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Gilbey’s Distillery

May 25, 2020 (0) comment

W.A. Gilbey (Canada) Limited opened in the summer of 1933 on a site located directly west of New Toronto Street off Kipling Avenue. The original plant was built on the 3-acre site in 1933 at a cost of $64,000 and employed approximately 50 residents of New Toronto. In 1936, an addition was built at the cost of $35,000 to accommodate increasing business. The 1963 booklet, New Toronto & New Toronto Hydro: Celebrating Our Golden Jubilee, describes the history as follows:

“No story about Gilbey’s in Canada would be complete without some reference to the early years of W.A. Gilbey Limited of England, which started as a partnership in 1857, more than 100 years ago. It is still managed by descendants of the original partners.

The initials “W & A” in the Gilbey Company name stand for the brothers Walter and Alfred Gilbey, who upon returning from the Crimean War in 1856, and after consulting their eldest brother Henry, decided to open a retail wine business. Walter was 26 and Alfred 24. They took into partnership with them Henry Gold and later Charles Gold, both of whom married Gilbey sisters. Next to join the firm were Henry and James Blyth, two sons of the older Gilbey sister, Caroline.

In 1865 the older Gilbey brother Henry, a veteran of 36, joined his younger brothers, also a cousin, Henry Grinling. Thus by 1866, the partnership consisted of eight men – three Gilbeys, two Golds, two Blyths and one Grinling. Today, almost 100 years later, these names continue to make up the board. The Gilbey business flourished under this young aggressive leadership and began to cross international boundaries.

HOW THE CANADIAN OPERATION STARTED (continued from the 1963 Golden Jubilee book)

“Although W & A Gilbey (Canada) Limited was not formed until 1931, the English firm had been represented in Canada by a London-trained man named Charles Preston Douglas, who had traveled for Gilbey’s in West Africa and the West Indies. He married a Canadian girl and had a son Robert S. Douglas who is general sales manager of the Canadian company today.

Known generally as “CP”, it was Charles Douglas who first suggested that a distillery be built in Canada by Gilbey’s.

“CP” was helped in the planning of the New Toronto distillery by 24 year old Crosbie Hucks, who now heads Gilbey operations in Australia. The distillery was completed in late summer of 1933, and on September 8th the first brew was made. Three days later, the first spirits were produced.


Less than 6 months after the New Toronto plant went into operation, C.P. Douglas died suddenly. To replace him a young London-trained man, Thomas G. Fogden, who had traveled for Gilbey’s, was appointed Canadian Sales manager. Following a visit to the New Toronto plant in 1934, Alex Gould wrote of his visit that he and Sir Derek Gilbey found “an excellent team, full of enthusiasm”. Crosbie Hucks was distiller, John S. Napier (now plant manager) was assistant distiller, R.S. Douglas (now general sales manager) completed the team. Norman Penny, the present assistant plant manager, joined the Canadian Company in 1937, after two years of training in London.


In 1933 the New Toronto plant produced Gilbey’s London Dry Gin only and handled distribution for Gilbey’s Spey Royal Scotch. Now they produce and market over fifty items on the Canadian market.

Smirnoff Vodka outsells all others, as does Harvey’s fine line of imported Spanish Sherry. Originating in the New Toronto plant, Gilbey’s Black Velvet is the most famous of five Canadian Whiskies made here; the others are Very Best, Golden Velvet, Old Gold and Special Old. The recently introduced line of Governor General Rums are quickly gaining nation wide popularity. Gilbey products vary from Italian Vermouth to excellent French table wines and champagnes. The Gilbey line of domestic liqueur gins are unequalled in sales anywhere. Gilbey’s Gin is the largest selling gin in Canada.”

The former Gilbey site was eventually sold to the Board of Education for the possible future expansion of Lakeshore Collegiate Institute. There is currently a proposal before the Economic Development and Parks Committee for a joint venture between the Toronto District School Board and the Lakeshore Lions Arena to develop the site into a four-pad ice arena, which includes a redevelopment of Don Russell Memorial Park. The June 29th, 2004 edition of The Star reports:

“The proposed arena, which the Lions hope would be ready by September 2006, would be in the same Kipling and Lake Shore area, but about half a kilometre northeast of the existing arena, and more than twice the size. It would have four rinks instead of one and be built on about four hectares of vacant property that used to be home to the former Gilbey Distillery, property now owned by the Toronto District School Board. Nothing has been set in stone. The project is contingent on the city and school board’s agreement and so far they’ve only agreed in principle to go along with the plan.”

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