George Weston 1864-1924

On October 16, 2008, the Ontario Heritage Trust and George Weston Limited unveiled a provincial plaque at 18 Beverley Street, Toronto to commemorate George Weston, 1864-1924.

The bilingual plaque reads as follows:


    George Weston was born in Oswego, New York in 1864. His family moved to Toronto and at age 12 George was apprenticed to a local baker. In 1882, Weston bought a bread delivery route from his employer and two years later a bakery. With the increasing popularity of his “Real Home Made Bread,” he opened the “Model Bakery” near this site, in 1897. This bakery used the latest bread-making technology and was praised by the press for its modern efficiency and cleanliness. In 1910, Weston entered Toronto politics. Elected as the “business man’s candidate,” he served four years as alderman. He joined with bakers from Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg to form the Canada Bread Company in 1911, while continuing to produce biscuits at his own bakery. In 1921, he left Canada Bread to focus on the Weston family business, with his son Garfield as vice president. George Weston died in 1924, having established Canada’s largest baking company and laid the foundation for a leading global food business.


    George Weston naquit en 1864 à Oswego, New York. Sa famille s’installa à Toronto et, dès l’âge de 12 ans, George devint apprenti chez un boulanger des environs. En 1882, Weston racheta à son employeur un circuit de livraison et, deux ans plus tard, une boulangerie. En 1897, grâce à la renommée croissante de son « Véritable pain maison », il ouvrit la « Model Bakery » à proximité de ce site. Cette boulangerie, qui utilisait une technologie de panification de pointe, était encensée par la presse pour sa propreté et son rendement modernes. En 1910, Weston se lança dans la politique municipale. Élu « candidat de l’homme d’affaires », il fut conseiller municipal à Toronto pendant quatre ans. En 1911, il s’associa à des boulangers de Toronto, Montréal et Winnipeg pour créer la Canada Bread Company, tout en poursuivant la production de biscuits dans sa propre boulangerie. En 1921, il quitta Canada Bread pour se consacrer à l’entreprise familiale Weston dont son fils Garfield assumait la vice-présidence. George Weston mourut en 1924, après avoir établi la plus grande entreprise de boulangerie du Canada et posé les jalons de l’une des plus importantes sociétés agroalimentaires au monde.

Historical background

Rags to riches

George Weston’s life story is a “rags to riches” saga. Through his intelligence, hard work and shrewd appreciation of economic opportunities, Weston rose from humble beginnings to become a successful entrepreneur and a respected member of Toronto society. He also helped bring the industrial age into Canada and founded what would become a worldwide economic dynasty.

George Weston and his twin brother Joseph were the youngest of seven children, born to an English immigrant, William Weston, and his wife Ann on March 23, 1864 in Oswego, New York. William brought the family to the bustling city of Toronto while George was still a child. The young Weston received a brief education at Wellesley Street Public School and, at the age of 12, found work in a local bakery.1 He started work with Charles J. Frogley and learned much about commercial bread making. A few years later, he joined another baker, Gilbert H. Bowen, and began delivering bread. Getting out of the bakery enabled him to meet retail customers and to absorb some of the marketing and sales skills of the trade. In 1882, Weston — just 18 years old — purchased a delivery route from Bowen and, using one-horse, closed transport wagons, started his own business. Through hard work and perseverance, Weston increased the number of his bread delivery routes and, in 1884, bought out his former employer. His modest enterprise soon employed about 15 people; by 1894, he was advertising the qualities of his “Real Home Made Bread” to urban residents unable, or unwilling, to bake their own bread as many of their rural counterparts still did. Some of his customers — members of the upper-middle class — began to do without the servants who had prepared their meals, as wages for domestic help became burdensome. Others, living in smaller quarters and working long hours in factories and offices, simply did not have the space or time to bake their own bread. George Weston had greater ambitions than other local bakers, however, and soon began to expand his business far beyond the traditional boundaries of size and scale. By 1894, he advertised that his bread “reaches all parts of the city daily.”2

Model Bakery

George Weston was not alone or unique in his vision of an expanded bakery enterprise. In the late 19th century, food processors in the western world were experimenting with large-scale production, automated machinery and innovative advertising and marketing techniques. The concept of the moving “assembly line” that Henry Ford would adopt in his Detroit automobile factories early in the 20th century grew out of changing food processing techniques. The first types of moving lines were actually “disassembly” lines, developed in the packing houses of Cincinnati and Chicago where hog and cattle carcasses were cut up and prepared for wholesale and retail sale by line butchers, each with a simple and discrete cutting operation.3 In the 1880s, vegetable and fruit canners adopted mechanization to produce, fill and process cans in unprecedented quantities. Transcontinental rail transportation — introduced in the 1860s in the United States, and the 1880s in Canada — allowed manufacturers to ship products long distances; the advent of refrigerated cars permitted meat and other perishables to be marketed more widely. Large-circulation newspapers and national magazines allowed entrepreneurs to tout their wares over ever-larger market areas.4 It was in this exciting milieu of growth and expansion that George Weston decided that bread making, too, could be a large-scale enterprise.

