Mapping History: the Beer Industry and Toronto Place Names

Look at a map of Toronto. If you’re familiar with the area, chances are that most of the place names crop up in conversation a fair bit. We don’t even think about them, most of the time. They’re subway stations, landmarks, probably influenced by our own personal experiences there (in my mind, Jane Street will always be linked with long bus rides).

But a bit of digging reveals some amazing stories behind Toronto’s streets. Your map isn’t just a guide to Toronto’s geography, but its history as well. And – oh, gentle reader, you guessed it! – a lot of these stories centre around beer.

Bloor Street

Joseph Bloore. The debate has been settled: this is NOT a post-mortem photograph. (courtesy

Let’s start with the major one. Bloor St. is the city’s spine. It’s the busiest subway station, a main thoroughfare, has great shopping, and neatly bisects the city both geographically and culturally.

In the 1830s, Joseph Bloore operated a brewery in the Rosedale Valley, near Sherbourne St and what was then the First Concession Road (catchy name, eh?). He sold the brewery in 1843 and became heavily involved in the development of Yorkville, and in 1855 the First Concession Road was renamed “Bloor” in his honour.

Your trusty beer journalist has yet to locate the missing “e.”

Carlingview Drive

Winding through Etobicoke, Carlingview Drive is named after the Carling-O’Keefe brewery originally located at its southern end. Thomas Carling started brewing in London (Ontario) in 1840, eventually passing the business to sons John and William (John became quite the politician – I imagine his platform was anything but dry).

Eugene O’Keefe purchased the Victoria Brewery at Victoria and Gould Streets in 1861. Thirty years later, it was incorporated as O’Keefe Brewery Company of Toronto Limited. A series of deaths, mergers, and acquisitions followed through the twentieth century, with the end result being a brewer called Carling-O’Keefe in 1973 (well, that’s not the end result; it then got acquired again by Molson, which then merged with Coors, and…this is rather beyond my scope. Carlingview Drive = named after a brewery).

Finch Avenue

Counter-intuitively, Finch Avenue is not named after a small songbird. Instead, it is named after John Finch, owner of John Finch’s Hotel at the corner of present-day Yonge and Finch. The two-story hotel was run by many innkeepers during its years of operation from 1848-1873. Though not a brewer himself, Finch would have relied on the local beer industry to keep his taproom watered and his customers happy.

The Distillery District

Why might the Distillery District be called thus? I wonder…

Gooderham and Worts in the 1800s. (courtesy

In 1832, brothers-in-law James Wort and William Gooderham established a distillery along Toronto’s waterfront near the mouth of the Don River. The river powered their windmill and grain processing. Although the duo did quite well, there’s a tragic history attached: in 1834, Elizabeth Worts died in childbirth, and the grief-stricken James threw himself into the windmill’s well two weeks later. Gooderham ran things alone until 1845, when he made the eldest Worts son, James Gooderham Worts (yes, Gooderham was his middle name – clearly, the two families were quite close) his co-manager.

Hogg’s Hollow

Today, Hogg’s Hollow is an upscale residential neighbourhood. In the nineteenth century, it was the site of a grist mill (suddenly, the name “York Mills” also becomes clear!) and whiskey distillery. James Hogg emigrated from Scotland, settling in the valley in 1824 and becoming a highly successful miller. After his death, his sons John and William subdivided their father’s estate, now called “Hogg’s Hollow.”

Todmorden Mills

The year was 1795. The new town of York was booming, and builders required an ample supply of wood for construction. The Don River could provide power to many grist and lumber mills, a Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe recognized. He granted land along to the Don to Aaron and Isaiah Skinner, stating, “A mill should be build (sic) thereon.”

As they are wont to do, a brewery joined the mill in 1820, operated by Thomas Helliwell and John Eastwood. John Eastwood named Todmorden Mills after his hometown of Todmorden in northern England. The mill and brewery both passed into the hands of the Taylor family in 1855, and the complex is presently a heritage site and museum.

Todmorden Mills ca. 1915 (courtesy

The streets hold many other neat secrets of Toronto’s past. Think of Castle Frank: named after Simcoe’s summer residence, which was itself named after Simcoe’s young son Francis. So, the next time you walk along Bloor, or drive by Todmorden, or get off the subway at York Mills, raise a glass (metaphorical or otherwise) to those who walked there before.

