Background: Drovers


Background: Drovers

1878 Leslieville map
Leslieville, 1878. The area from the Don River to Heward Street was virtually all cattle sheds, ranches and abattoirs. The Clarkes, Blongs and Morses were prominent families of wholesale and retail butchers.

Early Ontario had appalling roads. It was difficult to move produce and meat from place to place by road and even harder to keep it fresh. Meat spoiled quickly in the heat and death from food poisoning was common. Because Leslieville was close to Toronto and had one of the few relatively good roads, as well as an alternate delivery route by water, it became a place to fatten cattle and pigs for sale at the St. Lawrence Market (also right on the water). Meat was safe only if it was consumed near to where it was slaughtered and processed. Drovers herded cattle along the roads leading into Toronto from the east. All those roads funneled down through Leslieville where there were broad fields in which cattle could be fattened. The grasses growing on the marshy meadows along Ashbridges Bay were rich, nutritious and cheap. As well, canny distillers and brewers used the by-products (including the mash) from their businesses to feed cattle. (It is said that Gooderham and Worts’s cattle were very happy beasts – until the inevitable.)

Most of Leslieville was outside the City of Toronto until 1884 and was not subject to City taxation or by-law enforcement.  This allowed butchers to operate piggeries and slaughterhouses free from complaints about noise and stench.  Butchers were not welcome in downtown areas. Their cow-houses and piggeries created what was then termed “an intolerable nuisance”. Even the smell was thought to cause disease: “The stench arising from them is exceedingly unhealthy.”[1] The stench was not wanted; the food was. Pork was a key element in the diet of most Torontonians. Pigs could eat virtually anything and required relatively little space, making pork cheap.  As well pork could be preserved as bacon and ham and kept for a period without refrigeration. From early on, pork exports were important. Canadian ham and bacon became popular in England, being reasonably priced and of high quality.


Pork was the only meat that many people could afford both here and in the “Home Country”. Here is an 1845 advertisement.

CHARLES ROBERTSON. Market Square, Toronto, April 14, 1845


Leslieville’s butchers were proud of their trade and their good name. Butchers served long apprentices. Boys followed in their father’s footsteps, but there were women butchers and meat cutters as well. A Mrs. Swift was the tenant of the Leslie General store in the 1890’s. It was now her butcher shop.   Leslieville butchers built their good name over generations so that people were confident in the safety of their products.  The families of butchers often intermarried and there was a real camaraderie between them as well as healthy competition.


One of the first butchers in the East End was Cubitt Sparkhall of Norfolk, England, who came to Canada as a baby in the Gooderham Worts family emigration. (His mother was Mary Worts.) In 1839 he started as a butcher with a stall in the St. Lawrence Market. In 1845 he bought a farm on Logan’s Lane. In 1870, he retired from the retail trade to focus on the wholesale trade. Cubitt Sparkhall died December 29, 1886, and is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Sparkhall Avenue in Riverdale is named after this family.

19111230 CDNCOUR Vol. XI, No.5 Butchers St. Lawrence Market - Copy
Butchers St. Lawrence Market – Canadian Courier, Vol. XI, No. 5, Dec. 30, 1911

The Holland family are one of the most interesting families in Leslieville. They came to Canada from Ireland as an extended family before the Potato Famine, arriving in 1843. Later other members of this large family came to Canada to escape the Potato Famine and its aftermath. The Hollands were skilled craft butchers. They settled on a park lot, in George Leslie’s newly-opened subdivision north of Kingston Road. Many Leslieville butchers became successful, probably because of their skills as butchers, but also because of the support they could lend each other and their location close to the Toronto markets on the Kingston Road and near the railway.

Leslieville eventually had at least five Terrance Hollands, all butchers. The Hollands, like many others, cured pork bellies and smoked hams out of their home at first. They then built a wooden slaughterhouse or abattoir and in time a larger brick building. The Hollands operated a piggery on the site of the present Leslie Street Junior Public School and lived near their workplace, as was common at the time. The waste from their abattoir went into Hastings Creek, the small brook that flowed across that part of Leslieville. Neighbors began to voice concern about water pollution and blamed the Hollands and other butchers.

1878 City of Toronto Directory Butchers1
1878 City of Toronto Directory

1878 City of Toronto Directory Butchers2

The Hollands were not alone. There were many small slaughterhouses in Leslieville and soon the abattoirs became bigger. By the 1850s the scale of production began to increase because of Toronto’s growing population and the coming of the railway. In the early nineteenth century most meat came from farmers who slaughtered their own beasts and from village butchers. From the early days of the pioneers, farmers had fattened their hogs up on corn in the summer and butchered them in the fall. At first these farmers, like the Ashbridges, slaughtered pigs only for their own use. Then, with increasing prosperity, they sold what was left over to local butchers, like the Hollands, who cured the meat for the ever-expanding market. Small stockyards and packing houses were scattered through Leslieville. In the mid-1800s Toronto’s wealth rested firmly on the produce of the countryside around it.

St Lawrence Market (2)

In 1880 there were eight families of butchers in Leslieville. Many, though not all, were Irish Catholics like the Hollands, the Gallaghers and the Nolans. Butchers in the nineteenth century did not have just a shop. They had everything they needed to make bacon, ham, sausages and pork chops, along with lard. The butcher would have a sausage machine, horses, delivery wagons, stables, a slaughter house and a piggery, ideally near to a main road and a railway depot.

