When distilleries, taverns ruled Chippawa

William Russell residence and brewery

In a few days’ time, we will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday, March 17th. I am sure that more than a few of us will raise a glass to the occasion at one of our many local establishments. In the past, our ancestors may have celebrated in much the same fashion since we have such a rich history of breweries, distilleries and taverns in Niagara.

When we think of Chippawa, the famous battle in 1814 might be the first thing that comes to mind. For others, it might be as the home of famed Canadian hero, Laura Secord. Chippawa also has another claim to fame that might not be as well-known. According to the 1846 Smith’s Canadian Gazetteer, Chippawa once boasted fourteen saloons or taverns, two distilleries, and three breweries!

One might wonder why there were so many taverns and inns in the area. Chippawa was one of the earliest communities founded in the province dating back to 1791, and it was also the southern point of the portage around Niagara Falls. Its location on the Welland River made it a busy location for steamer trips between Chippawa and Buffalo, as well as a prominent location on the stage coach routes. Many thirsty travellers stopped here and were in need of both sustenance and lodging. Taverns such as the Steamboat and the National were popular with locals and travellers alike. The Emerald was also popular, in part because it was owned and operated by Captain Young, who was also captain of a steamer called Emerald which was built in Chippawa.

In the early 1850s, Chippawa opened its first distillery, the Chippawa Distillery. The distillery was built on the north side of Main Street and was built at a cost of about $50,000. At its peak, it employed 35 men and produced about 1200 gallons of whiskey per day. Its most popular brew was a “wicked potion” named Monongahela (which means falling or unstable river banks). I am sure that it was enjoyed by many, as the price of whiskey was even cheaper than kerosene!

During this same time period, two breweries were among the Niagara Falls’ largest industries. The largest of these, located in Drummondville, was called Drummondville Brewery. It was established in 1844 by Mr. William Russell.  Located on Ferry Street almost directly across from Stamford Township Hall, the brewery was located behind his residence. A natural spring at the back of the property supplied plentiful spring water that was used to produce 20,000 barrels of high quality beer each year. Russell’s Brewery was the village’s main source of employment for many years. In 1886, the brewery was sold to Mr. H. Ferguson of Niagara Falls, New York. Unfortunately, shortly after it changed hands, the brewery burned in one of Drummondville’s most spectacular fires, and was never rebuilt.

A few other breweries of note were also located in the Niagara area. Stamford Spring Brewery was established in 1836 by John Sleeman (yes, that Sleeman) on Four Mile Creek in St. Davids. This brewery would ultimately be used to bottle spring water for the Spring Water Bottling Works. St. Catharines also had a celebrated brewery, the Taylor and Bate Brewery Limited.  Founded in 1834 in the valley of the Twelve Mile Creek, the brewery ceased operation in the 1930s after more than a century in business.

It is indeed fascinating to live in an area with such a rich and diverse history. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of Niagara Falls, please visit our website at my.nflibrary.ca. History buffs can also check out the Library’s “Throwback Thursdays” posts on Facebook for a weekly trip down memory lane.

Cathy Roy is the Local History Librarian

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