January 23, 2017

The Furnace Room Brewery is keen to be an integral part of the community we operate in, and in that context, we contacted local historian John McDonald to learn about the history of brewing in Halton Hills. Our thanks to John who provided us with the sketch below, taken from his book “Halton Sketches Revisited”.

See the details about the book and John here: http://haltonsketchespublishing.com/

In the 1800’s, the most celebrated brewery in Halton County was Brain’s Brewery, owned and operated by the Brain family near Hornby. As you can see from the photo, it was an impressive enterprise with a capacity of 5,000 barrels a year. Hops were grown in the area, and in 1877, there were 10 men and 40 horses at the brewery. In those days, beer was sold only in big wooden barrels, and carted to pubs by a heavy horse drawn wagon, and was an essential part of the local community cultural and economic fabric along with flourmills, sawmills

The brewery closed down in 1916 when Ontario went under prohibition, and it never re-opened after the 1927 repeal. To our knowledge, beer has not been professionaly brewed in Halton Hills since, but just over 100 years later, the Furnace Room Brewery is proud to revive the beer brewing tradition in Halton Hills.

The beer available at Brain’s Brewery was unlike the beer sold today.  John Brain originally made the beer with a high alcohol content, but reluctantly reduced this when the clientele complained.  The beer in those days could be kept in an open pail in the cellar for weeks without going flat.

The significance of the hotelier in the history of the Halton area is great when one considers all the hotels, taverns and half-way houses which existed in and around the villages at one time.  It is said that along the 37 kilometres of Trafalgar Road between Oakville and Ballinafad, 21 hotels existed.

Few records remain of any breweries serving such a large number of thriving businesses.  A brewery under the name Brinkershoff was located near the CNR bridge on what is now Main Street North in Georgetown, but apparently had a short life.

The most celebrated brewery in the County was located a kilometre east of Hornby on the Ninth Line a little north of Steeles Avenue and was known as Brain’s Brewery.

John Brain was the son of an English farmer and part-time brewer. He left England in 1823 and went to Pennsylvania for three years.  He met and married Kathryn Hand Foster in Philadelphia and eventually moved to and settled on Lot 2, Concession 9, Esquesing Township.  Here he and his family cleared the land for farming and for a short time operated a shingle business.

The Brain Brewery resulted from requests of neighbours who knew of John Brain’s brewing skills from ‘the old country’.  The demand grew and by 1832 Brain had built a brewery on the farm site. The first building was made of logs and could handle 300 bushels of grain per year.  By 1834 a new brick brewery could make 5,000 barrels of beer a year.

A nearby pond was the source of ice for cooling the beer during the warm months.  Stories have been handed down about winter days when ice-cutting was under-way on the pond and several pails of beer accompanied the workers. More than once someone fell through an opening in the ice and would be taken back to the boiler room to dry out.

The brewery had its own cooper who made barrels and kegs which would e hauled by a team of horses to hotels in Acton, Georgetown, Milton, Norval, Glen Williams, Oakville and several other settlements outside the county.

In 1877 there were 10 men and 40 horses at the Brewery.  Hops were abundant in nearby Gwen Williams, Georgetown and Hornby.

Beer was sold direct from the brewery: there were no Brewers’ Retail stores in those days.  It was not uncommon for a group of fellows to pool money for a keg or barrel and send someone with a team to Brain’s Brewery.  Once such a team was returning from the brewery and coming up the Hungary Hollow hill when the tailgate on the wagon broke open and the full barrels cascaded into the valley.

In 1916 when the entire province went under prohibition the brewery closed down and never re-opened after the 1927 repeal.

The brewery was eventually sold to Messrs. Kemp and Chisholm who ran the business under the Brain name.  Throughout its existence the brewery was always a favourite target for local Temperance groups.

The Brain family was very active in the building of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church nearby.  Even though John Brain was a Congregationalist of deep religious convictions, he joined with his neighbours in hewing trees and sawing logs to form the frame work of the church.

All of John Brain’s 10 children were baptised and confirmed at St. Stephen’s and attended services faithfully all their lives.  Reverend Canon William J. Brain, a descendent of John Brain, was the founder and first rector of St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto.  He served there from 1907 until his death in 1931.  A window over the alter was dedicated to his memory in 1945.

Bill Brain, a great-grandson of the original settler and brewer John Brain, was the last of the family to make his home in the Hornby area.  He moved to a farm near Rockwood in 1968.


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