Staff

1992 – Andrea Kaiser

1993 – Ruth Steingart

1994 – Letisa Ball

1995 – Magdelan Krkljus

1996 – Brenda Podetz


1956 – Tom Davis Sr.

1957 – Henry Stouck

1958 – Norman Blanchard

1959 – Michael Lemick Jr.

1960 – Gord Schwenker

1961 – Len Pharoah

1962 – Steven Lemick

1963 – William Griffiths

1964 – Frank Walsh

1965 – Telvido Ghetti

1966 – Lorne Patterson

1967 – Lavelle Staff

1968 – Wallace Youngblut

1969 – John Myers

1970 – Bob Bowen

1971 – William Vaughn

1972 – Jack Forrer

1973 – Roy Johnson

1974 – Ernie Reimer

1975 – John Boese

1976 – Keith Wiley

1977 – Fred Hernder

1978 – John Marynissen

1979 – Carl Nueman

1980 – John Servos

1981 – Garry Pilliteri

1982 – Bart Huisman

1983 – Rodger Whitty

1984 – Terry Yungblut

1985 – Peter van der Laar

1986 – Leendert Byl

1987 – Peter Buis Jr.

1988 – Paul Bosc Sr.

1989 – John Watson

1990 – Bill Lenko

1991 – Donna Lailey

1992 – Roman Prydatkewycz

1993 – Roger Vail

1994 – Clair Wiley

1995 – Dan Hais

1996 – Howard Staff

1997 – George Lepp

1998 – Albrecht Seeger

1999 – Sal D’Angelo

2000 – Matt Speck

2001 – Bill George Jr.

2002 – Daniel Lenko

2003 – David Johnson

2004 – Livia Sipos

2005 – Doug Hernder

2006 – Matthias Oppenlaender

2007 – Kevin John Watson

2008 – Lou Puglisi

2009 – Bill Schenck

2010 – Debbie Burdza

2011 – Ed Hughes

2012 – Curtis Fielding

2013 – Wes Wiens

2014 – Kevin Buis

2015 – Jamie Slingerland

2016 – Jamie Quai

Thanks to Janet (Whitty) Bishop for her assistance in updating the accuracy of the information related to the Grape Prince and Princess.

One comment

  1. This was very entertaining, I have lived here my entire life but didn’t know all these facts on how the festival originated. Funny that the Queen would by chosen by applause. Thanks again for writing such an interesting article Alicia.

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