The Thompsons of Half Way House


Down here in the Black Creek Historic Brewery, we’re occasionally asked who owned and operated the brewery back in the 1860s. It’s a segue for a really cool conversation, because the brewery only dates back to 2009 – the entire basement of the Half Way House was put in after the building was moved from Scarborough to its present location at Black Creek.

The Half Way House, in its original location at Kingston Rd and Midland Ave. ca. 1912. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

The Half Way House, in its original location at Kingston Rd and Midland Ave. ca. 1912. Courtesy Toronto Public Library.

So – no one was operating the brewery in the 1860s. But the Half Way House was alive and kicking! It was built around 1847/48, owned and operated by Alexander Thompson and his wife, Mary (née McClure).

Alexander had married into a big family: the Half Way House sits in the centre of four farms. Three of them belong to Mary’s siblings and one to an uncle. What’s more: those four farms were originally one parcel of land belonging to her great-grandmother, Sarah Ashbridge.

(If you’re wondering, “As in, Ashbridge’s Bay?” you’re absolutely correct!)

Everything the light touches...I mean, everything within that rectangle belongs to the Ashbridge/McClure family.

Everything the light touches…I mean, everything within that rectangle belongs to the Ashbridge/McClure family.

In many ways, it’s a similar story to our Stong family here at Black Creek: a large family that proceeded to marry most of their neighbours, creating a dynastic look to certain areas. Interestingly, Mary was Alex’s second wife: he had been married to another relative of hers, but she passed away quite young. Contrary to certain legends, Mary was quite aware of this first marriage (she acted as a witness!), and remarrying another family member following a spouse’s death was not terribly uncommon .

So while Alexander is hard to track down prior to his marriages, it seems the McClure family absorbed him quite nicely. In fact, the Half Way House is built on a sliver of land carved out from William Hale’s farm, and Alex also has a bit of land on the corner of Isaac Ashbridge’s property!

F.F. Passmore did many sketches and surveys of Scarborough in the 1860s. The Half Way House is visible at right (north is down). Courtesy the City of Toronto Archives.

F.F. Passmore did many sketches and surveys of Scarborough in the 1860s. The Half Way House is visible at right (north is down). Courtesy the City of Toronto Archives.

Now, in addition to being a tavern-keeper, Alexander pops up in Victorian classifieds as an auctioneer, and the Scarborough Town Council Minutes as a pathmaster (he would’ve helped look after the road). There’s some evidence he may have been a postmaster as well. With all these other occupations, you may be wondering how he found time to work at the Half Way House!

Well…while Alexander got the tavern license every year, Mary probably had the main hand in the day-to-day running. Thinking about taverns as a whole, there’s quite a bit of domestic work. Besides, Alexander dies in 1867, whereupon Mary immediately starts getting the license herself, and running the inn until her own death in 1872. The fact that she was able to take the reins so seamlessly suggests that she knew what she was doing!

If you’re keen to learn more about the Thompson family, drop by one of our History Actors performances. You can see yours truly portraying Delilah Thompson – Mary and Alex’s teenage daughter. Blythe and I have been working very hard on new pieces and programs for summer, and we’re excited to share them!

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And remember: kids get in free this summer, Monday through Friday!

See you in the village!
Katie

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