William Davies was born in England and apprenticed to a provisioner. In 1854 he came to Canada and tried farming, but he decided that he liked provisioning better and set up a stall in the St. Lawrence Market, where he cured hams and bacon. He soon realized that Canadian pork was of high quality and would sell well in England. “I think you will say that the quality of the meat I send is as good as you ever saw,” he wrote home to his brother in 1860. He soon opened a two-storey plant for packing pork at Front and Frederick , which he rented at first, but by 1875, he had bought it. Trade increased rapidly; before long, he was shipping millions of pounds of pork cured in salt annually. Another product he developed was peameal bacon, which has won a place in breakfasts- meat around the world.
His building at Front and Frederick was later taken over by The J. & J. Safeworks who incorporated it into their operations; see Davies/Taylor Site. It still stands there today in greatly modified state.
In 1879 he built a new plant on the south side of Front at the Don River. He also built a huge ice house to keep ice taken from the Don River and the harbour. At his new plant, he began slaughtering and processing hogs. He was first in Canada to install an artificial refrigeration unit in 1891. He developed an export market for his cured meats by shipping them to his brother in England, and this side of the business continued to grow. He built the first continuous hog-slaughtering facility in Canada. At one time, William Davies Co. was the largest pork packer in Canada.
Early Industry at Mouth of Don River
In 1891 Joseph Flavelle joined the firm and the company was reorganized as the William Davies Company Limited with Flavelle in charge. The company flourished and the export trade was actively pursued. It established a chain of retail meat and grocery stores; another Canadian first. The company was particularly successful during World War I. In 1920 a severe recession in the export trade began and all packing houses suffered losses. In 1927, J. Stanley McLean, president of Harris Abattoir Co., arranged a merger with William Davies Co., Canada Packing Co. and Gunns Ltd. to create Canada Packers. The William Davies plant on Front Street was sold and most of it was demolished. (In the 1990s the remaining buildings were demolished in preparation for the Ataratiri project). The business was relocated to the two Harris abattoirs in West Toronto. Canada Packers Ltd., one of the biggest Canadian companies was one of the enterprises that shaped Toronto into the commercial centre of Canada. The millions of pigs that passed through Canada Packers’ doors gave Toronto landed the epithet “Hogtown.”
The information about this enterprise came from “A Glimpse of Toronto’s History,” MPLS # 188.