A Brief History: Alcohol in Toronto
The earliest historical records available indicate that Robert Henderson opened the first brewery in Toronto (then York) between 1800 and 1805 on the corner of Caroline (now Sherbourne) and Duchess (now Richmond). By 1809, production yielded approximately 30 barrels per week and helped supply the local militia with their daily ration of beer.
1837 Gooderham & Worts expand their enterprise from a grain mill into brewing and distilling; their success will dominate the industry and, over time, make them the largest distiller of alcoholic beverages in Canada.
1848 The Wheat Sheaf opens on the corner of Bathurst and King. It remains the oldest continuously operating tavern in Toronto and has never undergone a name change.
1849 Thomas Davies takes over operation of the Don Brewery located along the Don River, drawing water for the process of brewing and malting. The brewery changes hands multiple times after the death of Davies in 1869 and is officially dissolved in 1910. The remaining structure is now designated a heritage site and has been converted into loft-style condos.
1876 High Park opens to the public based on a bequest of property to the city of Toronto from John Howard, a prominent architect and land surveyor. The bequest contains several conditions, including one stipulating that no alcohol ever be consumed on the property. To this day, the modern café and banquet facility are not licensed to serve alcohol and High Park is officially “dry.”
1878 Robert Davies (son of Thomas) leaves the family firm to establish the Dominion Brewery on Queen Street East in Corktown. At the peak of his success, Davies owned more than 140 taverns as well as the Valley Brickworks (now the Brick Works). Davies used his own bricks to construct his many taverns, as well as the homes of his employees; much of the distinctive 19th-century brick architecture that remains in Corktown today is a direct result of Davies’ enterprise. The Dominion Brewery remained active until 1934.
Excerpted from Spring/Summer 2013 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.
Krystina Mierins is an independent writer based in Toronto. She has an M.A. in Art History and has worked in art museums in Canada and the United States.