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December 13th, 2017
The Making of Hogtown –

The Making of Hogtown –Toronto's Nickname



Bringing Home the (Peameal) Bacon

If you go to the new Corktown Common park in the West Don Lands (Lower River Street and Bayview), at the pavilion on the highest point of land, you will see a plaque to William Davies Co., meat packers. This is the very spot where the largest meat packing plant in the British Empire formerly stood. This is where “Hogtown” got its name..


In the mid-1800s, Toronto, the fast-growing colonial capital, was a magnet for young,ambitious British immigrants. William Davies, a 23-year old grocer, came to Canada with his wife and child in 1854. Soon he took a stall in St. Lawrence Market where he sold groceries and meats that he cured on site. There he saw the richness of the Ontario countryside passing through the Market daily.

He became convinced of an opportunity to specialize in cured, preserved meats. In 1857 he opened William Davies & Company, and by 1861 had built Canada’s first specialized meat packing plant one block west of the Market at Front and Frederick.This building was later taken over by J & J Safeworks – See Beaches Living Guide Fall/Winter 2014 issue.

An Immigrant’s Success Story

Davies soon found a market back home in England for his goods. By 1860, six short years after arriving in Toronto, he had expanded his packing business to a wholesale operation, shipping high-quality sides of cured pork to England. In 1874 he moved operations to the mouth of the Don River, where he could maintain better quality controls by slaughtering livestock on site before curing and packing the meat for shipping. Today this is the site of one of the gems of Toronto’s waterfront renewal, Corktown Common.

William Davies adopted a meat-preserving practice he learned from British Wiltshire butchers. It was a method for preserving the quality of less heavily cured meats for the local markets. His plant specialized in curing pork loins lightly, then rolling them in crushed yellow pea meal before sending them to market. As time went on, he replaced the pea meal with cheaper corn meal, but the name “peameal bacon” stayed with the product until today.

Leaner than the common smoked bacons made from pork belly, peameal bacon has become a signature Canadian export – in the U.S. it’s known as “Canadian bacon”. When you go to St. Lawrence market and buy a peameal bacon sandwich, served on soft Kaiser roll with condiments, you’re tasting a unique Toronto tradition, salty and succulent. Peameal bacon sandwiches are this city’s gift to handheld cuisine – like Montreal smoked meat and Philadelphia cheese steaks, in Toronto, we have peameal bacon.Its origin goes back to William Davies’ stall at St. Lawrence Market, a centuryand- a-half ago.

The Davies operation expanded and improved with each passing year – in 1891, 30 years since the Davies and Co. first opened on Front Street, the plant on the Lower Don was the first in Canada to install artificial refrigeration. By 1900 half-a-million hogs a year were going through the plant. It claimed to be the largest meat packing operation in the British Empire. This plant helped give Toronto its nickname “Hogtown”.

Millionaires in the Making

The Davies pork packing operation was also creating unimagined wealth. In 1891 William Davies brought in a young partner and business manager name Joseph Flavelle, and it was Flavelle who took the company to world-class status. By 1900 investors in the firm were making 100% returns on their capital investment in their yearly dividend cheques! Davies and Flavelle were millionaires and among Canada’s wealthiest citizens.

By 1909 Flavelle had taken firm control of the company, and Davies became a silent partner. During World War I, Flavelle sold tinned pork to the Canadian military, but he also took on a series of civic commitments to the war effort, including chairing the Imperial Munitions Board. He eventually lost control of William Davies & Company, and it was amalgamated into Canadian Packers Ltd. William Davies died in 1921 at age 90, but his business skill launched the meat industry in Hogtown, and gave Toronto its signature peameal bacon sandwich.

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