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Hogtown Stories: Co-founder of Steam Whistle on creating a family business

Hogtown Stories is a series of portraits and short stories about Torontonians by Jeremy Korn, a photographer and urban planner. Find more photos of Greg and Cam, and past stories at  hogtownstories.com

Greg Taylor

Before I worked in breweries, I didn't always have a job I enjoyed. I used to put inserts into the local newspaper where I grew up. Then I was a stock boy during the late-night shift at a grocery store.

I went to U of T for a few years, but dropped out. Around that time, my uncle asked me to help him with a pizza business he was starting in D.C. The problem was, that business was all about making money instead of making great pizza. So I drove back to Toronto.

In 1988, I started delivering beer for Cam's father, Frank Heaps. Frank owned Upper Canada Brewing Company.

Cam started coming to the brewery back then, just to help out. Then he started working there. I was like his big brother. We eventually became really good friends.

Upper Canada had a strong family culture. It was the type of place everyone wants to work at. We had beers together after work all the time. And every spring, Frank hosted a canoe trip.

But Upper Canada was bought by Sleeman in 1998. The brand lives on, but the brewery was shut down. We all lost our jobs.

Greg Taylor and Cam Heaps are the founders of Steam Whistle Brewing. (Jeremy Korn for The Globe and Mail)

About a year after that, Frank decided to host the annual canoe trip anyway. Late one night on that trip, Cam, Greg Cromwell and I were sitting around the campfire, reminiscing about old times. We wanted to get back into the beer business.

One week later, we met at the Canary Restaurant to write the business plan for a new brewery. We originally called it “Three Fired Guys Brewing.”

One rainy Monday morning, Cam and I pulled up in front of the Roundhouse. I saw a sign that read: “For Commercial Use Proposals, Call This Number.” We called.

When we started, it was all abandoned fields, rail tracks and locomotive repair yards. It wasn’t the vibrant urban neighbourhood you see today. People didn’t think they could access the Roundhouse at all. In the beginning, we even had to host events to prove to the community that we were there.

Sixteen years later, my wife is the communications director here at Steam Whistle. And last summer, my son started working here. He’s 19 now. He grew up around the brewery, just like Cam did at Upper Canada. Cam and I are still great friends, and Frank chairs the board. Some of our staff have met here and gotten married. There are even Steam Whistle babies. This is a family business, and it always will be.

Greg Taylor and Cam Heaps are the founders of Steam Whistle Brewing.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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