The Cosgrave Brewery
At the south-west corner of Queen and Niagara was once the site of the Cosgrave Brewery Company, one of the pioneers of the city’s big brewery development. The site was first opened as Bains’ brewery in 1844 when Thomas Bains leased the massive expanse of land between Queen, Niagara, Richmond, and Walnut Street (the Garrison Creek, which supplied necessary water to the area’s beer productions) and then became Thompson Brewery in 1852.
By the mid 1860s, Patrick Cosgrave had tripled his investment in his business venture with Eugene O’Keefe, after running and owning the Victoria Brewery together. He then had enough capital to co-found the Cosgrave brewery with Charles Sproatt, taking over from Thompson. In the 1870s, Cosgrave’s sons would join the business, which then became Cosgrave and Sons, Ltd. They would inherit the brewery in 1881, after their father’s passing. Their father had succeeded in turning the brewery into one of the largest in the city.
In 1878, a fire took hold of the building. It was rebuilt, and under Lawrence Cosgrave’s management the brewery quadrupled in a couple of short decades, with a capacity of one-hundred thousand barrels. Pioneers of industry like their father, Lawrence and John later invented a specialized bottle pump, allowing them to fill 7,200 bottles a day (ten simultaneously) and ship their beer to Australia, South Africa and the West Indies. During prohibition, the brewery was operated as the Toronto Vinegar Company.
“I have always looked upon malt liquors as a food product, and those who object to their use have not a proper understanding of this article.” Lawrence told the Daily Mail and Empire in 1898. He believed in his beer as nourishment for good health.
In 1934, it would change ownership again to E.P. Taylor, becoming the Cosgrave Dominion brewery. It would be purchased one more time in 1945 by O’Keefe, the family from Patrick’s original partnership in the Toronto brewery business, before the building would finally be demolished around 1963, over 100 years after its brewing history began. The site at 297 Niagara Street hosted the creation of several ambitious lives and is a benchmark of Toronto’s brewing history: an industry that flourishes in a combination of big brews and microbrews over a century later.
If you want to feel a piece of the area’s history, next time you’re walking past the shops at Queen and Niagara, imagine yourself over one hundred years ago, popping into Cosgrave’s for a twenty-cent gallon of pale ale or porter.