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Business and History - O'Keefe Brewing Company Limited

O'Keefe Brewing Company Limited

This page was reproduced with permission from the Canadian Manufactures Association. The Canadian Manufacturers Association, renamed Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, holds the Copyright for the text and images.

This information came from Industry '67 Centennial Perspective, published by The Canadian Manufacturers' Association in May 1967. The original document is accessible through Western Libraries Shared Catalogue.


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Eugene O'Keefe, founder of O'Keefe Brewing Company, grew up in muddy York, to which his family had emigrated from Ireland in 1832 when the boy was five. At 19 he was a junior accountant with the Toronto Savings Bank.

O'Keefe's association with brewing grew out of his friendship with the senior partner of the Hannath & Hart Brewery. He learned from Hannath some of the intricacies of the art of brewing, and when his friend elected to sell out in 1862, O'Keefe raised the necessary capital and bought the business. In the same year he formed a partnership with George M. Hawke and Patrick Cosgrave, but within two years Hawke was dead and Cosgrave had left to found his own brewery. From that time the business was carried on as O'Keefe and Company. It was the first to produce lager beer in Canada along with the traditional ale and porter.

O'Keefe Brewing Company Ltd. in OttawaAdditions to the original Hannath & Hart Brewery, which dated from 1840, were made in 1872, 1882 and 1889. In 1891 the company was incorporated as O'Keefe Brewing Company Limited and a year later the old brewery was torn down and a new one built which included a malthouse. The malthouse disappeared in 1911 to make way for still another new brewery - this one with an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels a year.

Eugene O'Keefe was one of the first brewers to use motor trucks for beer delivery, the first to build a mechanically refrigerated store-house for beer and one of the first to advertise extensively.

In 1911 O'Keefe began to relinquish control, and by the time of his death in 1913 he had sold a 60 per cent interest to Widner Hawke, his former partner's son, and 40 per cent to Sir Henry Pellat. Widner Hawke died within months of U Keefe, and his executors eventually sold his hares to a holding company, O'Keefe Limited, controlled by Pellat, Sir William Mulock and Charles Miller.

The last-named partner is forever famous for his will. The "Miller Will" was created in jest, but Miller died suddenly before he could revoke it It bequeathed a substantial number of O'Keefe shares to prominent prohibitionist clergy and also established what came to be known as the "Stork Derby", under which large sums were awarded to families competing to have the greatest number of children by a certain date.

With Prohibition's advent in 1916 O'Keefe began making stone ginger beer, but with repeal in 1926 brewing was resumed. When, in 1930, E. P. Taylor began putting together the elements w ich now make up Canadian Breweries Limited O'Keefe was one of the key units required, but it was not until 1934 that the purchase was completed. With the acquisition of O'Keefe, Canadian Breweries entered upon the expansion phase which has made it today the world's largest brewing organization, with properties in Canada, the United States, England, Ireland and the Middle East.

In 1956 O'Keefe Brewing Company Limited accepted the challenge of Toronto's Mayor Nathan Phillips that industry build a facility to attract important conventions to the city. The project eventually evolved into something much more significant - the $12.5 million O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts, generally regarded as one of the world's finest facilities for both theatre and conventions. The Centre opened on October 1, 1960.