In 1897, Weston expanded to new premises that the Toronto Star lauded as “the largest bakery in Canada.” The new structure, designed to Weston’s personal specifications, was a two-storey, red brick, corner property with stone facings located at Soho and Phoebe streets in the Grange area of downtown Toronto. It housed — under one roof — receiving and storage facilities with elevators and roller tables to move the ingredients, large mixing areas where the dough was mechanically mixed and kneaded and a baking room with eight industrial ovens. The same building also provided office space for the business and residential accommodations for the Weston family. George, a hands-on manager, was determined never to be far from the business. A four-storey tower graced the front corner of the building and served as office and residential quarters. At the rear, but separated from the baking and office areas, were a stable and courtyard, the former capable of accommodating 21 horses and 15 wagons. The facility and a small cake-making shop on Yonge Street employed 40 men, girls and boys and had a weekly payroll of $350. The bakery used 300 barrels of flour per week, produced an average of 3,200 loaves of bread per day and had a capacity of double that amount.5

The Model Bakery, as Weston named his new enterprise, soon became the centre of an aggressive advertising campaign. “Mr. George Weston,” his ads stated, “is kept busy DAY and NIGHT attending to the wants of his customers for his Celebrated Real Home Made Bread. His wagons reach all parts of the city and suburbs daily. He is noted for having Obliging Drivers, Clean Wagons, and Good Bread.” His four-pound loaves sold for 10 cents each and his terms were cash only.6 Early in 1898, Weston boasted of having sold 90,000 loaves in a single month and he was also advertising a wide range of cake and cookie products.7 At this time, Weston also adopted the “ticket” sales system by which customers purchased tickets that could be exchanged for his various products. The advantage for the customer was convenience with no need to pay for each separate bread delivery. The advantage for George Weston was that he was paid in advance.8

Competition, controversy and growth

Competition was fierce in Toronto’s retail food industry in the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century when George Weston made his mark. Success — even survival — among the many small entrepreneurs jostling for supremacy required a keen eye for opportunities and a shrewd sense of the market’s needs. In 1894, Weston and two other bakers were taken to court by another aspiring bread maker who charged that they had conspired to prevent him from obtaining yeast for his enterprise. While it was clear that the complainant had encountered difficulties procuring supplies, there was no evidence of any conspiracy and the charge was dismissed.9 (In 1907, seven bakeries, including Weston’s Model Bakery, and 27 retail stores were charged with selling lightweight bread. All pleaded guilty and paid a $25 fine.10 Three years later, similar charges were dismissed against a group of Toronto bakers, including Weston.11)

Regardless of competition, Weston’s territorial expansion was well underway. By 1899, he was shipping bread by rail to 50 towns and villages within a radius of 100 miles from Toronto. He had doubled the number of his delivery rigs in the city, was expanding his Toronto premises and had established a branch plant in the bustling industrial community of Oshawa to the east.12 In 1900, Weston amalgamated his business with that of Pickering grain merchant and miller, John Lawrence Spink, to create the Model Bakery Company Limited.13 In response to rumours that this was a trust designed to stifle competition and raise prices, Weston wrote an open letter assuring consumers that the intention of the merger was to produce better bread at a cheaper price.14 By 1901, he boasted that he shipped three and a half tons of bread a day to 120 cities, towns and villages as far away as Kingston and Ingersoll.15 Several years later, he used his shrewd business sense to market a new line of fancy biscuits. When retail grocers hesitated to stock his products, lest they alienate their major supplier the National Biscuit Company, Weston distributed his biscuits along his existing bread routes to bring his product to the public’s attention. He then began a newspaper campaign stressing that his “high-class fancy biscuits” were “sold at all leading stores,” and urged readers to “insist on having Weston’s.” The manoeuvre worked and soon Weston’s biscuit products were competing in retail stores across the region.16 By 1904, the Weston enterprise employed over 350 people, produced 650,000 pounds of bread in the company’s 23 ovens each month and brought in Manitoba number one hard wheat from the developing granaries in western Canada. By this time, six wagons carried Weston’s fancy biscuits — vanilla wafers and soda biscuits were among the most popular — to retail grocers in Toronto.17

“The Business Man’s Candidate”

As his business prospered in the early 20th century, George Weston continued to expand his horizons. By 1905, he was a director of the City Dairy Company — established in 1900 under the auspices of several Toronto entrepreneurs, including W.E.H. Massey, president of the Massey-Harris agricultural implement manufacturing company.18 In 1910, Weston ran successfully for alderman in Toronto’s Ward 4 — his first venture into the world of politics. Candidates were required to reveal the value of their property within the city as part of the qualification process. Weston’s statement, with property worth $35,000, was the highest of all the candidates — for alderman or mayor — and 10 times that of his aldermanic opponents. His wealth, however, did not give him an easy ride to victory and Weston believed the voters chose him for his business skills. During the 1912 election, he described himself as “the business man’s candidate.”19 He left municipal politics in 1914 to return to his business activities.

