Beer (records) in the Archives!

October 25, 2022
Victoria-Phoenix Brewery and Silver Spring Brewery labels, SFU Archives file F-316-9-0-0-1

October is Craft Beer Month in British Columbia, and we at SFU Archives are trying to do our part. Not just by drinking BC craft beers (outside work hours of course!) but through our collections program, where we have begun acquiring the archival records of craft breweries, along with documentation relating to the history of brewing in BC. The Greg Evans fonds contains the records of a BC brewing historian and is the first of our brewing-related holdings to be arranged and described. Its finding aid is now available online.

Local, independent breweries flourish across BC today, but it wasn't always so. In the years following World War II, the "Big 3" national brewers (Molson, Labatt's, Carling-O'Keefe) attained a near-monopoly on beer production and distribution in Canada, with a few regional survivors. And their beers were mostly indistinguishable, aside from the branding.

Things began to change in 1982 when John Mitchell and Frank Appleton brewed the first batch of Bay Ale for Horseshoe Bay Brewery, BC's (and Canada's) first microbrewery. Mitchell and Appleton opened the way and other craft breweries and brewpubs followed. From the smaller numbers of the 1980s and 90s through the boom of the 2010s, there are now over 220 breweries in BC.

The present might be a kind of "golden age" of brewing, but where did that dismal world that was the pre-1982 beer scene come from? And what was there before it? Who were BC's early brewers and how did they operate? People sometimes speak of a "craft beer renaissance" but does that mean that those early brewers were "just like" today's craft brewers, animated by the same ethos and concerns? And what was their beer like?

Greg Evans, courtesy Linda Eversole

There is no better guide to these and related questions than the work of Greg Evans. Evans, who passed away in 2018, was a BC heritage professional whose career began at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria and included posts as Municipal Archivist of Esquimalt and Executive Director at the Vancouver Museum and the BC Maritime Museum. He was also a brewing historian. His 1991 Master's thesis from the University of Victoria was on The Vancouver Island Brewing Industry: 1858-1917, and it remains unsurpassed as a source of information and analysis on early brewing in BC. Post-thesis, Evans continued to pursue the topic. He published articles, gave public talks, consulted on projects relating to the history of BC beer and brewing, and was an active participant in Victoria's craft beer scene.

At the time of his death, Evans was working on a projected multi-volume book on The History of Beer Brewing in British Columbia. Unfortunately no manuscript (paper or digital) survives, though outlines and fragments can be found in his remaining papers. Evans' wife Susan Woods transferred his archive to the Campaign for Real Ale Society (CAMRA) Victoria in 2019, and in December 2021 CAMRA Victoria donated the records to SFU Archives.

Evans' fonds includes his thesis and other writings, speaking notes, correspondence and project files. But the core of the archive is the research material he accumulated over the years, from the time of writing his thesis to the latest work on his unfinished book. Evans searched archives, museums and libraries across the province for the sparse surviving primary sources on the early brewers. He also sought out and interviewed members of the old brewing families. His papers include dossiers on over 70 individual breweries and over 80 brewers, and the files contain copies of the brewers' records, photos and artefacts, along with his own correspondence, notes, drafts, and profiles.

Fernie Brewing Company label (1957); SFU Archives file F-316-5-0-0-32

BC's first brewery was established in Victoria in 1858 by William Steinberger (the Victoria Brewery). Up until the 1890s, Victoria typically had about six or seven local breweries operating at any one time. On the Mainland, Picht's Brewery and the Westminster Brewery were established in New West by 1862, while Vancouver's brewing industry began in the 1880s. By the end of that decade, Vancouver had six breweries, led by Red Cross and Doering and Marstrand (the two would merge in 1900). In step with BC's various resource booms, local breweries were created throughout the Cariboo, Thompson-Okanagan and Kootenays.

Advertisement on eve of BC Prohibition, SFU Archives file F-316-5-0-0-33

Evans' files document the development of early frontier breweries, the emergence of corporate forms of organization and capital-intensive breweries towards the end of the 19th century, the bankruptcies and amalgamations of the pre-war period, and the rise and fall of BC's historic hops industry. There is also material relating to the debates around the Temperance movement, BC's brief Prohibition era (1917-1921) and its effects on the industry (spoiler alert: it was bad), and the ways in which post-Prohibition liquor legislation helped shape the order that would eventually see the domination of the Big 3.

The Archives has begun digitizing the fonds in order to make it more widely accessible through SFU AtoM. Digitization involves physically scanning the documents, but also reviewing the materials for copyright and privacy issues. The aim is to deal respectfully with copyrights owned by third parties and terms-of-use agreements Evans entered into, and to protect the privacy of Evans' correspondants in an online environment.

For all its riches, the Greg Evans fonds also brings home just how precarious is the survival of the documentary record of BC's early brewing history and how much in fact was lost. How can we make sure that the records of today's craft breweries don't meet the same fate? For the past two years, Melanie Hardbattle, the Archives' Acquisitions and Outreach Archivist, has been actively making connections, seeking out and acquiring records in the community. Acquisitions so far include materials from associations, brewers, breweries, festivals, media and other individuals active in the BC craft brewing community. Stay tuned as we arrange and describe these and bring more online!