The Cachet of Port Hope Whisky, Part I

Smith’s Canadian Gazetteer chronicled, in 1846, the industrial, commercial and agricultural development of what is now called Ontario at the mid-19th century. (Then the territory was known as Canada West).

In posts to come, fulfilling a promise made earlier this year, I will discuss the special reputation the whisky of Port Hope had despite the town’s bantam size, one that reached far beyond town boundaries.

Port Hope is about 70 miles east of Toronto on Lake Ontario and was then an active port as the name suggests. The Ganarska river flows through the town to the lake and provided water and power for the town’s various distilleries, breweries, tanneries.

An index of this fame was the annual exports of whisky in this period. As Smith’s Gazetteer details, a burg of only 1,200 people sent out 429 casks of whiskey in 1844 (see p. 150). This number is very small today but it was hardly small for the size of the town in question or the number of producing distilleries. In 1844 Port Hope had five distilleries, according to Smith’s.

Indeed Port Hope whisky enjoyed a reputation across the British colonies in North America and even in the old country.

What was special about this whisky from a tiny town that never came close to rivalling the importance of a Kingston, say, much less Toronto?  We address these questions in future posts, see Part II and Part III which continue the discussion.

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