Henderson Brewery Toronto

A brief history of the first brewery in Toronto

The history of Toronto is closely tied to beer, and while there are varying stories about the exact date and location of the city's first brewery (and a requisite bit of mystery), virtually all are in agreement that there was a brewery very early in the city's history.

As the population in Ontario began to spread from early settlements such as the one in Kingston, beer was initially brought over with other supplies like pork and butter on ships from Kingston, the Bay of Quinte, and Niagara.

A letter dated 1801 from a Reverend John Stuart to the Bishop of Nova Scotia, however, makes reference to a brewer from Kingston "removed to York lately" who had obtained a vessel to "transport wheat and other Grain from Kingston and the Bay of Quinte, before beer could be made."

Who that brewer may have been, and where he may have been plying his trade, however, is not clear.

The earliest hard evidence of a brewery in Toronto dates back to 1805 and suggests that the first brewery in the city belonged to Robert Henderson (founded in 1800), whose original outfit was outfit was located at the northeast corner of Caroline (now Sherbourne), Duchess (now Richmond) streets. A notice from 1809 signed by Henderson advertised "a milling plant, brewhouse, working tubs, coolers, two kilns for drying malt, two good wells or water, a stable, two stills, a townhouse, slaughterhouse and three acres of land."

According to other documents, production came in at about 30 barrels a week in 1809. The brewery moved across the street in 1811 onto land owned by George and Joseph Shaw, who also became involved in the operation. The operation eventually burned to the ground in 1856. As such, no photographic evidence of its existence remains.

This early brewing in Toronto (then York) was meant to provide beer for the soldiers stationed at Fort York. When Lt. Gov. John Graves Simcoe decided to make York the new capital of Upper Canada, he authorized a garrison to be made and in 1794, Fort York was established to defend against potential American hostilities.

Early brewing thus came out of necessity to provide beer to British soldiers, since, at the time, beer was actually part of their pay and troops were allotted a daily allowance of six pints a day.

Six. Pints. Times sure have changed.

Additional information supplied by Stephen Otto

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