• June 16, 2009 / 

    Gooderham and Worts, Distillery

    *** Lecture on “Gooderham and Worts: the Family, the Business, the Community” was held on February 28, 2012.  I delivered the lecture for the Riverdale Historical Society, in Toronto.  Selected images – click here ***

    I am a descendant of James Worts, who in 1831, traveled by ship with his eldest son (James Gooderham Worts) from England to ‘Muddy York’ (now Toronto, Canada). His goal was to erect a windmill on the shore of Lake Ontario. Having been a miller in England, this new windmill would provide the foundation for a new milling company that he and his brother-in-law, William Gooderham, would operate under the name of ‘Worts & Gooderham, Millers’.

    The mill was built by the following summer (1832), when William Gooderham arrived in York, as part of a group numbering 54 people. This group included Gooderham’s family, Worts’ family as well as eleven children whose parents had died during the voyage. According to family accounts, William Gooderham is said to have adopted all of these children, ‘in all but name’. It remains a mystery who these children were and if their descendants know of their connection to the Gooderham family.

    In 1834, with the milling business well established, Worts’ wife, Elizabeth, died in childbirth. Two weeks later, grief-stricken James Worts apparently drowned himself in the company well. There was no evidence that Worts had committed suicide, but this was the speculation at the time.  In some ways, it is hard to imagine how a man who had crossed the Atlantic to set up a new life for himself and his extended family would have deprived his children of the only parent they had left after his wife died, but that may be what happened.   The Canadian Correspondent, from Feb 22, 1834 stated. 

    “At York, on Tuesday last (i.e. Feb 18, 1834), Mr Wortz (sic), of the Windmill near the River Don, who was found drowned in his well. About a fortnight previous, he had lost an affectionate and available wife – which, it is supposed, had so preyed upon his mind as to cause temporary insanity.”

    In the face of this tragedy, William Gooderham stepped in to become the guardian of all the Worts children.

    In about 1837, Gooderham, his older sons, plus the eldest Worts child (James Gooderham Worts), realized that they could create a secondary business by using the bi-products of milling to make alcohol. It wasn’t long before the main focus of the business became distilling. In the mid-1840s, James Gooderham Worts was made a full partner in the newly created firm of ‘Gooderham and Worts, Distillers’. By late in the 19th century, G&W became the largest distillery in North America.

    ‘Booze in Old Town Toronto’

    To explore more about Gooderham and Worts Distillery, please see the online exhibit, called ‘Booze in Old Town Toronto’ – available through the Virtual Museum of Canada website – click here

    Gooderham and Worts Genealogy Website

    There is a new Gooderham-Worts genealogy website that has been created by some descendants of the Worts and Gooderham families.  If you would like to visit it, please click here.

    Moving the Charles H Gooderham House (Selby Hotel)

    At the Corner of Sherbourne and Selby Streets in downtown Toronto, William Gooderham’s son Charles Horace Gooderham lived in a stately house.  This house became the Selby Hotel, which operated until about 2014.  As part of a development plan, this house had to be moved about 100 feet closer to Sherbourne St, in order to make way for a 40+ storey apartment house. Moving a large Victorian house in no mean feat. I took photos of this complex move, and 52 pictures are provided here to help tell the story of this building as it begins its new incarnation.  Click here.