– Katie

“Father’s a Drunkard and Mother is Dead” – Tunes for Temperance

As anyone who has taken the Black Creek Historic Brewery Tour knows, there was a group of people in the nineteenth century who disapproved of alcohol consumption. These were the temperance advocates: a group of men and women who felt that alcohol was injurious to both health and morality. As such, they encouraged people to give up drinking, whether by “tempering” consumption by avoiding hard liquors, or by the 1860s, completely abstaining from all alcohol, including beer.

Their methods of persuasion were varied. They urged people to sign “temperance pledges,” held lectures, built “temperance halls” to host dry events…

They also sang songs.

Temperance advocates wrote tunes proclaiming the evils of drink and sang them in public places, usually outside of taverns and taprooms. One such song is the wonderfully-titled “Father’s a Drunkard and Mother is Dead.” It dates from approximately 1866 (variations appear to have circulated earlier). The music was written by Mrs. E.A. Parkhurst, and the words by “Stella of Washington.” Its lyrics are as follows:

Out in the gloomy night, sadly I roam,
I have no mother, no pleasant home;
nobody cares for me, no one would cry
even if poor little Bessie should die.
Barefoot and tired, I’ve wander’d all day
asking for work but I’m too small they say;
On the damp ground I must now lay my head
“Father’s a drunkard, and mother is dead!”

(chorus) Mother, oh! why did you leave me alone,
with no one to love me, no friends and no home?
Dark is the night, and the storm rages wild,
God pity Bessie, the drunkard’s lone child!

We were so happy till Father drank rum,
Then all our sorrow and trouble begun;
mother grew paler, and wept every day,
baby and I were too hungry to play.
Slowly they faded, and one summer’s night,
found their dear faces all silent and white;
then with big tears slowly dropping I said:
“Father’s a drunkard, and mother is dead!”


Oh! if the “temp’rance men” only could find
poor, wretched father, and talk very kind,
if they could stop him from drinking why, then
I should be so very happy again!
Is it too late? “men of temp’rance” please try,
or poor little Bessie may soon starve and die.
All the day long I’ve been begging for bread,
“Father’s a drunkard, and mother is dead!”

(Courtesy the San Joaquin Valley Library System)

As maudlin as contemporary listeners may find this song, it is in fact quintessentially Victorian. As is typical for many temperance songs, the narrative unfolds from the perspective of a child. The Victorians are often credited with “inventing” childhood, and indeed, they were among the first to view childhood as a separate stage of development, and to idealize it as a time of purity and innocence. The contrast between Bessie’s dire circumstances and this idyllic model would have certainly tugged a heartstring or two. If you want to hit a Victorian where it hurts, aim for the children.

Poor orphans (Courtesy
Don’t they look sad? (Courtesy


The song also highlights alcohol’s destructive effect on the home. Victorians very much subscribed to the cult of domesticity: home was a haven, where morality was developed and safeguarded. So, it was fiercely protected. The Father in this song is clearly not providing for his family; he’s therefore failing as an adult male. Moreover, since the Mother is dead, poor little Bessie is left with absolutely no semblance of home life. Again, we’re basically taking the worst thing a Victorian can think of, and showing how it’s all the fault of drinking.

As for the tone – let’s be frank, this song is completely over the top. The dead mother and baby, their “dear faces all silent and white,” the starving girl unable to work because she’s “too small…” My editor would never let me write something like this. Yet this song very much reflects the artistic attitudes of the time in which it was written.

Remember, this is the era of the Romantic poets. The pre-Raphaelites were painting their overblown, hugely overemphasized scenes of a re-imagined past. Exaggerated emotion was not uncommon at all. And again, the temperance advocates were trying to win converts to their cause. This was simply another expression of a long-running trend towards Evangelicalism. By all means, engage your audience in logical, rational debate…but when that doesn’t work, go for sentimentality.

Overwrought death scene, rich colours, obsession with detail...John Everette Millais's "Ophelia" (1851-2) certainly fits the pre-Raphaelite bill. (Courtesy
Overwrought death scene, rich colours, obsession with detail…John Everette Millais’s “Ophelia” (1851-2) certainly fits the pre-Raphaelite bill. (Courtesy

While it’s tempting to simply laugh over songs like this, it’s also important to analyze them within their historical context. As outrageous as “Father’s a Drunkard and Mother is Dead” truly is (and trust me, I’m still smirking a little), it is also entirely reflective of the Victorian mindset, as well as the attitudes and assumptions of temperance advocates.

