Brewing Rebellion: John Doel

It’s time to look at another Toronto brewer! John Doel is up today: brewer, businessman, and political figure (funny, how an awful lot of brewers wind up in politics: John Carling, George Sleeman, Alexander Keith…the list goes on!).

The man himself: John Doel (via
The man himself: John Doel (via

John Doel was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1790, and emigrated to Philadelphia around 1817. However, it seems that the United States was not quite to his liking; he arrived in York (Toronto) on November 5, 1818. While he seems to have been a bookseller in Philadelphia, he spent 1825-1830 as a mail carrier in York. However, he got into the brewing scene early: first establishing a brewery on Sherbourne St, followed by his brewery at Bay and Adelaide. This latter brewery commenced operations in 1827—we can only assume that between brewing beer and delivering the post, Doel was very busy! However, his brewery and real estate investments gave him a comfortable living.

In politics, Doel was a Reformer. Censuses (you knew I was going to reference the census, right?) list him as a resident of St. Andrew’s ward. By 1834, the ward elected him to Toronto City Council. 1834 was an important year for Reformers like Doel—they won a majority on the new council and William Lyon Mackenzie was elected Toronto’s first mayor (Doel voted for Mackenzie, too!).

Doel's brewery in the 1840s (Toronto Public Library)
Doel’s brewery in the 1840s (Toronto Public Library)

Mackenzie and Doel were close associates through the mid-1830s. Doel’s brewery even played a role in the 1837 Rebellion, serving as one of the Reformers’ meeting places. Meetings in late July saw the creation of a Reformers’ declaration; Doel signed it on July 28, 1837, and was named to the Vigilance Committee on July 31. In fact, Mackenzie first advocated open rebellion at Doel’s brewery, during a meeting that took place in late October. His plan to seize Lieutenant Governor Francis Bond Head and proclaim a provisional government was met with considerable skepticism and some alarm.

Doel himself never took part in the actual uprising, which happened on December 7th of that year. After the rebellion, he served as an alderman and justice of the peace. Operations continued at the brewery until it was burned on April 11, 1847, and Doel himself died in 1871. Doel’s home was demolished in 1925. Looking at the intersection today, it’s hard to believe a brewery was ever there, much less one which harboured secrecy and rebellion!

The site of Doel's brewery today.
The site of Doel’s brewery today (the northwest corner, i.e. the left side).

– Katie


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