A Day in the Life

Gleanings from the “NBL Review”

I discussed some years ago the exhibition in the City of Montreal on Dawes Brewery history. It was chock-full of interest, covering advertising, brewing, Dawes family history, economic background – just about every angle of mid-century (1900s) brewing.

The exhibition was held at the original location of the Dawes Brewery, in Lachine, Quebec. I attended it not long before it closed, but a virtual version continues to be offered by the City of Montreal. It is equally interesting if not more so in some ways.

I’ve drawn attention to the employees’ magazine. The issues archived start in 1942 and end in 1949. National Breweries Ltd., of which Dawes was a unit with breweries in Quebec City and other breweries in Montreal, was bought by Canadian Breweries Ltd. in 1952. Rationalization soon followed with the result Dawes’ signature Black Horse Ale was dropped. (Nonetheless the brand came back at least once to Quebec province, in the early 1960s. I’ll return to this soon).

The magazine in the last years appears to me to have an elegiac tone. Many long-service retirements are featured, and not a few images of bygone days or passe technologies. One short piece even addressed the history of porter.

The explanation is conventional, standard dogma of the 19th century, but the fact of being included was unusual. First, porter had only a small sale by the 1940s. More importantly, the relentless focus on technology and new methods tended to preclude brewing history as a topic.

In a sense, beer, which provided the livelihood of all concerned at National Breweries, was taken for granted, something there was no need to investigate or compare to other traditions. While the readers “lived” beer every day, the incuriosity is still notable.

A rare exception pictured an employee, a maintenance supervisor at the Dow unit, with his collection of international beer bottles. He had about 50 from all over Canada, the U.S., Britain (one can just spot Bass Pale Ale), Denmark, and even China.

The editor prefaced the coverage by noting that some people collect matchbooks, others stamps, but this man collected beer bottles. It shows how novel the idea was, even in a brewery context. The collection perhaps had been exhibited at the employees’ 1947 “Hobby Show”, but to include it in the magazine was unusual.

Perhaps too there is an undertone of raised eyebrow, that an employee showed interest in other breweries. Still, the inclusion was notable. And certainly, it can’t have been easy to amass such a collection in Canada in the 1930s and ’40s. Being in the beer business probably helped, though.

As a slice of mid-1900s industrial and social history, these publications are invaluable.