The History of the Gooderham Family in Toronto


The Story Begins

Our story of the Gooderham family begins with a band of Viking conquerers under the command of a man named Guthrum.

While Guthrum's Westward expansion would be stymied by Alfred The Great, who he eventually was forced to enter into a peace treaty with, he was still King of what was then known as 'East Anglia', around modern day Suffolk and Norfolk.

Guthrum divided the land amongst his men and that is where they settled. Over time warriors became farmers, and Guthrum became Gooderham.

Jump ahead from there some 1,200 years and we find not where this story begins, but rather where this article begins. It is on a Bus in Toronto lumbering down a steep slightly meandering hill towards the subway station. If you are paying attention, you sometimes can catch a glimpse of a tiny, forelorn little cemetery, scarcely a house plot in size.

I passed by it hundreds upon hundreds of times, sometimes forgetting it was there, other times straining to catch a glimpse of it. It was not only small but defended from view by both fence and nature. It had in it, all at once both a touch of magic and a sense of being a forbidden place. Private at least, perhaps more so than foreboding.

Of all the hundreds of times I went past it I didn't stop to look closer. Every time except once.

Although not known for certain it is presumed the 'G' is for 'Grand Architect' and not 'Gooderham'
Although not known for certain it is presumed the 'G' is for 'Grand Architect' and not 'Gooderham'

The Cemetery

My decision to finally investigate this tiny little burial ground came somewhat by accident, or perhaps if one is to argue for such things, by fate. I had been out for the evening and was returning home late enough that the subways were no longer running, which meant that I would have to wait for the night bus to come pick me up on the connecting route that led home.

Seeing as an appearance by the bus didn't seem imminent, and maybe feeling a little compelled by a nice night I decided to walk a little, perhaps to the next stop or the one after I thought.

Then, as I drew close I realized I was near the cemetery. I peered through the links of the fence. Nothing but dark shadowy slabs. I tried to snap a photo with my camera phone. I could make no sense of whatever it was I took a picture of. I had finally been there to see it, and had seen nothing!

Very soon after that and with all the force of intent I was back again in the same spot, peering in through the gate, this time in broad daylight. I can see much better now, but still can't make out the names, the inscriptions.

I notice that the gate has a latch, but that there did not seem to be anything securing the latch. Slowly, tentaitively I push on the latch and it lifts up. Incredible! I am in!

The early spring ground I recall feeling soft, and being there almost instantly instilled in me a feeling of solemenity. I inspect the stones. They are old, some of them rendered annonymous by the ravages and wear of time. There are a few names I can read, include a stone giving the name of the burial ground and when it had been closed. There were a few different names, but not many, and of those there was one that caused me to pause and think. Gooderham.

The name seemed familiar but I dcouldn't quite place it. Then I remembered the distillery down in the Toronto port lands. It had been closed down and the area was being gobbled up by developers and remade and gentrified as 'The Distillery Distict' The Distillery of course was Gooderham and Worts. Could these have been the same Gooderhams?

I was to find out, that yes they were, and that they had an influence on Toronto history and life I would not have imagined. I needed to find out if these were the same gooderhams, and what was the story behind this tiny little plot, who cared for it? Did anyone?

There is still much I do not know, but from what I could gather from my research and inquiries, this is the Gooderham story..

William Gooderham, Sr.
William Gooderham, Sr. | Source

A Voyage to Canada

Their Viking ancestry long distant in the flickering and hazy shadows of the past, The Gooderhams remain in the lands settled by their forefathers, but now instead of conquerors, they are farmers.

It is from their farmland in Scole, Suffolk England, near the banks of the Waveney river that William, Thomas and Ezekiel Gooderham would set out to what was then the town of York (now Toronto) to join with their sister Elizabeth, their brother in law James Worts and his son, also named James.

Worts, who had served and seen action with William Gooderham in the Royal York Rangers had heard that York did not already have an active flour mill and saw an opportunity for a better life had gone on ahead in 1831.

In 1832 the rest of the family as well as a variety of servants immigrated to Canada on a ship called The Anne. The voyage was not without it's tragedies as the Gooderhams assumed responsibility for the care of (but did not adopt) eleven children who had become orphans on the voyage to Canada.

A Mill was established near the mouth of the Don River and along with William Gooderham's investment of £3,000 the partnership of Worts and Gooderham.