Canada Bread Company

In 1911, Weston had joined with a number of other large bakery owners in Toronto, Winnipeg and Montreal to form the Canada Bread Company Limited, a public corporation fostered by Toronto financier and president of the Imperial Bank of Canada, Cawthra Mulock. The Model Bakery was absorbed into the new enterprise and Weston became one of its directors. The new company, though buffeted by rising grain prices and unsteady supplies during the First World War, was a success, with two of its Toronto bakeries producing a combined total 1.6 million pounds of bread per month in 1919.20 As part of his commitment to the Canada Bread Company, Weston promised not to compete in the bread-making business for a period of 10 years. The agreement, however, said nothing about the other types of baked goods and “Weston’s Biscuits” that were produced by the new George Weston Limited; these products continued to be available on the Toronto market. As soon as the 10-year agreement with Canada Bread expired, Weston resigned his directorship, returned to the bread-making business and purchased an existing plant on Bathurst Street directly opposite the Canada Bread Company premises.21 His son Garfield joined the business in 1919 and soon became the vice-president. Father and son developed a line of quality, “English style” biscuits, recreating an “olde English shoppe” as their display in the Pure Food Building at Toronto’s 1922 Canadian National Exhibition.22 Soon, they were advertising “biscuits as they are made in England” and products such as “Weston’s Wedding Bells,” a trademark-registered biscuit made “from the recipe used in the biscuits made expressly for Princess Mary’s wedding.”23


George Weston died at the family home on Palmerston Boulevard in Toronto on April 6, 1924 at the age of 60. He was survived by two daughters, Adelaide Pearl and Beatrice Maud, and two sons, Garfield and Gordon.24 By the time he died, George Weston was a well-known and respected entrepreneur. He had started, as a boy of 12, to learn the baking business. Through hard work, perseverance and a shrewd business sense, he had built up a business organization and a reputation that were known across the country. His son, Garfield, his grandsons, Garry and Galen Weston, and several of his great-grandchildren would build on the foundations George had laid. Today, they continue to make Weston products and the Weston name known around the world.

The Ontario Heritage Trust gratefully acknowledges the research of Robert J. Burns in preparing this paper.

© Ontario Heritage Trust, 2008

1 Kerry Badgley, “George Weston,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto Press: Toronto), Vol. XV.

2 Toronto Star, 9 Aug. 1894, p. 1.

3 Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command: a Contribution to Anonymous History (Oxford Press: Toronto, 1948), pp. 86-99.

4 Robert J. Burns, “Marketing Food in a Consumer Society: Early Unit Packaging Technology and Label Design,” Dorothy Duncan and Glenn J. Lockwood, Consuming Passions: Eating and Drinking Traditions in Ontario (Ontario Historical Society: Toronto, 1990), p. 249.

5 “A Model Bakery,” Toronto Star, 16 Oct. 1897, p. 6.

6 Toronto Star, 30 Oct. 1897, p. 6.

7 Toronto Star, 6 Jan. 1898, p. 3 and 16 Dec. 1897, p. 2.

8 Toronto Star, 3 Aug. 1898, p. 4.

9 Toronto Star, 6 Nov. 1894, p. 1.

10 Toronto Star, 17 and 24 July 1907, pp. 7 and 1.

11 Toronto Star, 13 July 1910, p. 13.

12 Toronto Star, 12 Apr. 1899, p. 8 and 3 June 1899, p. 8.

13 Kerry Badgley, “George Weston,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto Press: Toronto), Vol. XV.

14 Toronto Star, 7 Dec. 1900, p. 6.

15 Canadian Grocer, Vol. 15, #36, 6 Sept. 1901, p. 44.

16 Weston Digital Archive 1997 (MGT Communications Inc. Production 1997); Toronto Star, 13 Feb. 1904, p. 11.

17 Toronto Star, 24 Sept. 1904, p. 9.

18 His bakery partner, John Spink — the partnership would be dissolved in 1907 — was also a director of the City Dairy Company.

19 Kerry Badgley, “George Weston,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto Press: Toronto), Vol. XV.

20 Kerry Badgley, “George Weston,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (University of Toronto Press: Toronto), Vol. XV.

21 Weston Digital Archive 1997 (MGT Communications Inc. Production 1997).

22 Toronto Star, 29 Aug. 1922, p. 20.

23 Toronto Star, 18 Oct. 1922, p. 4.

24 Canadian Grocer, Vol. 38, # 15, 11 Apr. 1924, p. 33; Toronto Star, 7 Apr. 1924, p. 1.