As It Happens

A truly Canadian find: Vintage stubbies filled with beer found cooling in Lake Ontario

Cameron Thomson tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann about the moment he discovered two stubby beer bottles. He guesses they're decades old.
Cameron Thomson found two stubbies at the beach earlier this month. (Cameron Thomson)

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It has been decades since beer was commonly sold to us in a stubby — but last weekend, a Toronto man found two of the bottles while walking in the water at a local beach.

"Quite a bit of the beach had been eroded this year because of the high water and a lot of roots had been exposed. As I was going along, I saw these two round shapes," Cameron Thomson told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"I was just curious what they were. They were sort of a brown amber kind of a colour."

"I grabbed both of them kind of at once and lo and behold I had two ... unopened stubbies that had been upside down in the sand buried in the beach, I guess, and possibly in the water for quite a long time."

Thomson, a self-described beachcomber who often goes looking for old glass and ceramic, said he found the bottles at Toronto's Cherry Beach. 

Beer producers began to switch over to long-neck bottles in the early '80s. Thomson guessed the stubbies he found are at least that old.

"I don't know. The caps are so rusted that it's impossible to tell what they were. The labels are gone. Although, one of the caps has a little tiny bit of green on it," he said, which makes him think of the brand Pilsner. 

He says others have suggested that the brand is Labatt 50. 

Thomson said he's going to leave at least one of the bottles closed, but is tempted to try the other.

"I won't do it alone. I'll make some kind of occasion out of it. I'll put it in the fridge for a good long time. I'll have some friends around and do it," he said.

"I think that there has probably been some exchange of lake water. And in any case, if not that, certainly they're not fizzy anymore."

When the beer industry decided to get rid of the stubby and replace it with the long-neck bottle, some people — including Phelan Scanlon — were not happy about.

Scanlon, the secretary treasurer of the William Lyon Mackenzie Appreciation Society, spoke with As It Happens host Elizabeth Gray about it at the time. 

"I look at it this way," he said in a 1983 interview.

"Some day, some archaeologist 200 years from now could look back and find it — this round, brown, stubby bottle — and he'll know by looking at it that it's a Canadian invention which is distinguishable from say an American beer bottle.

"We are so indistinguishable from the Americans in so many ways that it would be nice to, you know, be proud of our nice stubby Canadian brown bottle."

Thomson  said he imagines the beers could have been left at the beach after some people "drank to the point where they lost track of the beer." 

"Actually, people would put beer in the lake itself to keep them cool. So, they could have been lost that way," he said.

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