Tragedy would however soon strike both the family and the business, when Elizabeth Worts died in child birth. Two weeks later James Worts took his own life, drowning himself in the mill's well.

The mill continued, but now as William Gooderham Company. With the shrewd business acumen that would in many ways parallel what seems to be a calling toward 'Christian service' as a hallmark of the family, William added a distillery to the business to make use of the mill's surplus grain.

In 1845 William's nephew James G. Worts became a full partner and Gooderham and Worts was born.

This was the start of one of the biggest, most important and yet strangely quietest chapters in Toronto and indeed Canadian history.


The Gooderham Legacy

It would go beyond the scope of this article to broach the subject of the impact of the Gooderham's impact on Toronto in any detail. Suffice it to say it has been huge.

The Gooderham and Worts Distillery, the cornerstone and standard bearer of the Gooderham family business empire was sold in 1923 to Harry C. Hatch (who later also acquired 'Canadian Club' maker 'Hiram Walker &Sons') and stopped production totally in 1990 to make way for a condominium/urban renewal project called 'The Distillery District'.

The end of the distillery, however was neither the end nor the entirety of the family's legacy,

The Gooderham family were involved in the formation of what today are some of the biggest businesses in Canada, and some of Toronto's more noteworthy landmarks.

These include...

The Bank of Toronto

Bank of Toronto
Bank of Toronto | Source

Founded in 1857 by entrepreneur and avid yachtsman George Gooderham, the Bank of Toronto continued until 1955 at which point it merged with The Dominion Bank to become the Toronto Dominion bank, which exists today as TD Canada trust and is a multi-billion dollar business as a member of Canada's 'big five' charter banks.

Manufacturer's Life Insurance


Known today as Manulife Financial, George Gooderham was the first policy holder and one of the founding officer's of the company, serving as one of it's first vice presidents, and it's second president after the death of it's first president Sir John A. McDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister.

The Gooderham Building


Also known as the flatiron building it is one of the more recognizable landmarks in Toronto. Until 1952 it served as the office for the Distillery.

The building was sold by the estate in 1957 and was declared a historical site in 1975.

George Gooderham House

Dubbed 'Waveney' after the river that flows near the family homestead in Suffolk England, it was built in the Annex area of Toronto as a mansion for George Gooderham.

It is here that he resided until his passing in 1905.

Since 1910 and to this day the building is owned by 'The York Club' a private gentleman's club

Little Trinity Anglican Church


Established in 1842 as a church that was accessible to working class families who could not afford the pew fees of St. Andrew's. A portion of the funding was provided as a donation by William Gooderham who also remained an active member of the church.

The Oriole

The Oriole I
The Oriole I | Source

George Gooderham's racing schooner was the first flagship of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, of which Gooderham served as Commodore for several years.

The Oriole IV, the last in the ship's line currently serves as a sail training vessel for the Canadian Navy, and is the Canadian fleet's oldest active service ship.

The Gooderham's Today

When I first started exploring the story of the Gooderham family, of which I have provided a snippet of here, one of the characters I found most compelling was that of Ezekiel Gooderham.

He was the eldest brother of the first group of Gooderhams to immigrate to Canada, and was the only one not to get involved (at least not directly ) in the milling and distillery business.

Instead he continued on with the family's traditional business of farming.

Ezekiel served as Deacon of the church to which the cemetery was once attached to. When the former Reverend passed away Ezekiel would eventually fill the role, being ordained at Bond Street Baptist Church. (Now the site of St. Micheal's Hospital), but only after being urged and persuaded by the congregation.

This shows perhaps one of the more striking examples of the humility, woven sometimes paradoxically into the Gooderham family character that I have alluded to earlier.

After much research and digging and exchanging of emails I found out that this tiny slightly disheveled cemetery that got me started on my quest was cared for by the City's park and recreation forestry department.

I am heartened that the site is cared for although wonder what might be invloved in the restoration of some of the markers.

For that matter, what of the Gooderham family today? Does their legacy continue today, perhaps quietly and out of the limelight, or is it relegated to the pages of history, to buildings that hold fading memories, commemorative plaques, and a tiny little cemetery?

The answer to that question, is simply I do not know. I just know that I am thankful for the journey and to have learned much more of the history of the city I live in than I did before.