Cow byres1
Gooderham and Worts Cow Byres (barns) at the mouth of the Don where the Sunlight Soap factory and car dealerships are today. This was essentially a feed lot operation with thousands of cattle fed on whiskey mash piped east across the Don from the Gooderham Worts distillery.

Gooderham and Worts Cow Byres (barns) at the mouth of the Don where the Sunlight Soap factory and car dealerships are today. This was essentially a feed lot operation with thousands of cattle fed on whiskey mash piped east across the Don from the Gooderham Worts distillery.The East End or “Over the Don” eventually filled with stockyards and cow barns on a larger and larger scale. These stockyards were on the lands south of what is now Queen Street to Eastern Avenue and from Pape Avenue all the way to the Don River. Because of the marsh’s reputation for disease and its clouds of mosquitoes, land near it was not desirable for housing. However, its proximity to good rail connections and the Kingston Road, as well as to grass and mash, made it ideal for livestock. The Gooderhams and others brought in cattle, sheep, and pigs and penned them on the flats. Here the livestock were fed and fattened for sale to Toronto’s butchers. Gooderham and Worts  alone fed over six thousand cattle at a time. They pumped the mash from the distillery across the Don to the cattle barns that stood where the Lever Bros. soap factory and a new luxury car dealership stand today.

Blong (2)

Some butchers had larger operations like Eduard Blong’s. The Blongs were Protestant Irish of Huguenot descent. Eduard Blong raised and butchered cattle both for the Canadian market and the British markets.  He owned a large farm on the south side of Queen Street where the Woodgreen Community Centre and Church are now. This will soon be a condominium complex that includes the Red Door Shelter and the façade of the oldest pharmacy in the area.  Blong’s farm, like the Gooderham Worts operation, was essentially what we would call a “feed lot today. He, like most Leslieville butchers, had a stall in St. Lawrence Market. Edward and Henry Blong controlled most of the pastureland south of Queen Street on Ashbridge’s Marsh.

George Morse is remembered in the naming of Morse Street. He was another man who raised cattle in Leslieville. He also got rich off the by-products of the slaughterhouse. In 1878 George Morse sold the Morse Soap Works to Morrison and Taylor. Morse then went back into the feedlot business, this time shipping meat to “The Old Country”.


In 1854 William Davies (nicknamed “Piggy Davies”) set up one of Toronto’s earliest packing houses on Front Street. In 1861 he opened his first meat processing operation at the old St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto. By then the Grand Trunk Railway was complete. This railway and the whole rail network made it much easier to bring cattle and pigs to market and to ship the butcher’s products to consumers. Toronto became a major rail hub. This spurred economic growth by providing quick and easy access to markets. In the 1860s, with the American Civil War, there was a huge demand for pork to feed the Union Army. George Morse and others began shipping meat to the U.S.

Many village butchers became wholesale butchers, moving into the meatpacking business. They produced hams, bacon and other products for shipment across Canada and for export, particularly for the American market and the United Kingdom. The British bacon market was lucrative. The British liked the lean Canadian bacon. Leslieville butchers slaughtered the hogs, dressed the carcasses and cured the pork. They packed the pork in barrels filled with brine for shipping across the Atlantic. By-products of the slaughterhouse included hides (used to make leather), lard (used in cooking and to make soap), bones and blood (ground into bone meal, and blood meal), etc.

Butcher2William Harris, an enterprising young butcher, arrived in Leslieville from England in 1870. He began making sausage and sausage cases in the Pape/Queen area. He probably completed his apprenticeship as a butcher while working for the William Davies Company between 1870 and 1872.  William incorporated the Harris Bros. business while still working for William Davies, even though he was not yet a qualified butcher.  While working for Davies he found that local livestock dealers like the Blongs and local butchers did not use every part of an animal’s carcass. He moved up on Pape’s Lane (Pape Avenue) to north of Gerrard where he opened a rendering plant using “every part of the pig except the oink”.  It is also reported that William’s initial clientele may have been former clients of William Davies. Later he moved his plant to Danforth and Coxwell, where his rendering business (known as the “glue factory”) became a major employer on the Danforth. A number of years later his firm became one of the founding members of Canada Packers.  A small family concern grew by exploiting a niche market and eventually became a giant, far from its craft butcher roots.

On September 22, 1900, the William Harris glue factory burned to the ground. The three-story brick building was 125 feet long and 60 feet wide (about 38 by 18 meters). Since it was outside the city limits (and city taxes), Harris’ own private fire brigade was left to fight the blaze alone – unsuccessfully. The fire threw 40 men out of work. But Harris moved his business to the newly-created landfill at the foot of the Don River and later to the Strachan Avenue area. In 1901 William Harris experimented in prepared dressed beef and shipping it to Britain on consignment. He had the cattle slaughtered at his abattoir and the chilled meat put in special refrigerator rail cars. It was sent express to Saint John, New Brunswick, where it was put on a refrigerator ship bound for England. The Harris home, Cranfield House, on Pape Avenue still stands.

[1] Globe, April 2, 1867

[2] Globe, June 3, 1845

Published by Leslieville Historical Society

Welcome to the Leslieville Historical Society's website. Please feel free to join us, to ask questions, to attend walking tours and other events, and to celebrate Leslieville's past while creating our future. Guy Anderson, President, Leslieville Historical Society and Joanne Doucette, local historian and webmaster.

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