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Ottawa’s History of Independent Beer Breweries

Ottawa’s History of Independent Beer Breweries


By Adam Slight

As Steve Beauchesne, the founder of Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company, mentioned in our Q&A session this week, the Ontario beer scene is enjoying fundamental changes that are pushing small independent beer breweries like Beau’s and others into public vogue. The current beer boom, celebrated by Ottawa through festivals like National Capital Craft Beer Week, and Winterbrewed highlight the benefits (both economic and culinary) of enjoying a local beer instead of something mass-produced by a conglomerate. With a large selection of local breweries, including Beau’s, Kichesippi Beer Co., Broadhead Brewing Co. and many others, Ottawa seems to have thrown itself right into the middle of the craft beer craze.

But did you know Ottawa was once the home of dozens of independent beer breweries long before this current renaissance? My grandfather fondly tells me stories about the teams of work-horses that were owned by these various breweries (for transporting giant kegs of beer) participating in parades down Bank Street in the 1940s and 50s, ending with a display at the former grounds at Lansdowne.

Some of the dozens of independent breweries doing business in the earliest part of the twentieth century included Bradings Breweries on Wellington Street West, Riverside Brewery, Dominion Brewery, Capital Brewing, as well as facilities for larger independent brewing companies operating throughout Ontario, including well-known Carling Brewing, O’Keefe, Taylor & bates, and Kuntz Brewery from Waterloo.

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By 1930, the year my grandfather was born, many of these smaller breweries began to be acquired by a holding company that went by the name of Brewing Corporation of Ontario, later named Canadian Breweries Limited. During prohibition, Canadian Breweries Limited continued to thrive as Canadian laws did not restrict the production of alcohol for purposes of international export, and thirsty, beer-deprived Americans became valued customers.

In 1969, Canadian Breweries Limited changed hands and became known as Carling O’Keefe. By this point, many of the original breweries had been shut down or consolidated under the umbrella corporation, moving production outside of Ottawa. In 1989, Carling O’Keefe was acquired by Molson, and in 2005 Molson merged with Coors.

Clearly Ottawa is a city with a deep history in the beer trade, so it’s of no surprise that we’re seeing such a positive resurgence of local independent beer production today. This history of conglomerate acquisition only underlines the importance of drinking local!