Tag Archives: Ontario History

The Many Vices of Sir John A. Macdonald

Quick—what’s an interesting fact about Sir John A. Macdonald?

Well—he was Canada’s first Prime Minister.

And he really, really liked his drink.

He’s probably one of Canada’s most famous drunkards, which is a fact that seems to get bandied about a lot. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Sir John A. wasn’t perpetually drunk. No, he went on binges. Sometimes, he was quick, calculating, and stone-cold sober—and sometimes, the Governor-General was writing letters explaining that they weren’t entirely sure where the erstwhile politician was.

There are a few anecdotes that always get retold. In one, Macdonald is notably…ah, “unwell” on the campaign trail (likely a by-election). During the debate, he vomits. When his opponent points this out, he responds, ““I get sick…not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”

In June 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood launched an invasion into Canada from Buffalo. The Battle of Ridgeway was the first battle fought on Canadian soil, led by Canadian officers, and also marks the last foreign invasion in Ontario. At the time, Sir John A. was the Minister of Militia and Defence. So of course, news of the attack went straight to him.

And…he was passed out drunk.

Bills failed and languished. Telegrams went unanswered. International relations could be embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst—during the London Conference that sought final British approval before Confederation, Sir John A. nearly set himself and his hotel room on fire when a candle tipped over while he slept.

(In fairness, he might not have been drunk that time—but his fondness for the Athenaeum Club and its libations is well-known.)

The Globe attacked his habit viciously. In fact, one article was so eloquent, I wanted to show a larger extract:

“The truth is that the prime minister has again yielded to the temptation of drink, and has again rendered himself incapable of attending to his duties at a most critical period of affairs. It would almost seem that Sir John A. Macdonald choose those seasons when his vice is calculated to bring the greatest disgrace upon himself and upon the country.

His pitiable condition during the Fenian raid when telegram after telegram was left unanswered because he was in such a state of intoxication that he could not comprehend them, was a matter which would have brought severe retribution upon a Minister in England; his disgraceful condition during the visit of Prince Arthur will long be remembered to the discredit of Canada; and now when every energy should be devoted to the affairs of the North-West…Sir John A. Macdonald again flies to the bottle.

It is really an outrage to the country. The spectacle of the Prime Minister staggering into the refreshment room of the House, and being taken out thence first by one colleague and then by another, or babbling in maudlin intoxication in a hotel bar-room, is a thing to which no other country would submit for an hour. We are not a nation of drunkards, and we have a right to expect that men occupying the most exalted position their country can bestow upon them shall, at least, behave with decorum.”

The Globe: April 30, 1870.

 

The Globe’s editor George Brown was one of Macdonald’s bitterest rivals, which may explain some of the acerbity, but clearly, there was genuine upset at his functional alcoholism. Macdonald himself shrugged off such criticisms: “…the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.”

1873 political cartoon. Note the bottle in his back pocket.

Would they, though? The fact that Macdonald managed to accomplish as much as he did in spite of his alcoholism makes one wonder—what if he hadn’t had it? How might Canada look today? Would he have proven a more able leader, or would there simply have been more Pacific Scandals and exclusionary policies towards Asian and Indigenous peoples?

It’s impossible to say, of course. “Coulda, woulda, shoulda” history is probably best left to thought experiments. I’ll end by saying that Macdonald’s second wife Susan Agnes Bernard is largely credited with fighting Macdonald’s demons—biographer Richard J Gwyn claims she literally kept him alive long enough to see the new nation through its formative years.

So—I think John A. has had plenty of glasses raised to him over the years. If you must toast, perhaps consider toasting Susan Bernard.

To Queen, country, and Mrs. Macdonald!

Katie  

 

 

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Interview with Robin LeBlanc: Beer Writer

Hello beer-lovers!

Welcome back to another installment of our interview series! This week, I am thrilled to welcome Robin LeBlanc to the Growler. Robin is a respected beer expert and reviewer, talented writer, and all-around awesome person. You may recognize her name from her blog, The Thirsty Wench, from Twitter (@TheThirstyWench), or from The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, which she co-authored with fellow beer expert Jordan St. John.

And guess what??? A new, second edition of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide releases May 20th! Packed with nearly 100 new breweries, this book promises a comprehensive survey of the Ontario craft scene. I’m stoked for its release, and I was very glad the chance to chat about the book with Robin!

Without further ado!

KT: We’re always keen on origin stories! Can you tell us how you got into craft beer?

RL: I got bitten by a radioactive brewer, and…
No. That’s a lie. What really happened was I was in a friend’s apartment in 2007 and their roommate brought over a bottle of Chimay Première, a Trappist dubbel and shared some of it with us. Considering the most adventurous with beer I had been at the time was a pint of Guinness, I can safely say that I experienced an explosion of flavours that were earth-shattering. Dark fruits! Caramel! A subtle alcohol burn! From then I was hooked. I started going to the original Bar Volo with friends, which then led to picking up books on beer, which then led to starting a blog about beer, and that ended up with being a columnist and author on beer. It’s amazing how much it just escalated.

