Ontario's Historic Breweries

June 27, 2018 | Raya

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O'Keefe Brewery Co.

Beer-making has a long tradition in Ontario. The province's first European settlers drank beer instead of local unsafe water. And because beer was a normal part of the European diet, many settlers brewed beer in their homes. As demand for beer grew, breweries were established and jobs created. When British soldiers began arriving in the late 1700s governments created their own breweries to supply beer to the soldiers who received beer or beer money as part of their daily rations. At it's peak there were over 300 breweries in Ontario. The following, with images from Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive, are just a few of them.

Carling Brewery

In 1843 Thomas Carling established a small brewing company on Waterloo Street in London, Ontario selling his beer to soldiers in a local camp. It would later become Carling Brewery. Six years later Carling's sons, William and John Carling, purchased the company from their father and production increased. After Thomas' death his sons renamed the brewery W & J Carling Brewery Company. By 1867 it was one of the largest breweries in the province. The brewery opened a larger building in 1880, at Piccadilly and Talbot streets in London. In 1882 the brewery was renamed Carling Brewing and Malting Company of London, Ontario.

  Carling Brewery Building

Labatt's Brewery

John Labatt and  his partner Samuel Eccles purchased London's Simcoe Street brewery in 1847. By 1855 Labatt became sole owner and renamed it John Labatt's Brewery. When the Great Western Railway was completed in the late 1850s, John Labatt realized that the company now had a way to expand sales beyond London.  The railway opened new markets for Labatt in Toronto, Montréal and the Maritimes. After his death in 1866 his son John Jr. took over the family business and it soon became the largest brewery in Canada.

image courtesy of Wikipedia


Davies Brewery

When the Davies family first came to Toronto from England in 1832, they were farmers rather than brewers. The three brothers, Thomas, John and Nathaniel had a large farm specializing in breeding livestock. In 1846 Thomas Davies, who had been running the Yonge Street Brewery with his brother Nathaniel, purchased the Don Bridge Brewery from William and Robert Parks, established two years earlier and located at the intersection of Queen and River Streets along the Don River in the city's Corktown neighbourhood. The Don Brewery (originally the Don Bridge Brewery, and later the Davies Brewery) was one of the largest breweries in 19th century Toronto. 

Davies Brewery Co. Advertisement

Sleeman Brewing

John Sleeman came to Ontario from Cornwall, England in 1834 at the age of 29. He settled in Niagara-on-the-Lake where he soon founded Stamford Spring Brewery. Seeing greater opporunities to the west, he moved his family to Guelph, Ontario in 1847 and opened a number of breweries, including Hodgert's Brewery and Silver Creek Brewery. The Sleeman empire continued to grow and by 1890 Sleeman's son, George, was selling beer in both Ontario and Quebec. George eventually incorporated Silver Creek Brewery into Sleeman Brewing and Malting Company Limited but lost the businesses to the bank in 1905. The banks sold the breweries back to Sleeman a year later.


Sleeman's Brewery Machine
Image courtesy of Toronto Star Archives

 Joseph Bloor Brewery                                         

Joseph Bloor emigrated to Canada from England with his wife and three children in 1819. He settled in Toronto and opened a tavern called the Farmer's Arms. In 1830 he built a  brewery in the Rosedale Valley. In 1843 he sold the brewery and purchased a stretch of land in nearby Yorkville with William Botsford Jarvis  and laid out streets for residential development. Bloor became a prominent figure in Toronto founding the Village of Yorkville. Bloor Street is named in his honour.

Illustration of Joseph Bloor's Brewery

 John Severn Brewery 

Another successful brew master was John Severn who arrived in Ontario in 1830 at the ripe age of 23. Severn purchased a nine-acre parcel of land in Rosedale Ravine just east of Yonge Street and built a brewery specializing in ale and porter. By 1867 the brewery was producing six to seven thousand gallons of beer per week with the help of a dozen labourers and a fifteen horsepower steam engine. By 1885, however, production began to decline as the Severn Brewery faced growing competition from the many large breweries that sprung up in Toronto in the late 1800s.

Illustration of John Severn's Brewery

To see more historic images of breweries in Ontario, take a look at the Toronto Public Library's Virtual Reference Library.