William_Davies_Company

William Davies Company

William Davies Company was a pork processing and packing company in Toronto, Canada. At one time, it was the largest pork packer both in Canada and the British Empire. One of Toronto's longstanding nicknames, "Hogtown", is attributable to the millions of pigs processed annually by the William Davies Company.

Founding of the company

William Davies, born in 1831 in Wallingford, England, emigrated to Canada in 1854, and soon thereafter set up a stall in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, where he sold cured hams and bacon. Realizing that there was an opportunity to export Canadian pork products to England, he wrote to his brother in 1860 stating: "I think you will say that the quality of the meat I send is as good as you ever saw."

Davies rented a facility at Front and Frederick Streets, a few blocks east of St. Lawrence Market, and was able to purchase and expand the plant in 1875. Soon he was shipping millions of pounds of pork cured in salt annually. The William Davies building at 145 Front Street East, later occupied by the J. & J. Safeworks, still stands today.

Business success

In 1879, William Davies constructed a new facility further to the east, on the south side of Front Street at the Don River, which soon became the second largest pork processing plant on the continent. In addition to curing pork for export, he began slaughtering and processing hogs, and his business became the first continuous/moving rail hog-slaughtering facility in Canada. In 1891, the new plant was the first in Canada to feature an artificial refrigeration unit.

In many ways, Davies was responsible for establishing the modern Canadian pork industry. His efforts led to the establishment of the first Canadian Board of Agriculture, through which producers, processors and government officials could work together to expand the Canadian livestock industry.

As Davies had predicted in the 1850s, the firm's products did extremely well in the British market, and commanded higher prices that the offerings of American competitors due to the perception that they were of higher quality. By the 1890s, it was supplying over half of the entire Canadian bacon trade with Britain. The company's agent in Britain, John Wheeler Bennett, was known as the "Bismarck of the bacon trade".

The company was the first Canadian food producer to establish its own chain of retail meat and grocery stores. By the 1880s, it operated 84 retail outlets across Ontario.

In 1891, the business was reorganized as the William Davies Company Limited. By mid-1917, the majority of the shares were held by Sir Joseph Flavelle, a prominent Toronto businessman.

The company was particularly successful during the First World War. As a result of articles in the Canadian press suggesting that meat-packing plants were making excessive profits from the domestic market in wartime, the entire pork industry was the focus of much public outcry, including charges of excess profits and fraudulent meat curing practices. The federal government established a Royal Commission by Order-in-Council in July 1917 to investigate both the William Davies Company and Matthews-Blackwell Company Limited (the firms later referred to in the commission's report as "the principal dealers in Canadian hog products in the English market"). In November 1917, after a series of hearings, the commission cleared the two companies of any wrongdoing, noting that any exceptionally high profits during the war were subject to the federal government's war taxes.

Establishment of Canada Packers

A downturn in the pork export trade in the 1920s led to a merger between William Davies Company, Gunns Limited and Harris Abattoir Co. (in which William Davies Company held a 40% share) in 1927. William Davies Company was the foremost among the merging firms. The newly-merged entity was named Canada Packers, and constituted Canada's largest meat processing and packing company. Eventually, Canada Packers relocated to the Harris Abattoir facilities in west Toronto, and the older William Davies plants on Front Street were sold.

Canada Packers later merged in 1991 with Maple Leaf Mills, a producer of flour-based foods, forming Maple Leaf Foods.

Legacy

William Davies died in 1921, after injuries sustained by being butted by a goat. Once one of Canada's largest food producers, the William Davies Company not only graced its home city with the "Hogtown" nickname (or epithet), but William Davies also introduced peameal bacon, which continues to be popular in Canada. Today, peameal bacon sandwiches are considered a "signature snack" at St. Lawrence Market, the same market where William Davies got his start selling pork back in 1854.

Although the first William Davies plant still stands on Front Street in Toronto (albeit largely modified since its days as a pork curing facility), the last of the William Davies buildings by the Don River were demolished in the early 1990s in anticipation of the Ataratiri redevelopment project. Although Ataratiri never proceeded, the lands are currently being planned for redevelopment within the West Don Lands precinct of Toronto's waterfront.

External links

  • Wm. Davies Co., Industries of Canada: Historical and Commercial Sketches of Toronto and Environs, M.G. Bixby & Co., 1866. (Reproduced by Our Roots • Nos Racines: Canada's Local Histories Online).
  • William Davies, Dictionary of Canadian Biographies, Library and Archives Canada
  • Official site of Maple Leaf Foods, the successor firm to the William Davies Company

References

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