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.
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.”
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).
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…
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.
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.”
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.
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.