The Vancouver Island brewing industry: 1858 - 1917




Evans, Gregory Mark

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From 1858 to 1917, Vancouver Island's brewing industry prospered in a community that, especially before the coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886, was small and relatively isolated. Nevertheless, the Island industry paralleled in many ways its North-American counterpart, particularly in technological change, business practice and the ethnicity of the individuals who shaped it. In areas such as product preference, unionization and export opportunities, however, the industry was at odds with much of the continent. These conclusions result from attempts to answer such key questions as: what was the overall pattern of growth and development of the Island industry? What market factors, such as transportation and economic cycles, shaped and perhaps controlled it? What were the characteristics of the individuals who founded the many breweries? Was the Island industry as technologically advanced as elsewhere? What role did unionism and Prohibition play in the development of the industry in the twentieth century? These questions have been answered in varying degrees. Unfortunately, the industry left few primary documents with which to reconstruct its history. Consequently, much reliance was placed on the records of other agencies, mainly those of government which, while comprehensive in some areas, are often incomplete or contradictory in others. Such information was augmented from a variety of sources, ranging from newspapers to individuals, who themselves or through their families, have a connection to the industry. The thesis has been placed, where possible, against several sophisticated studies of the brewing industry in Great Britain and the United States. Sadly, with the exception of Martin Ian Bowering's Masters thesis on "The Art and Mystery of Brewing in the Nineteenth Century Toronto," few studies exist for the Canadian industry. From time to time, therefore, interpretation rests on assumed parallels within the industry as a whole, most often within the North American context. Regardless of these drawbacks, this study of an overlooked aspect of Vancouver Island's industrial history, brewing, reveals that despite the Island's remoteness and small population the local production of beer was a viable economic activity for brewers and investors alike. While it may be argued that this was because the permanent populace, augmented by the Imperial Armed Forces, represented a captive market, the flexibility and resourcefulness of brewers in overcoming a variety of factors cannot be overlooked. This thesis demonstrates that it was primarily these personal characteristics that allowed brewers to meet the challenge presented by the vagaries of local and national economic cycles, imported beer, a growing dependence on outside sources for sophisticated machinery and raw ingredients and, finally, the push by large, national brewers and foreign investors to dominate the North American industry. In conclusion, recognition of the importance of change, and the flexibility needed to adopt it where warranted, was arguablythe most important trait of Island brewers--a trait that allowed the industry to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology and business practice witnessed in the latter half of the nineteenth century; and to take full advantage of the market presented by increasing consumption and changing consumer tastes away from ale to lager. In short, by the time Prohibition had become a fact of life in 1917, the local industry had moved from a largely unscientific, frontier activity to become fully integrated into the sophisticated, large-scale business world of the early twentieth century: an enterprise that demanded both financial acumen and scientific precision.