Points of Interest > William Davies Co. Pork Packing Plant

William Davies was born in England and apprenticed to a provisioner. In 1854 he came to Canada and tried farming, but he decided that he liked provisioning better and set up a stall in the St. Lawrence Market, where he cured hams and bacon. He soon realized that Canadian pork was of high quality and would sell well in England. “I think you will say that the quality of the meat I send is as good as you ever saw,” he wrote home to his brother in 1860. He soon opened a two-storey plant for packing pork at Front and Frederick; by 1875, he had bought the building. Trade increased rapidly; before long, he was shipping millions of pounds of pork cured in salt annually. Another product he developed was peameal bacon, which has won a place on the breakfast table around the world.

In 1879 he built a new plant on the south side of Front at the Don River. His building at Front and Frederick was later taken over by the J. & J. Safeworks, who incorporated it into their operations. It still stands there today in greatly modified state. At the new Don River site, Davies built a huge ice house to keep ice taken from the Don River and the harbour. He was first in Canada to install an artificial refrigeration unit in 1891. At this new plant, Davies began slaughtering and processing hogs. He developed an export market for his cured meats by shipping them to his brother in England; this side of the business continued to grow. He built the first continuous hog-slaughtering facility in Canada. At one time, William Davies Co. was the largest pork packer in Canada.

Early Industry at Mouth of Don River.  Detail from Wadsworth and Unwin’s Map of the City of Toronto, Toronto: City Engineer’s Office, 1878, courtesy of the University of Toronto Map Library.

In 1891 Joseph Flavelle joined the firm and the company was reorganized as the William Davies Company Limited with Flavelle in charge. The company flourished and the export trade was actively pursued. The company established a chain of retail meat and grocery stores—another Canadian first. It was particularly successful during World War I. In 1920, a severe recession in the export trade caused all packing houses to suffer losses. In 1927, J. Stanley McLean, president of Harris Abattoir Co., arranged a merger with William Davies Co., Canada Packing Co. and Gunns Ltd. to create Canada Packers. The William Davies plant on Front Street was sold and most of it was demolished. (In the 1990s the remaining buildings were demolished in preparation for the Ataratiri project). The business was relocated to the two Harris abattoirs in West Toronto. Canada Packers Ltd., one of Canada’s largest companies, was one of the enterprises that shaped Toronto into the commercial centre of Canada. The millions of pigs that passed through Canada Packers’ doors gave Toronto the epithet “Hogtown.”

Text: Lost Rivers


Archives of Ontario, Fonds C 262, Canada Packers Fonds.

Toronto Historical Association. A Glimpse of Toronto's history: Opportunities for the Commemoration of Lost Historic Sites (Toronto: Toronto Historical Association and the Maps Project, City of Toronto Urban Development Services, 2002), MPLS # 188.

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