The Dale Estate

On September 12, 2012, the Ontario Heritage Trust, the City of Brampton and Friends of the Dale Estate unveiled a provincial plaque at Rose Theatre Brampton in Brampton, Ontario, to commemorate the Dale Estate.

The plaque reads as follows:


    The Dale Estate nurseries played an instrumental role in the development of Brampton, establishing its reputation as “The Flower Town of Canada.” The business began in 1863 with its founder Edward Dale selling vegetables from his garden and it soon expanded to include the cultivation of greenhouse roses. By the early 20th century, the Dale Estate employed a quarter of Brampton’s population and was among the largest greenhouse flower producers in the world. International success stemmed, in part, from the production of new varieties of roses and orchids, and from the famous “Autographed Rose” technique. The Dale Estate continued to prosper through the first half of the 20th century and its numerous greenhouses and great chimney became iconic features of the local community. In the 1960s, the Dale Estate was sold and merged with another local grower, becoming the Calvert-Dale Estates. Gradually, production slowed and the firm closed its doors in 1980.

Historical background

Humble beginnings: 1863-1900

The Dale Estate started humbly in Brampton in 1863 with its founder, Edward Dale, selling vegetables from his garden door to door. Within four years, he had built his first greenhouse – a wood-heated building.1 The business continued to grow, in large part due to its proximity to the Toronto market. The growth of the business reflected that of the Brampton area. When Dale began his business, the community had been growing steadily for several decades. Owing to the rich farmland of the Peel Plain, many early settlers found success in the wheat trade, and farmers, merchants and mechanics were attracted to the area. Brampton grew from a community of approximately 100 people in the 1830s to 550 in 1850. In 1856, the Grand Trunk Railway ran a line through what was then the Village of Brampton, and a train station was constructed. This railway line would play a vital role in the growth of the Dale Estate, as it provided access not only to Toronto, but to markets farther afield.

In the 1870s, Edward’s son, Harry Dale, convinced his father to provide some space for cultivating roses, though vegetables would continue to be an important part of the business for much of the rest of the century.2 Harry’s passion for flowers was the defining factor behind the expansion of the Dale Estate during the following years, especially after Edward retired in the 1880s. By 1885, the company was nationally renowned for its “Dale Rose,” a flower that was also known internationally as the “Canada Rose.” In 1891, Harry won the Best Rose prize at the New York Flower Show.3

The pace of growth increased in the 1890s. Between 1896 and 1900, the Dales expanded their greenhouse complex from almost 20,000 square metres (65,000 square feet) under glass across eight greenhouses to more than 45,000 square metres (150,000 square feet) under glass across 20 greenhouses.4 When Harry died in 1900, the company was thriving with 40 employees. Harry’s accomplishments were celebrated by his peers after his death. Florists from across Canada, the United States and even as far as the United Kingdom and Germany paid tribute to his life with memorial flowers.5

“Flower Town”: 1900-1961

After Harry’s death, the Dale Estate fell into trusteeship under Managing Director T.W. Duggan, Harry’s accountant, and William Algie, Harry’s son-in-law.6 Duggan was a prominent member of the Brampton community and served a term as mayor from 1912-13.7 Under Duggan, the company continued to expand rapidly. The estate became so renowned by the turn of the century that it received a visit from the Royal Family. The Duke and Duchess of York made a stop in Brampton in 1901 and were impressed by the size and beauty of the Dale roses.8 The Dale Estate was recognized as the largest greenhouse complex in Brampton in 1903 and employed 150 people by 1905.9

The Dale Estate developed new varieties of roses, such as the Canada Queen, Lady Canada, Lady Willingdon, Rosedale, Dorothy Dale and Sunbeam.10 It also produced formerly expensive and exotic flowers, such as orchids, at an affordable price. Orchids were introduced to the Dale Estate greenhouses in 1911 and by 1915 more than 60,000 were cultivated annually.11 At the start of the First World War, the Dale Estate was known as one of the largest greenhouse flower businesses in the world.12

