Historic Beer Tidbits: Canada

Historic Beer Tidbits: Canada

September 27, 2017


And now it’s time for a history lesson. Did you know that Canadian brewing pioneers contributed significantly to the growth of Canada? In the past, water was considered unsafe to drink and therefore beer was widely accepted as a safe alternative. There was a surplus of grains in Canada and Canadians were spending more money on importing liquors, such as French brandy, and weren’t earning money on exports.  Because grains were readily available, it was easy for brewers to offer beer as an alternative and Canadians could now purchase beer and keep their spending money within the local economy, contributing to the growth and development of a fledgling country.


Brewers were revered and were well regarded in society. One example of this is George Sleeman who opened Silver Creek Brewery in Guelph in the year 1851. He became Guelph’s first mayor and used his position to significantly contribute to the growth of the city. Sleeman saw the potential of a railway for both the city and his business and funded the Guelph Railway Company using his own money to fund the endeavor. Unfortunately, he took on so much debt he was not able to recover and the city took ownership of both the railway company and Silver Creek Brewery. Being the savvy business-minded person he was, Sleeman decided to open a rival brewery called Spring Bank Beverages. He quickly found success and bought back Silver Creek Brewery less than five years later.





Maybe you’ve heard of a little brewer called Alexander Keith. Keith arrived in Canada in 1820 and went on to become a very important part of Halifax’s business community. He was appointed as a director of the Bank of Nova Scotia, a director of the Halifax Fire Insurance Company and even helped to found the Halifax Marine Insurance Association. He was later elected to the first city council and served as commissioner of public property. He went on to become the mayor of Halifax not once, but twice! Later in his life, he even declined a seat in the Canadian Senate. But what do you know him for?




Unfortunately, this portrait of Canadian Brewing entrepreneurs only covers men. Canada was not yet as multicultural as it is now. However, these men weren’t always the masterminds behind these brewing empires. Susannah Woodhouse Oland was married to James Dunn Oland and their family took ownership of a small brewery in 1867. The brewery was called James Oland and Sons but don’t be fooled, it was Susannah’s baby. Susannah’s home-brew recipes were used and she is often credited as the mastermind of the brewery. Sadly, John Oland died and Susannah lost ownership of the brewery. Being the bad ass that she was, she worked hard for seven years and was finally able to buy back the brewery. She named it S. Oland, Sons and Co. (clever) and she taught her sons the brewing process. The business is still in the Oland family today and is run by Susannah’s great-great-great grandson. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called Moosehead.




It is easy to see that these brewing pioneers were savvy business people. They helped their local communities grow. If it weren’t for individuals like them, Canada would not have the rich brewing tradition is has and the landscape of the country could look very different. Do you have a favorite Canadian brewing pioneer? Tell us about them in the comments!




Archive, N. M. (n.d.). Archive. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://navalmarinearchive.com/collections/chj_snider.html

Beer Canada. (2017). Moosehead Breweries Limited. Retrieved April 7, 2017, from https://industry.beercanada.com/member/moosehead-breweries-limited

Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (1988). Biography – MOLSON, JOHN (1763-1836) – Volume VII (1836-1850) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/molson_john_1763_1836_7E.html

Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (1972). Biography – KEITH, ALEXANDER – Volume X (1871-1880) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/keith_alexander_10E.html

Eberts, D. (2007). To brew or not to brew: a brief history of beer in Canada. Manitoba History, (54), 2+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/ps/i.do?p=AONE&sw=w&u=guel77241&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CA162301343&asid=cf4288fab7de6c2d0d8672ff62410a72

Marianopolis College. (2005). Quebec History. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/encyclopedia/JohnMolson-QuebecHistory.htm

Oland, A. (2013, March 26). One woman's work. Retrieved April 07, 2017, from http://www.mooseheadbeeracademy.com/one-womans-work/

Sleeman Collection. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/find/find-type-resource/archival-special-collections/sleeman-collection

Telbec. (2013, March 28). U of G to Preserve Sleeman Family History. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/u-of-g-to-preserve-sleeman-family-history-512161811.html


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