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Brewing Beer In Guelph: Early Breweries
Bonnie Durtnall

Brewing Beer In Guelph: Early Breweries

Beer and ale were important to early and even later settlers. Many innkeepers produced it on site – small batches of a select brew they could sell in their hotels/inns. Later, brewers produced product to be consumed and sold to local businesses, including taverns and hotels. These were often small cottage industries.

As the demand grew, brewers built larger production facilities. The need was to, if not grow, remain constant. This was the case for many small and larger breweries until Prohibition. The Scott or Canadian Temperance Act of 1878 had some impact, but the years most seriously affecting Guelph’s sale of alcohol were those between 1915-1927.

Brewing Beer

The location of breweries depended upon several factors. One of the most important was the purity of the water source. Guelph had several breweries. The most celebrated of these were Sleeman’s and Holiday’s.  John H. Sleeman, in particular, located his brewery in Guelph because of the clarity of its water. Guelph had several natural springs in both the city and the surrounding townships.

However, these two well-known companies were not the first or the only breweries producing beer and liquor to slake the thirst of Guelphites. Four men and their breweries played prominent roles in providing beer and ale for locals. Two: Hodgert and Harland, were also responsible for giving future brewers both the skills they required and/or the facilities they needed to make their own brewing ventures successful ones.

The Founders of Guelph’s Brewing Dynasties

Large breweries such as Hollidays and Sleeman’s did not appear without predecessors.  Guelph had a need for their products. In fact, the first brewery appeared one year following the construction of the community’s first grist mill. While the Canada Company provided the money for the mill’s construction, Guelph’s first brewery was the private economic venture of James D Oliver.

James D. Oliver (1776-1851)

In 1827, James D. Oliver arrived in Guelph following a trip from New York to Niagara in 1825. He helped out the community by purchasing one team of horses. This took the burden off the only other working horses in town owned by John Owen Lynch (1793-1860), the town’s first blacksmith. However, Oliver is also known for more concrete accomplishments. In 1828, he built the first stone house in this community on Lot 1 close to the end of Carden Street. He turned that home into a tavern and then took his career and claim-to-fame one step further.

When Canada Company records indicate that in 1831, Guelph had one brewery, they were referring to the one erected by Oliver. It became known as the Oliver Brewery. It operated under his management for several years. However, by 1849, then occupied by John Williams and a Mr. Fox, it burnt to the ground.

James Hodgert (1795-1855)

James Hodgert also arrived with the first wave of settlers to Guelph. He came, not as a brewer but as a weaver. His presence here in 1827/1828 often results in the misconception he established a brewery at this time. This is not the case. As David Allan notes, Hodgert received a plot of land on what is now the corner of Wyndham and Quebec Streets to build a home and a weaving facility of some type. The brewery was to come later.

In 1840, after having sold his original property, Hodgert opened his brewery in Guelph on Fleet and Essex. It was to become influential in the history of brewing in Guelph. In fact, it was to have connections with both of Guelph’s best-known breweries: Holliday’s and Sleeman’s.

In 1847, John H. Sleeman – the founder of Sleeman Breweries, leased the premises. He remained here until he finally had enough capital to open Silvercreek Brewery in 1851 with a partner known only as Mr. Richards. Meanwhile, Hodgert’s Brewery remained active. It was to become the future home of Thomas Holiday’s Brewery. Thomas Holliday first leased the building in 1856 then purchased it in 1857.

James Hodgert, meanwhile, was in the thick of almost any aspect that would help Guelph become a prosperous and thriving community. He was there to help pick up the pieces when Galt was recalled and his replacement undid all of Galt’s intentions. His letters indicate Guelph was sent into a period of difficult times. These lasted until the arrival of a group of affluent immigrants in the summer of 1832.

By this time, Hodgert had been appointed a magistrate. He sat on the building committee for the construction of the courthouse and jail (1937). He was also one of several men who pushed for road improvement and the coming of the railroad. In fact, he was named as one of the “Incorporators and Provisional Directors” of the August 30, 1851 Act for the Toronto and Guelph Railway Company. This same year, he was behind the push for a New Marketplace. Other interests included the Guelph Turf Club, the Guelph Cricket Club and St. Andrew’s Church.