During the 1920s, the Dale Estate’s output had risen to almost half of the Canadian total. It employed upwards of 350 people and sold 30 different varieties of flowers, including 18 types of award-winning roses.13 In 1920, the Dale Estate’s entries into the rose category at the Ontario Horticultural Exhibition all took first prize.14 At this time, the Dale Estate was one of many greenhouse businesses in Brampton, though it was by far the largest. By 1930, the Dale Estate was recognized as the premier flower dealer in Canada, the largest single employer in Brampton and the third largest greenhouse business in the world with over 14 hectares (35 acres) under glass.15 When Duggan retired in 1933, William Beatty, another of Harry Dale’s son-in-laws, assumed the management of the company.16

In order to heat the Dale Estate greenhouses, a large boiler complex was installed that included nearly 610 metres (2,000 feet) of underground tunnels, seven coal-fired boilers, many kilometres of heating pipes and a 91 metre-tall (300-foot) chimney.17 The Dale chimney quickly became the most prominent landmark in Brampton and the company whistle punctuated the start, middle and end of the town’s workday. The tunnels were also enjoyed by the locals, particularly children, who often used them to get to school during the cold winter months.18 A special spur line linked to the Canadian Pacific Railway was built to deliver coal to the complex in all seasons.19

The Dale Estate’s specialty continued to be the rose throughout this period. In 1934, Harry Algie, one of Harry Dale’s grandsons, introduced the Dale autographed rose. Selecting only the highest quality long-stemmed roses, handlers would use a device to perforate the word “Dale” into one of the rose’s leaves.20

Greenhouse tours became popular in the 1940s and 1950s, allowing the industry to benefit from tourism as well as the sale of cut flowers.21 The citizens of Brampton were well aware of the importance of this industry and the Brampton Centennial Souvenir 1853-1953 book dedicated more space to the greenhouse industry than any other part of the local economy.22 The guide also invited those attending the centennial festivities to “drop in and enjoy the miles of radiantly beautiful flower walks,”23 and listed the Dale Estate as “one of Brampton’s greatest tourist attractions.”24

Though the Dale Estate was a large local employer, it paid low wages, provided relatively poor benefits and its employees worked long hours. The prestige of being a “Dales Man,” however, and working in a clean, stable environment ensured the loyalty of long-time employees.25 T.W. Duggan was known to bring in specialists from overseas, as was the case for Charles Bacon, who came from England in 1910 and worked at the estate for 50 years.26

The continued prosperity of the greenhouse business in Brampton during this period helped to keep the town on stable economic footing throughout the Second World War and into the post-war period. In 1956, the Dale Estate grew more than 20 million blooms in its 140 greenhouses, approximately 45 per cent of the 48 million blooms grown in Ontario that year.27 The longevity of the industry also meant that some experienced Dale employees were able to open their own businesses, fostering the development of the local industry. For example, Walter Calvert founded what became the second-largest greenhouse complex in Brampton after working at the Dale Estate for a number of years.28 To celebrate the importance of the floriculture industry, Brampton inaugurated its Flower Festival in 1963.29

Decline: 1961-1980

While Brampton was celebrating its greenhouse sector, the industry itself was facing new challenges in the form of rising energy costs, increased competition for skilled labour and the availability of lower-quality but less expensive imports from foreign countries with the advent of air travel.30 The Dale Estate was also facing competition from local greenhouse businesses, such as Walter E. Calvert Limited, which had made major investments in modern greenhouse technology in 1959.31

The Dale Estate’s 100-year history as an independent greenhouse producer came to an end in 1961 when Federal Farms, a division of Weston, purchased the business.

