This Week in History


Honest John Carling - Brewer and Politician

For the week of Monday January 18, 2010

January 23, 1828, is the birth date of John Carling, a prominent entrepreneur and politician from London, Ontario. In 1849 he inherited his father’s brewery, which soon thrived as one of the largest breweries in Canada, the Carling Brewing and Malting Company. As its president, Carling gained a reputation for integrity and became known as “Honest John.”


Sir John Carling
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-026400
The brewery was not Carling’s only business enterprise. In Canada’s expanding railway network, he saw an opportunity to make his brewery more accessible to a wider market. He became a director of the Great Western Railway (GWR) and ensured that the railway passed through London, Ontario, linking the city to other large centres in Canada and the United States. He also ensured that the city would manufacture a portion of the train cars, which created 300 new jobs in the city.


His political career began in 1855, when he was elected to London’s city council. In this role, Carling helped found the city’s Board of Trade and collected funds to rebuild several shops that had burned down. At a GWR meeting, soon-to-be Prime Minister John A. Macdonald asked Carling to leave local politics and run for the Conservative party in the 1857 election. He took Macdonald’s advice and was elected to the Upper Canada Legislative Assembly. In 1867 he served in Canada’s first federal government.


Barns at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, Ontario
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-034408

In 1885, Macdonald appointed Carling the Minister of Agriculture, a role in which he preformed exceptionally. Carling’s most notable contribution was the creation of the Dominion Experimental Farms. These experimental farms conducted research into agricultural problems in an effort to improve farm production. Five experimental farms were opened across Canada to meet the regional needs of the many different climates and ecosystems. 


The belief that one should serve his community ran strong in Carling, and he never forgot his hometown. Among his many contributions to the city, he opened up a soup kitchen and an orphanage in order to share his fortune with the community. Late in life, Carling returned to London permanently and continued working in the brewery where he had begun his public life many years earlier. “Honest” John Carling passed away on November 6, 1911.


Mainly for establishing the Dominion Experimental Farms, Sir John Carling was designated a national historic person. The Establishment of the Experimental Farm Branch was designated a national historic event in 1981 and the Central Experimental Farm a national historic site in 2000.
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