The Red Lion Inn: An Early Local Pub

Welcome, beer-lovers! This week at the Black Creek Growler, we’re delving into another chapter of Toronto’s beer history: the Red Lion Inn!

You can’t get very far into researching Toronto taverns without running across the Red Lion. It was built somewhere between 1808-1810 by Daniel Thiers. Like Black Creek Pioneer Village’s Stong family, Thiers was of Pennsylvania German origin, settling in Upper Canada in the late 1700s.

The Red Lion, ca. 1888. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

The Red Lion sat on Yonge St, just north of modern-day Bloor (near the Toronto Reference Library today). When Thiers built the Red Lion, the area was still quite undeveloped—Toronto grew largely northward and westward from the lake. However, it was already an important crossroads: Davenport, Yonge, and Bloor were all established travel routes, and seemed likely to become even more heavily-travelled as the young city grew.

The inn itself was always large: its façade was about 100 feet along Yonge St. As wings and extensions were added, it eventually encompassed a two-acre site—including its outbuildings and yards. And of course, it had a sign emblazoned with a red lion rampant.

The bar area: 1912 painting based on an 1888 sketch. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

In the early days, the Red Lion served as a stopping point for travellers, particularly for farmers taking their goods from Holland Landing to York. An 1808 advertisement states Thier’s intention to open a public house, selling, “…[the] best strong beer at 8d, New York currency, per gallon, if drank in his house, and 2s 6d New York currency if taken out.”

(A few things to note about this: first, we can see the absolute mishmash of currency that pervaded the colony during this period. Second, takeaway beer is more expensive than beer drunk in-house—perhaps a tactic to get patrons to settle in, order more pints, and eventually take a room for the night?)

In his Landmarks of Toronto (1894), publisher-politician John Ross Robertson imagines what the Red Lion Inn might have been like: “…bronzed farmers, patriotic reformers, intriguing politicians, bright eyed girls, and spruce young men—all classes that made up the society of York and its environs.” Contemplating the ballroom, he writes, “Perhaps here many a maiden breathed that wonderful ‘Yes.’”

The ballroom, ca. 1888. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

While his tone is a touch sentimental—even by Victorian standards—it’s clear that he considered the Red Lion Inn a focal point for the community. Indeed, it proved to be the nucleus around which Yorkville developed (ably assisted by Joseph Bloor, as we learned here).

In addition to facilitating socialization, the Red Lion also played an important role in civic life. It was used for polling and political debates, and Reformers met there frequently through the 1830s—including William Lyon Mackenzie itself. After his expulsion from the legislature in 1831, a by-election was held at the Red Lion Inn. Following the vote, a triumphant Mackenzie greeted his supporters in the ballroom, receiving a medal and making a speech before leading a procession into town.

But alas, the good times could not last forever. The Temperance movement did not treat the Red Lion Inn kindly. After a series of struggles, it closed in 1892. Two years later, Robertson wrote, “Most of the characters who figured in the Red Lion’s history have gone over to the great majority, and soon the old inn will follow the course of all mundane things.”

The Red Lion Inn, ca. 1885. (Courtesy Toronto Public Library)

Sadly, he was right, for no trace of the Red Lion remains today. Yet it remains in memory, “The Most Famous Hostelry in the Annals of York.”

To Queen and Country!


PS. Keen for more? You can read a digitized version of John Ross Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto here!

Taddle Creek and Enoch Turner

“Lost” rivers continue to fascinate us here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery. We’ve talked about them before – all those brewers in Queen West, along the banks of the now-forgotten Garrison Creek. This week, we’ve turned our gaze slightly north to Taddle Creek.

Taddle Creek (courtesy
Taddle Creek (courtesy

Taddle and Garrison Creeks actually started from similar locations: roughly around St. Clair Ave, slightly west of Bathurst Street. But while Garrison Creek meandered through Christie Pits, Bickford Park, Little Italy, and Trinity Bellwoods before ending up at the Toronto Garrison, Taddle Creek swung east towards Avenue Rd, cut through U of T (if you visit Philosopher’s Walk, you can walk along the old streambed) and eventually emptied into the harbour near the Distillery District.

