The city’s majority in the late 1800s was Irish. Many Irish settled in Toronto rather than New York, Philly and Boston. Roughly over 70% of those Irish were Protestant who carried to their new land the views of home. This meant those 30% Catholics had it much harder to succeed. But one Irish Catholic man named Eugene O’Keefe from the village of Bandon, County Cork succeeded and succeed he did. Eugene O’Keefe would arrive to Toronto in 1832. In 1861 he would buy the Victoria Brewery and be renamed O’Keefe Brewery Company of Toronto. Becoming one of Canada’s beer giants producing 500,000 thousand barrels of stout and ale per annum. His son would die and Eugene divested himself from his company selling his shares. In fact, hIs beer recipes are still being bottle to this day. O’Keefe lane is all that is left of his empire, stretching from Victoria Street and running north to Gerrard Street
In addition to his brewery empire, he was also a great philanthropist. He personally financed new Catholic churches in Toronto including in 1906 St. Monica’s Church on Broadway Avenue at Yonge, St. Stanislaus Kostka Church on Denison Avenue about Queen Street West, and personally financed the construction fo the St. Augustine’s Seminary off Kingston Road. Eugene O’Keefe was recognized in 1909 for his service to the Roman Catholic Church when he was appointed private chamberlain to Pope Saint Pius X.
In Brandon Steen’s captivating painting on a birch panel measuring 50” x 50” he captured Morrígan the Irish Wolf traversing the lane southwards from Gerrard along what is the site of the old brewery. Both Eugene’s likeness and signature can be found within the painting along with two cases of his beer.