Even Calvert struggled to compete in the new climate and Federal Farms bought it out in 1965. Soon after, the two companies were merged to create the Calvert-Dale Estates with Calvert’s management taking control of the company, ending the Dale family’s influence in the business. The new combined company, though still producing 20 per cent of Canada’s cut flowers, was growing fewer flowers than either company did individually 10 years earlier.32

Attempts to modernize the greenhouses and other facilities proved extremely expensive and when oil prices increased dramatically in the 1970s, the costs of maintaining the greenhouses became unmanageable.33 By the mid 1970s, over 90,000 square metres (300,000 square feet) of greenhouses and flowers had been abandoned and the company began to sell off what it saw as surplus land. The Calvert-Dale Estate’s struggles reflected the broader decline of the flower industry in Brampton. In 1963, there were 48 greenhouse flower producers in Brampton. By 1975, that number had dropped to 14.34 Rising oil prices, changing consumer tastes and Brampton’s population explosion all contributed to the industry’s decline. Brampton rezoned the vast agricultural lands that had dominated its north end to make room for residential development in 1972 – most of which was family housing. In 1975, the last greenhouses were demolished and the employees of the Calvert-Dale Estates were let go. Without its greenhouses, the company relocated to Hamilton and focused on selling off its remaining land. The company closed its doors in 1980.35


The Dale Estate, founded in 1863, played an important role in the growth of Brampton. Its flowers contributed to Brampton’s reputation as “the Flower Town of Canada.” By the 1890s, the Dale Estate won international recognition for the quality of its roses and at the turn of the century it was one of the largest greenhouse businesses in North America. Success stemmed in part from producing new varieties of roses and the famous “autographed rose” technique. The Dale Estate continued to prosper through the first half of the 20th century and was the leader of the cut flower industry in Ontario, responsible for half of provincial production in 1956. With its agricultural roots, use of railway lines connected to Toronto, rapid growth and reliance on innovation and diversification, the story of the Dale Estate during the late 19th and early 20th centuries echoed that of Brampton as a whole. As the largest flower producer in “the Flower Town of Canada,” the Dale Estate came not only to reflect the community of Brampton, but to define it for generations.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Peter Anderson in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2012

1 O’Hara, Dale, Acres of Glass: The Story of the Dale Estate and How Brampton Became ‘The Flower Capital of Canada’ (Toronto: east end books, 2007), 12.

2 Acres of Glass, 25; Brampton: Inspired Capacity (Shelbourne, Ont: Charles Own and Company, 2003), 55.

3 Acres of Glass, 26.

4 Acres of Glass, 30.

5 Brampton Centennial Souvenir, 1853-1953 (Charters Publishing Company, 1953), 47.

6 Loverseed, Helga V., Brampton: An Illustrated History (Windsor Publications Inc., 1987), 108.

7 Seaman, Albert, Heritage Brampton: An illustrated review of some fine old buildings in the City (Brampton: City of Brampton Heritage Board LACAC, 1979), 29.

8 Acres of Glass, 45.

9 Brampton: Inspired Capacity, 55.

10 Brampton Centennial Souvenir, 47.

11 Brampton: An Illustrated History, 108.

12 Acres of Glass, 57.

13 Acres of Glass, 69-70.

14 “Ontario Historical Exhibition” in The Canadian Florist, 25 November 1920, 331-334.

15 Acres of Glass, 74.

16 Acres of Glass, 79-80.

17 Brampton: An Illustrated History, 144.

18 Acres of Glass, 87-88.

19 Acres of Glass, 85-87; Salisbury, Lionel, Now & Then: A photo journey through Brampton (Brampton: Lionel and Robert Salisbury, 1989), 62-64.

20 Brampton: An Illustrated History, 108.

21 Brampton: Inspired Capacity, 57.

22 Brampton Centennial Souvenir, 47.

23 Brampton Centennial Souvenir, ii.

24 Brampton Centennial Souvenir, 2.

25 Acres of Glass, 100, 116; Brampton: An Illustrated History, 170.

26 Acres of Glass, 51.

27 Greenhouse Industry (Ottawa: Dominion Bureau of Statistics, Crops Section, 1956-1980).

28 Brampton: Inspired Capacity, 55.

29 Acres of Glass, 128; Brampton: Inspired Capacity, 55.

30 Acres of Glass, 121-124; Brampton: Inspired Capacity, 57.

31 Acres of Glass, 131.

32 Acres of Glass, 125, 131-132; Now & Then, 68.

33 Acres of Glass, 135-140.

34 Acres of Glass, 141.

35 Acres of Glass, 139-144; Brampton: Inspired Capacity, 57.