Eugene O'Keefe, brewer, banker, philanthropist (born 10 December 1827 in Bandon, Ireland; died 1 October 1913 in Toronto, ON). O’Keefe is best known for founding the O’Keefe Brewery Company of Toronto Limited. A successful Catholic businessman and philanthropist, he was the first Canadian layman to be made a private chamberlain to the pope.
Early Life and Banking Career
Eugene O’Keefe (born Keeffe) came to Canada in 1832, when he was five years old. The family appears to have changed its name to O’Keefe after immigrating to Canada. O’Keefe was educated in Toronto schools. In 1856, he began working at the Toronto Savings Bank, which had been established two years earlier by Bishop Charbonnel and members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. O’Keefe worked at the bank until 1861, but maintained ties with the institution, serving as board member, director, vice-president and eventually president (1901) of what would become the Home Bank of Canada.
In 1861, O’Keefe partnered with two other men to buy Toronto’s Victoria Brewery (owned by Charles Hannath and George Hart). At the time, the brewery produced about 1,000 barrels of ale and stout per year. By the 1890s, O'Keefe was one of the largest brewers of lager beer in Canada, and had implemented new technologies including refrigeration, plant electrification, crown-cap bottles and motorized delivery vehicles. The company was incorporated as the O'Keefe Brewery Company of Toronto Limited in 1891. Devastated by the death of his son in 1911, O’Keefe sold his brewery shares to his partner, Widmer Hawke, and to Sir Henry Pellatt. By that time, the brewery could produce 500,000 barrels a year. After Hawke’s death, the brewery was sold to a holding company, O’Keefe Limited, under Pellat, Sir William Mulock and Charles Vance Millar. This company was bought by E. P. Taylor in 1934 and incorporated into his Brewing Corporation of Canada Limited (later Canadian Breweries Limited).
O'Keefe donated much of his wealth to charity, particularly the Catholic Church. He financed several new churches in Toronto, including St. Monica’s Church and St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, and donated $400,000 to build St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. In 1909, he was recognized for his benefactions to the Roman Catholic Church when he became the first Canadian layman to be appointed private chamberlain to the pope.