If you are interested in a more in depth look at the Gooderham family tree I suggest you start with Paul Turner's excellent genealogy site


The Gooderhams have been millers,distillers,commodores,bankers,company presidents,soldiers and members of elected office.

I would like to dedicate this article to the memory of one of them in particular, Ezekiel Gooderham, reverend and farmer.

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Comments 20 comments

Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

This is fascinating. I love pieces like this where I learn so much. This family would make a great documentary on public television or the like. Thanks for the information and the photos are wonderful also.

BBCee 4 years ago

Here's a similar story, I came upon this gravestone with a friend one time, and this is what i found online.not quite as much info, but that's what makes this the mysterious version...

DDS profile image

DDS 4 years ago from Toronto Author

@Hyphenbird: Thank you very much, but of the photos it is only the ones of the cemetery that I took myself.

Steve Miller 4 years ago

I wonder what qualities made the family leaders to begin with.

Appears that the trend was set long before we recorded their history.

Sueswan 4 years ago


I live in Toronto and found your article fascinating.

I walk to work and recently took another route. I came across Victoria Memorial Square at Wellington and Portland. It is the first military burial ground in Toronto.

Voted up and away!

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

This was a great history lesson, especially considering I know so little about Toronto. Why don't they teach these things in school? I enjoyed the way you wove in and out of the family and provided so much information. Voted up, useful and interesting.

Lwilkes 3 years ago

My great grandmother is Victoria Gooderham.

DDS profile image

DDS 3 years ago from Toronto Author

@Lwilkes: Very cool. What an interesting story! Do you now what became of the family? 2 years ago

my name is kenneth george gooderham and i think this is great

DDS profile image

DDS 2 years ago from Toronto Author

Thank you! Very glad to have Gooderham approval. Hope that means I got things right!

Laura Cotie 23 months ago

I am hoping to confirm any connection to the Acheson family.... Possibly from New York State... My connection is to the Achesons of Ottawa, Ontario (Berryhill Acheson)... Thx for any comments in this regard.

DDS profile image

DDS 23 months ago from Toronto Author

@Laura Cotie I do not know myself, but maybe someone from the family will see this and help you out. Also google the Gooderham-Worts genealogy project as there may be some info there.

Barbara Bevan(nee Warden) 15 months ago

My father, John G. Warden, was the son of Josephine Gooderham of Toronto.

B.Bevan 15 months ago

That is, Ida Josephine Gooderham (1868-1936.

Dake Kelly 15 months ago

Thank you DDS for your excellent article on the Gooderham family. My mother's maiden name was Gooderham. I remember when I was a young boy my Grandpa Gooderham telling my brother and me the Gooderham family history. Ezekiel was my grandpa's great grand father. DDS you have done an great job on researching the Gooderham history! Thanks again, you've told me some things that I didn't know.

DDS profile image

DDS 15 months ago from Toronto Author

@Dake Kelly

Thank you! I am always happy to hear that the article is appreciate and that for the most part I get it right.

An utterly interesting history!!

mike gooderham 11 months ago

Hi, I`m Mike Gooderham from Bungay Suffolk, 5 miles from Scole. My Dad was Elias Gooderham Born in Suffolk in 1900 where his family were known to have been yeoman farmers since the 1600s. The Guthrum story ends when Guthrum settled in Hadleigh Suffolk and lived there until he died as an old man.Our name was originally spelled Gudrum or Goodrum(which is how we still pronounce it) but was Anglicised in the 12th century as were many Viking names in E Anglia. I had a great time in Toronto in 2005 and imagine my astonishment when I saw an old book in the Gooderham/Worts library in the old brewery stating that the family came not only from the Waveney Valley but 5 miles from my home.

DDS profile image

DDS 11 months ago from Toronto Author

Thank you for the clarification on the history of the name! Your family has had a profound impact on our city and it's growth!

Katherine Gooderham 9 months ago

Hi, my name is Katherine Gooderham I am 19 from the UK. I had a plan of moving to Toronto after I have finished university (without any prior knowledge of my familys link to Toronto) and this has been the biggest sign that I have to go! Thank you so much for this information.

DDS profile image

DDS 9 months ago from Toronto Author

Very happy to provide some positive signs for you! :-)

My wife is from the U.K. (West Midlands) and seems to get on well enough here. :-)

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