• Bolton’s first cooper was Francis McDonald, an Irishman who came to Canada in 1828 at age 14. He found work in Toronto and spent eight years there before making his way to Bolton in 1836 1
  • Coopers made barrels, butter churns, buckets, water pails, milking pails, wash tubs
  • George Bolton’s grist mill needed barrels to transport flour and whether by chance or design,  Francis found a ready opportunity. 
  • Coopering requires experience in both carpentry and ‘smithing’ which suggests that Francis worked in one or both of these trades or was apprenticed to a cooper while in Toronto
  • There were only a handful of log buildings in Bolton in 1836 and Francis would have needed shelter to live and work 2  So, with George Bolton’s permission, he likely built a log cabin and, given later records, it stood at what would be 18 Mill Street 3
  • The log cabin would have been one of the 16 log structures that existed in 1840 along with two blacksmith shops, one of which belonged to the cooperage 4
  • By the late 1830s, a distillery started up in Bolton 5.  It too needed barrels from the recently started cooperage
  • Ann Long and Francis McDonald were married in January 1841 by Father Eugene O’Reilly at the church in Wildfield, 9 km SW of Bolton 6  Ann was born in Ireland in 1822 and was living in Albion at the time of her marriage 
  • By 1846, there were two coopers employed in the cooperage business 7 The second cooper was probably Thomas Bullowin 8
  • In 1848, Francis finally completed his financial obligation to George Bolton
Tremaine`s 1859 map of Bolton
  • George Bolton then transferred, to Francis, the ownership of the property on which the latter had built a house and a cooperage: 20 perches (1/8 acre) which today is the SW corner of Mill  and Chapel Streets 9
  • George Bolton was generous in allowing skilled workers to set up shop and pay for their property as they worked which was the case with John Godbolt, Francis McDonald and Richard Paxman, the tanner 10
  • The 1851 census recorded Ann and Francis McDonald with four children living in a one storey frame house adjacent to a two storey smithy and (work)shop. The early log structure was possibly incorporated into the frame house
  • The 1861 census recorded Ann and Francis now with eight children living in a 1½ storey frame house, probably the same house described in the 1851 census (1½ storey houses were taxed as if they were one storey)
  • In 1862, Ann and Francis lost their 4 year old daughter Ann Jane and then, in 1863, Ann died too. In 1865, Francis married Sabina Franks, a young widow who was born in England in 1837 and had been living in Brampton 11
  • In early 1878, Francis bought a lot on the west side of Queen Street, just north of the river.  He built a one storey brick forge (foundry, as he called it) with a  large frame cooperage with plank exterior to the rear 12
  • Just to the south, he built a two storey red brick house for Sabina and their six children, no doubt using bricks from Norton’s brickyard

Francis retained ownership of the house on Mill Street; several of his children lived there until it was sold in 1936 13

Flour barrel lid dating to the period when Andrew McFall was the miller of Bolton`s grist mill (1881-1894)

  • At the height of the business, the cooperage supplied grist mills in Kleinburg, Woodbridge and Bolton, employing up to 20 men in the busy season 14
  • A load of barrels was shipped once a week to Caledon East while the mill in Bolton took a full load of barrels (100 barrels) every day, six days a week, transported using a customized wagon with a high rack that held 100 empty barrels in a load 15
  • Francis supplied barrels to a succession of Bolton millers during his career:  George Bolton, James Cupper Bolton, Edward Lawson, John Gardhouse and Andrew McFall
  • James McDonald succeeded his father as cooper.  Francis died in 1892 having fathered 15 children 16
  • The first mention of flour sacks comes in an 1895 entry in then miller Arthur McFall’s diary.   These jute sacks soon displaced the use of barrels for storing and transporting flour, but barrels had other uses including storing liquids of all kinds as well as fruit such as apples


And the buildings?

  • Francis McDonald`s first cooperage is gone; but his first house at 18 Mill Street stood for well over 100 years.  In 1963 it was still standing, occupied by May Lockhart and other family members.  The house was taken down in the late 1960s
  • The second cooperage on Queen Street North was demolished by George Rutherford after he purchased the property in 1944.  George’s daughter Isabelle and her husband Raymond Bottoms live on the former cooperage site at 102 Queen Street North.17
  • Francis McDonald’s home at 96 Queen Street North still stands.  Indoor plumbing was installed around 1944

Wagon loaded with barrels in front of the Queen’s Hotel on Queen Street

1914 photo of the vertical board cooperage and the one storey brick `foundry`

1914 photo of 96 Queen Street North and the cooperage building to the right. Tucked behind the house was the outhouse which was still in use in 1944. It became George Rutherford`s tool shed

Marriage record: Francis McDonald and Ann Long. January 12, 1840. The Catholic parish in Wildfield had a resident clergyman long before any of the Protestant churches in Bolton had resident ministers.


  1. The Enterprise.  September 1892.  Obituary
  2. Esther Heyes.  Story of Albion.  Bolton Enterprise. Bolton, ON  1961, pg 307.  Heyes, on page 331, mentions a date of 1860 which is incorrect
  3. Voters Lists 1963
  4. Esther Heyes, pg 237 suggests 14 log buildings but ABHS virtual census suggests the number could be 16
  5. ibid. pg 236
  6. St. Patrick’s, Parish Registers 1833-1910, Jan 12, 1841
  7. Esther Heyes pg 238
  8. 1851 Census
  9. Abstract Index to Deeds ALBION, Vol A&B, Lot 9, Con 7, Inst#31062
  10. Assumption based on time lapses between documented presence and when the land transaction occurred
  11. McDonald Family documents
  12. AL77, Albion villages abstract index, BLK 4, Lot 21
  13. Sold to Wesley Lockhart.  ibid.  BLK 5, Lot 8, Inst.#1936
  14. Esther Heyes, pg 331
  15. John Harper, Interview with David McFall on March 7, 1970
  16. Bruce McDonald. Document entitled ‘A Brief Bio of Francis McDonald, Bolton’s First Cooper’, December 2018
  17. Details supplied by Isabelle Rutherford Bottoms