It’s time to meet another Toronto brewer! Today, we’re focusing on Patrick Cosgrave and his sons John and Lawrence.
There’s a lot of history hidden in Toronto’s physical geography. One of my favourite bits of “lost Toronto” is Garrison Creek. Originally starting just northwest of St. Clair West, it wound its way through downtown Toronto to the lake. All that remains of the river (besides handy Discovery Walk signs) are the ravines in Christie Pits, Bickford Park, and Trinity Bellwoods, along with some really peculiar intersections and curves through Little Italy and Queen West.
Unsurprisingly, Garrison Creek also intersects with Toronto’s brewing history.
In the mid-1800s, several breweries stood directly south of what’s now Trinity Bellwoods park, along the banks of Garrison Creek. The creek provided both water for brewing and a means of cooling the wort. One of these breweries stood on a plot of land bounded by Queen, Niagara, Richmond, and Garrison Creek (now Walnut Street). Built by Thomas Bains in 1844, it became the Thompson Brewery when his partner Isaac Thompson took sole proprietorship in 1852. The brewery changed hands again when Patrick Cosgrave purchased it in 1865.
As you all know, I have a slight love affair with the census, which shows that Patrick was born about 1817 (aged 54 on the 1871 census), hailed from Ireland, and was a Roman Catholic. He immigrated to Canada about 1850, bringing with him his wife Elizabeth, sons James and John, and “helper” Catherine. He partnered with Eugene O’Keefe for a few years before acquiring the Thompson Brewery. The 1861 census shows two children born in Toronto: Lawrence and Mary.
John and Lawrence would join their father in the brewery in 1871 and 1879 respectively, thus forming Cosgrave and Sons Ltd. Patrick died on September 6th, 1881, leaving his sons to enter in into a new partnership together. They managed Cosgrave and Sons Ltd until 1934 when E.P. Taylor acquired the brewery and merged it with the Dominion Brewery to create Cosgrave’s Dominion Brewery. By 1945 it merged again with the O’Keefe Brewery and was finally demolished in 1963.
When researching, I love coming across small, telling details: the sort of footnotes that make the past feel more alive.
Did you know that there was a string of robberies in Queen West in 1868? Neither did I, until I found this reference in the Globe and Mail:
Following upon the theft of a quantity of plate from the house of Mr. D. B. Read, on Queen Street West, on Tuesday night, was another robbery, which took place at Cosgrave and Co’s brewery, in the same section of the city, on Wednesday night. On going to the office yesterday morning, the vault was found open and the cash box gone. The window of the office, which had not been fastened the previous evening, was opened. An axe was found in the office with which the burglars had chopped away enough of the stone beside the door to enable them, with the aid of an iron poker, to pry the door of the vault open. The cash box was found in the yard of the adjoining premises, but the money contents, luckily only $8, were gone.” (Globe and Mail, October 16, 1868)
Can’t you just imagine Patrick coming in to find the axe on the floor and cash box missing? Cursing himself for not fastening the window?
Patrick’s death in 1881 caused a stir in the brewery. I found details of a court case the brothers Cosgrave went into shortly afterwards: they’d had a deal to sell their beer to a hotel keeper in Ottawa, one Michael Quinn. However, Quinn was trying to back out of the deal, claiming that he had entered into it with Cosgrave and Sons, Patrick Cosgrave was now dead, and therefore the firm no longer existed, so any agreement was rendered null and void.
A footnote in history, but a telling one: this Toronto brewery was supplying hotels in Ottawa? Clearly, operations and production had expanded significantly under Patrick’s leadership.
One final tidbit, just for pure fun: in 1918, Cosgrave and Sons Ltd had a fivepin bowling team in a local business league. Looking at the scores, they weren’t too bad, either!
Something to think about, the next time you walk along Queen West!
PS. Our Apricot Ale is out and it is delicious. Come pick some up before it’s all gone!