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LABATT, JOHN KINDER, farmer and brewer; b. 1803 at Mountmellick (County Laoighis, Republic of Ireland), eldest of the seven children of Valentine Knightley Chetwode Labat (Labatt), whose Huguenot ancestors came from the Bordeaux region of France, and his wife Jane; d. 26 Oct. 1866 at London, Canada West.
Little is known of the early life of John Kinder Labatt. In August 1833 he married Eliza Kell, a relative of the great Norwich banker, Daniel Gurney, at Twickenham, Middlesex County, England. They were to have five sons and nine daughters. John and his wife immigrated to Upper Canada and in January 1834 purchased a 200-acre tract from the Canada Company in Westminster Township, just south of the town of London. In 1843 he acquired 200 acres adjacent to his lot from Colonel Thomas Talbot* for £50. He prospered in farming, sent his sons to the Caradoc Academy, the best boarding school in the region, and in 1844 played a leading role in the construction of Christ Church (Church of England) at Glanworth.
In 1846–47, possibly because of temporary difficulties with his English investments which were being handled by his father-in-law, Labatt visited Great Britain and considered remaining there, but the high cost of living sent him back to Canada. He sold his farm and invested £2,000 in the brewery operated by his friend Samuel Eccles, located, as it still is, on the south branch of the Thames at the foot of Talbot St. This was the oldest brewery in London, having been established by John Balkwill in 1827–28, then acquired by William Balkwill and Thomas W. Shepherd before it was sold to Eccles in 1847. Labatt and Eccles, as the firm was called, was soon producing three brands, XXX, XX, and X; Labatt prospered sufficiently to be able to buy Eccles’ interest when the latter retired in 1854. Labatt then changed the name to the London Brewery, and advertised himself as a brewer, maltster, and dealer in barley, malt, and hops. He was assisted by his eldest sons Ephraim and Robert; they later purchased their own brewery at Prescott, Ont., from a younger son, John, who joined his father in 1864.
Labatt was also active in the affairs of London. He was a member of the town council for St David’s Ward in 1850–51 and of the council of the Board of Trade in 1863. Interested in transportation ventures, he was one of the principals of the Proof Line Road Joint Stock Company, which extended communications north of London after 1849, and an incorporator of the London and Port Stanley Railway in 1853. He also helped establish the London Permanent Building and Savings Society and the Western Permanent Building Society, which were absorbed by the Huron and Erie Savings and Loan Society in 1865 and 1866 respectively. He was a parishioner of St Paul’s Cathedral (Church of England) and was prominent in aiding the needy of London in the great depression of the late 1850s.
When John K. Labatt died in 1866 his estate was valued at $16,000. The firm was purchased by his son John under the terms of the will and the presidency of the company remained with John, then with John’s sons John S. and Hugh F., until 1956. The corporation became a public company in 1945 and was controlled by the family trust until 1964, by which time it was one of Canada’s largest breweries.
Labatt family records are in the possession of Mrs Hugh F. Labatt of London, Ont., and of John Labatt Limited (London, Ont.). London Public Library and Art Museum (London, Ont.), Edwin Seaborn coll., Medical history, p. 369; Medical doctors, pp. 178, 446, 584. Middlesex County Surrogate Court (London, Ont.),will and inventory of J. K. Labatt, 25 April 1864, probated 13 Nov. 1866. Gore Gazette (Ancaster, [Ont.]), 24 Nov. 1827. Inquirer (London, [Ont.]), 15 Nov. 1844. London Free Press, 29 Oct. 1866. London Times (London, [Ont.]), 1 Oct. 1847. “John Labatt, London, Ont.,” The newspaper reference book of Canada . . . (Toronto, 1903), 411. History of the county of Middlesex (Brock), 196, 233, 285, 362, 372, 473, 575. London and its men of affairs (London, Ont., n.d.), 68, 70, 133.