At least one brewer set up operations on the banks of Taddle Creek. Enoch Turner (1790-1866) emigrated to Canada from Staffordshire, arriving to York in the late 1820s. He established a brewery around Parliament and Front Sts, in the curve of the Taddle Creek.

Unfortunately, a massive fire destroyed the brewery in 1832. Fortunately, Turner had clearly made friends amongst the citizens of York. Several nearby businessmen gave him loans (including his neighbor James Worts) and the Toronto Circus donated the proceeds from a benefit performance. The 1834 City Directory lists Turner back in his old spot at Palace St (the old name for Front) “…near the windmill.” That windmill, the directory also tells us, belonged to Gooderham and Worts.

The 1851 Directory and Almanac describes the area thusly: “Palace Street runs east from the Market-Square, towards the upper end of which Jarvis is situated. The principal private residences on this street are those of the Honourable Christopher Widmer and the cottage of Enoch Turner, Esq., which, with their tastefully laid out grounds, have a handsome appearance.”

Enoch Turner's home and brewery, surrounded by an arm of Taddle Creek. South is at top. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)
Enoch Turner’s home and brewery, surrounded by an arm of Taddle Creek. South is at top. (courtesy Toronto Public Library)

So it seems Mr. Turner had managed to rebuild himself quite nicely. And it seems he was an integral part of the community that had helped him back to his feet. The Almanac also lists both Turner and W. Gooderham as churchwardens at Trinity Church, and notes that “Adjoining the church is a handsome gothic School House, built by Enoch Turner, Esq., and given by him to the church. It is capable of accommodating 200 children. The Sunday School is in a flourishing condition.”


Turner and his partner Samuel Platt decided to retire in 1854, selling the brewery. The Globe newspaper describes quite an impressive structure: “116 feet by 42 feet, two storeys high, independent of three capital stone cellars, paved with flags, also a spacious cellar 43 feet by 21 feet, with malt house and granary above…and every convenience for brewing and distilling on a very extensive scale…”

Enoch Turner died in 1866, by which point Taddle Creek had been filled in and submerged as far west as Elizabeth St. Much like Taddle Creek, however, Enoch Turner’s presence lingers in Toronto: in Trinity Church, his schoolhouse, and in the fond memories of him here at the Black Creek Historic Brewery.


Further Reading

I highly recommend Lost Breweries of Toronto, by Jordan St. John: a very good survey of Enoch Turner and his colleagues.


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

Brewery on the Banks: Patrick Cosgrave

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.

Bridge where Garrison Creek crosses Crawford and Dundas streets, ca. 1910-1925 (via
Bridge where Garrison Creek crosses Crawford and Dundas streets, ca. 1910-1925 (via

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.

Trinity Bellwoods in the 1870s.
Trinity Bellwoods in the 1870s (click to enlarge).

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.

Advertisements in the “Toronto World,” 1880s.


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?

1892 map of Toronto for insurance purposes - Cosgrave's is south of Queen West (via Toronto Public Library)
1892 map of Toronto for insurance purposes – Cosgrave’s is marked in red south of Queen West and west of Niagara Street  (via Toronto Public Library).

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!


A Spirited Affair: Saving Flynn

A Spirited Affair is on the horizon! We’re less than two weeks away from our fundraising event featuring beer, wine, and whisky. Come join us as we step back in time to the 1860s! Dodge the Temperance advocate, sample fantastic food and drink, and then leap forward to the 1920s where we’ll dance the night away (and enjoy more fantastic food and drink)!

But there’s a serious cause alongside our celebration. The Spirited Affair is a fundraiser, directly impacting a restoration campaign called “Explore History­ – Build a Better Future.” This campaign was launched by the Living History Foundation with support from the Toronto Region Conversation Authority. This year, we are focusing on the much-needed restoration of Flynn House.

The exterior of the Flynn House.
The exterior of the Flynn House.

The Flynn House is one of my favourite buildings at Black Creek. Built in 1858 and originally located on Yonge Street in North York, it was the home of Daniel Flynn and his family. Daniel Flynn was a shoemaker who emigrated to Canada from Ireland. His boot and shoe shop is also located at Black Creek Pioneer Village, standing just around the corner from the home.

The Flynn House is unique. It is the only building in the village that shows how a tradesman’s family would have lived. The building’s rectangular façade reveals that home and shop were originally connected. The Flynn House also provides a unique opportunity to discuss the experience of new arrivals to “the Canadas.”