History: not just found in textbooks.


New Brew: Best Bitter

As a fan of Black Creek Historic Brewery’s IPA, I was delighted to find a batch of Best Bitter in our fridges this morning. The Best Bitter is actually a relative of my cherished IPA. Nineteenth-century brewers developed the India Pale Ale to quench the thirst of soldiers in India; extra hops helped preserve the beer on its long voyage from England. However, a thirst for pale ales was not limited to the colonies; a domestic market had been developing since the century prior.

England was one of the last countries to adopt the use of hops in brewing. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English beers were predominantly browns, porters, and stouts. “Pale ales” were simply slightly paler in colour. The India Pale Ale proved popular, but it was brewed for the colonies. And so, more “pale ales” were brewed to slake thirst at home. This, combined with the increasing popularity of clear glassware (which showed off pale ales’ fine colour) whetted appetites for lighter, more hop-oriented beers.

Besides experimenting with styles, Victorian brewers were also creating large estates of tied pubs. To maximize profits, they sought beers which could be served after only a few days in the cellars. The “bitter” developed from attempts to develop such a pale ale, and by the 1830s, “pale ale” and “bitter” had become synonymous terms in England.

It is unclear when “pale ale” and “bitter” came to designate separate styles of beer. There are references in the Victorian period to “bitter ales” which seem to suggest that pub-goers viewed the bitter as a less hoppy, more restrained pale ale. Indeed, bitters tend oh-so-slightly towards maltiness, whereas pale ales offer more hop flavouring and aroma (though still less than that of the IPA).

Besides this “pale or bitter?” debate, bitters are themselves subdivided into separate categories. The Ordinary Bitter is less than 4% ABV with a dark gold to copper colour. Best Bitters are perhaps best representative of the bitter style, coming in at about 4.5% ABV with more of malt character than its Ordinary counterpart. The Extra-Special Bitter can run anywhere from 4.6-6% and displays the most malt, while still remaining a highly drinkable brew.

Our brewmaster Ed has crafted a fine example of a Best Bitter. It comes in at just under 5% ABV, and he describes it as an easy-drinking beer with a medium gold colour. Slight fruitiness and a hint of herbal English hops balances a malty aroma. This Bitter lives up to its name, with a dry malty caramel finish and a medium-bodied mouthfeel. Overall, this is a summer session beer, perfect if you find the IPA a bit intense. The Best Bitter could be subtitled the “Best British” – Ed used 100% English hops (Admirals and Fuggles, if you’re a fellow hophead!), with a large proportion of English malts as well.

Come try this staple of British beers – before I beat you to it!

– Katie

New Brew – Raspberry Porter

Ed has brewed up a batch of Raspberry Porter in celebration of our Mid-Century Carnival event over the next two weekends (July 13th & 14th and 20th and 21st) at Black Creek Pioneer Village.  The Mid-Century Carnival features incredible acts including the Mental Floss SideShow and Zoltan the Adequate.  Don’t miss the World of Wonders Dime Museum and School of Clowning!

After you’ve enjoyed the entertainment, slip down to the brewery and check out our selection of period ales.  Ed expects the Raspberry Porter to be a rich malty beer with hints of chocolate in the flavour with a slight tart finish and a complex fruity aroma.  He recommends pairing it with desserts such as cheese cake, chocolate brownies or a mild soft cheese.  Available beginning Friday, July 12th, the Raspberry Porter is available as a sample or in 2L growlers only at Black Creek Pioneer Village while supplies last!

Tickets Now Available – A Spirited Affair

SpiritedAffair-OnPupleTickets for our first annual fundraiser: A Spirited Affair are now available online!    Take part in this unique event and help us preserve our cultural heritage. Guests will be transported back in time to the 1860s and 1920s as these two time periods come to life with live music, dancing and character actors. The event showcases craft beers, whiskeys and wines, paired with local foods. Proceeds from the evening will help preserve Toronto’s culture and heritage at Black Creek Pioneer Village, so that future generations can continue to experience first-hand, Ontario’s rich history.  $75 buys you six drink tickets, all food samples, and lots of unique and fun entertainment.
Location: Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date: Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Time: 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Ticket information and details available at!