Thomas Williams (1792 -1868)

Thomas Williams arrived to Canada in 1842. Born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, UK, he owned/partnered in a couple of fabric/cloth businesses. After success failed to materialize, he finally deciding to leave the failing and bankrupted industries behind and start anew in Canada.

In 1842, he and his family arrived at Lake Simcoe near Orillia, Ontario. Instead of starting a company, he opted for the agricultural life and a farm they called Invermara. This ended up being a temporary measure. Within six years, Williams and family had left the farm behind them and moved to Guelph.

In Guelph, Williams decided to abandon farming. He also decided against reviving any connection in or to the felt or clothing business. Instead, his next venture was something completely different - a brewery.

The Williams Brewery commenced operation in 1848. Thomas ran it with his sons Gabriel and John. He was joined around 1849 by a son-in-law, John Douglas. In 1854, together with Hodgert’s, Williams Brewery received mention in the International Journal as one of Guelph’s breweries. Although Gabriel died suddenly in 1854, the remaining family members continued to brew beer until 1861.

Edward Alfred Harland (1809-1900)

Harland immigrated in 1831 from his home at Holderness, Sunk Island, UK. He opened his brewery in Guelph Township, on his farm near Armstrong’s Mill. The year was 1856 and he had as general manager, John H. Sleeman. Sleeman had just lost his Silvercreek Brewery to bankruptcy after a dispute with his partner, Richards.

John Sleeman was joined this time by his son George. Together they helped Harland operate the brewery until December 1859. At this point, the Sleemans repurchased Silvercreek. This was not, however, the end of the story for either Harland or, as we know, Sleeman.

The Harland Brewery continued to operate for several years. Two sons, Henry and Edmund, initially helped in the brewery. They are listed as brewers in the 1861 census. Later Edmund was to immigrate to Australia while Henry moved to Winnipeg. Arthur, the third son, is listed as a farmer. In fact, all sons are listed as farmers in the 1871 census perhaps indicating the brewery had ceased to operate by this time. The actual structure, was only torn down in the mid-1900s.

Other Considerations

While these breweries achieved a certain level of success and two – Harland’s and Hodgert’s, helped establish a basis for the success of Holliday Breweries and Sleeman’s, others were temporal entities or have little to no information about their existence beyond a name. One example is James Tulfer. He is listed as a brewer in 1867 with a house on Yarmouth. Did he work for himself or for another brewer? Insufficient information Others listed as brewers during the period 1827 to 1900 include the following:

1.   William Atkinson: Although, considered by some as an independent brewer, beer was never his focus – unless you consider ginger beer. The census and directories consistently list him as a brewer or manufacturer of “Temperance Drinks” from 1852 to around 1897 see BEVERAGES

2.   Cameron, J & J: I have only seen mention of them once in a source citing 1832 as their date

3.   Edward Botterall or Botterell: He was a brewer but was employed by Sleeman in the 1860s

4.   Guelph Steam Brewery: Operated by a John Caroll, this is the sum total of info I can currently access

5.   Richard McElliget: The same as noted above. He did live on Manchester Street in 1871

6.   Thomas Pallister: although listed as a brewer, Pallister is best known for running Pallister’s later the Commercial Hotel. He ran this from at least 1867 into the late 1870s early 1880s.

7.   Thomas Steele: Like others, although listed as a brewer, the directory entry also states his home is on Waterloo Road, near the brewery. This is also the location of the Sleeman Brewery during the 1867-1873 period. A check of Sleeman employees definitely confirms him to be an employee during both the 1870s and a brewer in the Ale Brewery at Sleeman’s in the 1880s.

This is not to ignore companies who failed in the 1930s. These include the Jockey Club Brewery (1933-1938) and Ace High Brewery (1938-1939) – located on the premises of the Spring Bank Brewery Company on Edinburgh. They have their own chapter later on in this book.

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Samuel Carter (1860 – 1944) arrived in Guelph in 1882 after spending about a year-and-a-half in Philadelphia. He had been born in Ruddington in Nottinghamshire, England, a village where the main industry was hosiery. After a brief time boarding in a hotel, he settled on a cottage on 60 Manitoba Street in St. Patrick’s Ward joining forces with a partner whose name may have been Greenside or Grenside. This stone building was to act as a small-scale hosiery knitting mill from 1883 until around 1894/95. This was the start of what was to become known as the Royal Knitting Company.
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