 

KT: The Ontario craft beer scene has exploded over the last number of years; what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

RL: Well the big one is that there is no more craft beer out there. As you said, the Ontario beer scene has exploded and we’re seeing more and more breweries pop up every WEEK in areas both urban and rural. The great thing has been seeing the places outside of the city fully embrace craft breweries opening in their area because it adds to part of their identity. So really that’s the biggest change, where we are now at a point where one could take a weekend trip to almost anywhere in the province and chances are really good you’ll be able to visit many breweries throughout.

KT: Researching “The Ontario Craft Beer Guide” was an impressive undertaking! Were there any surprises along the way?

RL: There definitely were! In doing research we would get to as many breweries in the province as possible and more often than not I found myself in small areas getting a feel for the context of which the brewery makes their beer and the local inspiration that drives them. Places like Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, or New Ontario in North Bay, and Haliburton Highlands in Haliburton. All breweries that are shaped by the places they call home.

KT: And finally, what can readers look forward to in the second edition?

 RL: A more massive book than the first one, for sure. We’ve completely expanded and revised this second edition, revisiting many of the breweries from the first edition and adding nearly a hundred new breweries in the book, with ratings for over a thousand beers. On top of that we have chapters covering the history of Ontario beer, where to purchase the beer, and Ontario ingredients. We’ve also expanded the suggested pubs list from 50 to over 100, showing all the great places in this province to get a decent selection of local beer. And finally, we have colour pictures, giving a nice visual representation of Ontario beer.

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Robin, thanks again for sharing your time with us! Remember, you can pick up your copy of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide on May 20th – a perfect start to the long weekend!  Here’s to many more fantastic beers ahead!

To Queen and country!

Katie

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We’re (Almost) Back!

Greetings, Beer-Lovers!

This is just a quick note to remind you all that Black Creek Pioneer Village’s 2017 season begins on Saturday, April 29th, 2017. It’s Canada’s 150th birthday, and we are ready to party like it’s 1867!

Check out the Black Creek website for a whole slew of special events happening this year, and make sure to see our Canada Day event details on Facebook! And of course, we’ll have new programming and activities rolling out throughout the season!

Photo de Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Did someone say, “Historic trades and activities, History Actors, musicians, animals, Discovery Stations, Pioneer Day Camps, and more?” I’m pretty sure someone said ALL of that! 😉

Down in the brewery, Ed has also been preparing. I won’t give too much away right now, but rest assured  – we’ve got the sesquicentennial well in hand!

And if your stocks of historic beer are a little low after the long winter – well, you can always swing by the brewery to pick up more historic brew. Ed will be back brewing on weekends, so feel free to come say, “Hi!”

Getting excited? So are we – so until Saturday, here are some pictures we love.

Coming through the hop garden one summer morning.

 

Our beautiful mill…

Photo de Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Our campers having fun!

 

Hard at work!

 

Our lambs are skipping!

 

And of course…

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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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!

Katie

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

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Hot Punch: A Victorian Recipe

It’s November now. Here in the Black Creek Brewery, we’re convinced that we were sampling our summer pale ales and best bitters just…what, two weeks ago? But no, autumn is starting to wane further into winter…

We saw frost on the Grain Barn's roof!

We saw frost on the Grain Barn’s roof!

Which means that it’s getting cold outside. A nice rounded stout or porter usually pairs well with these chilly nights, but sometimes, you want something with a little more punch.

Ah, Mrs. Beeton... (courtesy National Portrait Gallery; www.npg.org.uk)

Ah, Mrs. Beeton…
(courtesy National Portrait Gallery; http://www.npg.org.uk)

In fact, sometimes you want a punch – a hot punch! I went to the ever-reliable Mrs. Beeton to find out more about this warming beverage. In her Book of Household Management, she had this to say:

Punch is a beverage made of various spirituous liquors or wine, hot water, the acid juice of fruits, and sugar. It is considered to be very intoxicating; but this is probably because the spirit, being partly sheathed by the mucilaginous juice and the sugar, its strength does not appear to the taste so great as it really is.

So as always, drink responsibly.

Now, onto the recipe!

  • ½ pint rum
  • ½ pint brandy
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 large lemon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 pint of boiling water

“Rub the sugar over the lemon until it has absorbed all the yellow part of the skin, then put the sugar into a punchbowl; add the lemon-juice (free from pips), and mix these two ingredients well together. Pour over them the boiling water, stir well together, add the rum, brandy, and nutmeg; mix it thoroughly, and the punch will be ready to serve. It is very important in making good punch that all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated; and, to insure success, the process of mixing must be diligently attended to.”

