A common stock certificate from British Columbia Breweries Limited, dated June 28, 1913. The engraving featured on this certificate is, in fact, an imaginary view not actually depicting Vancouver. Perhaps it’s a fantasized view of Brewery Creek, with idealized mountains in the background and a river (or False Creek?) in the foreground. I wouldn’t normally include such an ambiguous piece, but since it represents an important artifact of Vancouver’s early beer industry, I’m making an exception. My favourite new source of information on the early brewers of British Columbia is the book Beer Barons of B.C. by Bill Wilson, which you can order directly from the author (bcbeerbarons at hotmail dot ca), or you can find it in the Mount Pleasant branch of the Vancouver Public Library. I believe the first printing of the book (2011) was limited to 500 copies, so get your copy soon!
From this book, I’ve learned that B.C. Breweries Limited was a holding company formed February 20, 1911, initially comprised of these three companies:
a.) Union Brewing Co. Ltd. (Nanaimo) 1891-1919
b.) Vancouver Breweries Ltd. 1900-1949
c.) Canadian Brewing & Malting Co., Ltd. 1908-1918
In May 1911, another firm was added:
d.) Pilsner Brewing Co. (Cumberland) 1909-1916
The real roots of these companies date back even earlier. The Vancouver Brewery can be traced back as early as 1887, when Charles Gottfried Doering and Louis Blum partnered and established their operations at the corner of Scotia Street and E 7th Ave in Mount Pleasant. Doering would join forces with a number of other brewers/breweries along the way; August Schwan, Otto Marstrand (aka Alexandra Brewery), and John Williams (aka the Red Cross Brewery).
The Union Brewing Co. Ltd. in Nanaimo was established by Henry Reifel, but this was not the first time he had started a brewery in BC. “He had operated the short-lived San Francisco Brewery in Mount Pleasant in 1888 with his brother Jack and Charles Miller.” All of this info is paraphrased from Beer Barons of B.C., which contains much much more info about early breweries all across British Columbia.
The Canadian Brewing & Malting Co. Ltd was also established by Henry Reifel in 1908, and incorporated in 1909. It was located at the corner of 11th Ave W & Yew Street in Kitsilano.
I love the amount of detail Bill Wilson has poured into his book. The date of this stock certificate (1913) demonstrates that this stock offering came at a tumultuous time in the company’s history. Again from Beer Barons of B.C.:
On November 1, 1912, B.C. Breweries was sold to a British-backed firm and renamed British Columbia Breweries Ltd. The new firm had major operating problems according to Doering & Williams, who reported irregular bookkeeping and improper company filings with the Registrar of Companies, plus other issues. It went into receivership in 1915 and was run for two years by Sam Prenter. After a lengthy investigation by the Registrar of Companies, a liquidator wound up the affairs of the company in 1917 (Source - Evans Thesis). It was then reorganized as British Columbia Breweries (1918) Ltd. In 1923, it became Brewers & Distillers of Vancouver. Henry Reifel was president from 1918-33.
If things weren’t confusing enough already, there were two more acquisitions to the holding company.
e.) B.C. Distillery at New Westminster - acquired in 1921.
f.) Pioneer Distillery at Amherstburg, Ontario - acquired 1927.
There’s lots more detail I’d like to go into about these locations, from the Mount Pleasant brewery at 263 E 7th Street to the Kitsilano castle-like brewery at W 12th and Yew, and even further away, the BC Distillery in New Westminster. The sad reality is, these locations barely echo their original industrial prominence and historical significance. And one more irony; the City of Vancouver website used to retrieve nuggets of historical information from documents like this Development & Building Policy Report or this communication between Engineering Services and City Council. I’ve just learned that now, regretfully, these pages appear to be coming up 404! More history, lost to redevelopment.