The Flynn family was of Irish origin. The Irish formed the single largest immigrant group in nineteenth century Canada and many immigrants were among the working class, traveling to the colonies in hopes of building a better life. The Great Famine (1845-1851) spurred even greater emigration from Ireland. In “Black ’47,” 38,560 Irish refugees arrived in Toronto – which at the time had a population of just 20,000. Many of these Irish immigrants continued their journey to the United States, but those who remained formed a vital source of urban labour during Toronto’s economic boom of the 1850s-60s.

The cosy kitchen.
The cosy kitchen.

There are few other opportunities at Black Creek to explore this vital chapter of Toronto’s history. Stories like the Flynns’ not only highlight the conditions of the working class, but also the ways in which Canadian history has been shaped by the experiences and contributions of new Canadians.

The Flynn House has had virtually no maintenance for several years and was shut to the public in 2010. Without this much-needed restoration, its decline will continue.

Damage to the floorboards is visible to the right midground of this image.
Damage to the floorboards is visible to the right midground of this image.
Weathering to the exterior.
Weathering to the exterior.

So, come out for an unforgettable evening of food, drink, music, and dance – and raise a glass to Daniel Flynn!

– Katie

A Spirited Affair: Participating Drink Companies

– Forty Creek Distillery

– Still Waters Distillery

– Black Oak Brewing Company,

– Black Creek Historic Brewery

– Sue-Ann Staff Estate Winery

– Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery

– Pelee Island Winery

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

Copland Brewing Co. 1915

1915 Vest Pocket Reference Annual published by Copland Brewing. Image provided by Ken D

Ken D, one of our readers, sent along an image of the cover of a 1915 Vest Pocket Reference Annual published by Copland Brewing Company.  It’s a neat piece of ephemera as it lists the brands of beer Copland was producing at the time (Pale Ale, Half-and-Half, Budweiser, XXX Porter and Special Brewed Ale) and includes images of two of the bottles and labels in use at the time.  It’s also interesting to note the proprietors, Robert and J.E. Davies.  Robert was late of both the Don and Dominion Breweries; in fact XXX Porter was one of the Don’s signature brews.  Ken mentioned that the volume contained details about horse racing, sports records and information regarding postage rates.  These were likely given out as a promotion either to the public, or more likely to bar owners and people in the business. 

Copland Extra Stout Label from the Fisher Library's Vintage Canadian Beer Labels Collection.
Copland Extra Stout Label from the Fisher Library’s Vintage Canadian Beer Labels Collection.
I pulled up one of the labels pictured on the cover from the Fisher Library collection at the University of Toronto for comparison.  Looks like a pretty good match to me!

Rush Hour in Toronto is Nothing New!

Diagram Showing Homeward Passenger Movement.  Civic Transportation Committee, Toronto: 1915.  From the digital collections of the University of Toronto
Diagram Showing Homeward Passenger Movement. Civic Transportation Committee, Toronto: 1915. From the digital collections of the University of Toronto

Construction on the tunnel borer launch site for the Toronto-York Spadina Subway expansion is really picking up along Steeles, east of Jane Street. While waiting in traffic this morning it reminded me of an interesting map I’d seen in the University of Toronto digital map collection. Dating from 1915, this diagram shows the movement of passengers between 4:30 and 7 p.m. during the mid-week. It shows that some 57 000 people were departing from the downtown area on their way home. Toronto’s first subway didn’t open until 1954 so all of the traffic was at street level. The map includes data for passengers who travelled on the civic line of electric street railways, car passengers and jitney passengers. Jitneys were a brief fad in Toronto, as David Wyatt of the All-Time List of Canadian Transit Systems notes, “private automobile owners began using their cars to pick up fare-paying passengers. In some cities hundreds of cars were engaged in the trade, jitney associations were formed, routes established, and service hours announced. Operators serious about profitability began modifying their cars to carry more passengers, and the motor bus was born. Nearly everywhere the activity was eventually stamped out by municipal or provincial legislation.”  The map doesn’t cover our location at Jane Street and Steeles, but it’s an interesting archival document that demonstrates that gridlock is not a new concern for Toronto!   You can check the progress of the subway expansion on the TTC website.