History Byte – The Doel Brewery


John Doel's house and brewery from Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto Vol.1. 1894. Collection of Black Creek Pioneer Village

Finding information on the earliest breweries in Toronto can be difficult, often the only reason we know they existed is through passing references; a record of a debt owed to a brewer, an invoice, a mention of occupation in a legal document.  Such is the case with early breweries such as Shaws and Hugills.  In fact, the only reference I have come across to these two breweries is in Henry Scadding’s Toronto of Old, where he mentions them by name three times and never elaborates on their location, date, or products!  On the contrary, we know something about John Doel and his brewery because the man himself became a noted citizen in the history of the city. 

John Doel was born in Somersetshire, England and emigrated to York in 1818 via Philadelphia.  Soon after his arrival he engaged in the brewing business, first on Sherbourne (then Caroline Street) and later at Adelaide and Bay.  The second brewery on the northwest corner of Adelaide and Bay was built in 1827 alongside his home.  The brewery apparently brewed beer of ‘good repute’ until it accidentally burned in 1847.  Had it not been for Doel himself, we would likely know little if anything about his brewery.  He first made a name for himself as the only letter carrier in York, a position he held between 1825 and 1830.  Subsequently, his political leanings as a Reformer led him to associate with William Lyon Mackenzie, and his brewery became part of history when it was used as a meeting house by Mackenzie as he attempted to unite and organize the Reformers in York into a coherent political party.  Doel and Mackenzie suffered a falling out prior to the events of December 7, 1837, and thus he and his brewery were not involved in the events that followed (click here to learn more about Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837) .  After the burning of his brewery in 1847, Doel retired from the brewing industry and became a well-respected citizen in the community.  He served as an alderman as well as a justice of the peace prior to passing away in 1871 at the ripe old age of 81.  His house at Adelaide and Bay survived until 1925 when it was torn down to make way for the Northern Ontario Building which still stands at the site.  GBC over at Lost Toronto has created an awesome photo montage that traces the evolution of the site over the years.  You can check it out here.

Refs: Lindsey, Charles and G.G.S. Lindsey. William Lyon Mackenzie.  Toronto: Morang & Co., Limited, 1911. (available online here)

Mulvany, Charles Pelham and Graeme Mercer Adam. History of Toronto and County of York Ontario, Vol. 1. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson Pub., 1885. (available online here)

Robertson, John Ross. Landmarks of Toronto Vol. 1. Toronto: J. Ross Robertson, 1894.

Scadding, Henry. Toronto of Old. Toronto: Adam, Stevenson & Co., 1873. (available online here)

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