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Beer: Six pints per day

The Story


During the 18th century, British soldiers in Canada were entitled to six pints of beer a day. So wherever you found a British military post in those days, you'd likely find a brewery. In this radio clip, beer historian Ian Bowering describes the early years of brewing in Canada. He discusses the United Empire Loyalists' love of beer, the Temperance movement, and the great influence of businessman E.P. Taylor on the 20th-century beer industry. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The Food Show
Broadcast Date: April 8, 1990
Guest(s): Ian Bowering
Host: Bruce Steele
Duration: 6:44
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Did You know?


• Canada's first commercial brewery was opened in New France (Quebec) in 1670 by Jean Talon. It was called La Brasserie du Roy, or the King's Brewery. By 1675 it had closed. The building served as a military prison afterwards.
• As imported wine became more affordable in New France, the practice of brewing beer fell out of favour with the French in Canada by the mid-1700s.

• The British army in Upper Canada (Ontario) in the 1700s and 1800s guaranteed a healthy market for small local brewers, as soldiers were entitled to their daily rations of beer. Beer was considered necessary not just for soldiers' refreshment, but also to keep up their strength.
• After the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1776, United Empire Loyalists - Americans who were loyal the British Crown - fled to Canada, bringing their English brewing traditions to Upper Canada and the Maritimes.

• Many of today's well-known Canadian breweries were established in the 18th and 19th centuries:
- in 1786, John Molson established his first brewery in Montreal
- in 1829, Alexander Keith opened his first brewery in Nova Scotia
- in 1830, Thomas Carling opened a brewery in London, Ont.
- in 1847, John Labatt opened a brewery in London, Ont.

• In her book The Canadian Settler's Guide, well-known 19th-century Canadian writer Catharine Parr Traill wrote that beer was the best beverage to provide "some cooling and strengthening.much required by men who have to work out in the heat of the sun."

• In the early 20th century, Canadian Prohibition laws had a great impact on Canada's beer industry. The Canada Temperance Act of 1878 gave provinces the power to ban the sale of alcohol, but none of the provinces used this power until many years later. All of the provinces - with the exception of Quebec - implemented Prohibition at different points during the First World War (1914-1919).

• In Ontario, it wasn't illegal to brew beer; it was only illegal to sell it in the province. This lead to an interesting "mail-order" loophole. During Prohibition, Ontario customers started writing to certain merchants in the United States or Quebec (where it was still legal to buy beer), placing beer orders. The out-of-province merchant would send the order to the Ontario brewery, then send the receipt to the Ontario customer wanting the beer. The Ontario customer could then legally pick up the beer at the brewery using the out-of-province receipt.

• After the war ended, all of the provinces started dropping their Prohibition regulations. The exception was P.E.I., which held out and remained "alcohol-free" until 1948.
• As a result of Prohibition, the Canadian beer industry was greatly diminished. In 1916, there were 118 licensed breweries in Canada. By the early 1920s, however, that total had dropped to around 70 breweries.

• Many beer historians, including Ian Bowering, credit Canadian businessman E.P. Taylor with getting Canada's post-Prohibition beer industry back on its feet through his aggressive brewery consolidation ideas. He is also said to have shaped the model that dominated the beer industry for most of the 20th century. Rather than having many little breweries, as Canada did in the early years, he believed in bringing lots of small breweries together to create a few large, dominant, successful and efficient breweries.


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