If you’re thinking, “This is basically a hot toddy, isn’t it?” you’re right! Hot toddies are typically made with whisky, but it’s the same general idea—in fact, Mrs. Beeton notes that the Scots usually substituted whisky in their punch “…and then its insidious properties are more than usually felt.”

Now, if you’re wondering whether a hot toddy will cure a cold…well, I’m afraid there is no science to back it up. That said, warm liquids, spices, and honey can do wonders for a sore throat—as my partner-in-crime Blythe and I discovered when we tested another Victorian recipe! (You can catch that episode of Blythe Tries on the Black Creek page this Tuesday!)

Does it work? Find out on Tuesday!

Does it work? Find out on Tuesday!

No matter what you’re drinking, stay warm out there! And come pay us a visit in the brewery soon!

-Katie

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Tasting Beer

Hello, Beer-Lovers!

Hot enough for you? This scorching summer continues; we’re very happy that the Black Creek Brewery is kept quite cool! As befitting these warmer months, we’re still exploring the lighter end of things with our bitters and pale ales (the Simcoe Hopped Ale is our next specialty beer – out for the August long weekend – its hoppy character should cut right through this humidity!).

Last time, we talked about cicerones here on the Growler. An important part of being a cicerone is learning to taste beer. Let’s continue the discussion and break down one of our Black Creek beer tastings, step by step!

barrel_l

Step 1: Appearance

First impressions count for a lot, and sight is an important part of the overall sampling experience. Pour your beer into a clear glass (at the brewery, we’ll do this for you). Take a good look at it. Hold it to the light.

Just look: you can see the bar rail through the glass!

What colour is it? Pale gold, copper, pitch-black? Can you see through it?

Look at the clarity: can you see my smiling face through the glass, or is it clouded? Hint: our beers tend towards cloudiness because they’re unfiltered—and the further down in the growler your sample was, the cloudier it will be!

Our naturally carbonated beers don’t have much head, but make sure you note it in modern beers!

Step 2: Swirl

You’ve seen people swirling wine glasses before, right? Same idea: swirling the beer around your glass releases aromas and nuances you wouldn’t catch otherwise. Just a few gentle swirls will do it, and don’t worry about looking pretentious: this is exactly the behaviour we encourage.

Step 3: Smell

Our senses of taste and smell are closely linked. Don’t be afraid: give your beer a good sniff. How intense is the smell? What aromas do you notice?

More malt-oriented aromas? (Grains, nuts, chocolate, coffee, caramel, toastiness, sweetness)

More hop-oriented? (Citrus (often grapefruit for us, particularly in our IPA), earthiness, resins, pine, floral and/or spicy aromas)

Step 4: Sip

And now, it’s time to taste the b—do not chug it! Slow down and enjoy your drink. We’re friendly people, I promise. Take a small sip, but don’t swallow it right away.

Start with the beer on the tip of your tongue and move it slowly through your mouth. Different flavours will trigger taste buds in different regions of the tongue, so enjoy the different sensations as your beer travels over the tongue.

growler

In tasting notes, I frequently mention “mouthfeel.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this term refers to the way the beer feels in one’s mouth: that is, its weight and texture. Is it thin and sharp? Smooth and rounded? Does it feel heavy or light?

If you’d like to be really thorough, some people suggest exhaling while tasting; this is called “retro-olfaction.” Essentially, beer is warmed by being in your mouth, which causes more aromas to travel through your nasal cavities. It’s a different way to experience the beer’s aromas than the preliminary sniffing.

Got all that? Good—swirl the beer around your mouth once, letting it touch every part of your tongue, cheeks, and palate.

And swallow.

Step 5: Finish

We’re not done yet! The finish is highly important. Swallowing lets the very back of the tongue and throat experience the beer. How does the flavour change?

As well, note any flavours that linger after the beer has left your mouth. Are they bitter and/or floral (more hoppy), or more rich and grainy (leaning towards malts)? How intense are they?

Oh, that Chocolate Stout...

Oh, that Chocolate Stout…

Give it an extra second—sometimes, you might be surprised by how long the finish lasts. For me, sampling BadWolf Brewery’s stout epitomized the necessity of waiting. I’d swallowed my beer, and I thought the finish was over—only to have another surge of chocolate flavour catch me completely off-guard.

Take a moment to let all these impressions settle.

Now, the most important question of all…

Does this beer work for you? Do you feel it, love it? Do you want to keep drinking it?

Remember: no right or wrong answers, just the one that works for you.

See you soon, beer-lovers!

-Katie

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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!

IMG_3848
And remember: kids get in free this summer, Monday through Friday!

See you in the village!
Katie

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