“Brewing Changes Guelph”: September 15, 2018 – February 24, 2019

Yesterday, I attended a new exhibition mounted at the Civic Museum, a component of Guelph Museums in Guelph, ON. See www.guelphmuseums.ca.

Guelph, often called by its blue blood nickname, the Royal City, is some 60 miles west of Toronto. It’s an active place due to its diversified economy of light manufacturing, agriculture, and health care as well as being situs of University of Guelph. Yet it still maintains a rural calm and peace in welcome contrast to frenetic Toronto.

The showing is called “Brewing Changes Guelph”. I first learned of it some months ago when visiting the nearby Wellington Brewery with Tim Holt, editor of the U.K.-based, Brewery History.

The museum is in a glass-fronted, historic grey-stone structure next to the imposing Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate. Guelph always had a Catholic component, strengthened by early Irish immigration. The basilica is beautifully maintained to this day to serve that body.

Guelph was largely founded by Scots and other Britons under the leadership of John Galt and his Canada Land Company. This differentiates the area from the pattern of settlement seen in other Ontario communities, where United Empire Loyalists (from the United States) were the first (non-Indigenous) settlers.

The exhibition is in two phases, a main-floor exhibit that chronicles the history until the 1930s, and a third floor showing that explains the revival of brewing since the 1980s.

It is certainly well done, compact yet delivering considerable, focused information. We liked the aural components as well which included interviews with craft distilling pioneers John Sleeman and Charles MacLean.

We have lived in Ontario through the modern period and can attest to the accuracy and point of the treatment. Having studied many aspects of Ontario brewing history, not to mention Ontario’s distilling history in-depth, we say the same of the exhibit’s first phase.

Distilling is also treated to an extent in the exhibit. The Allan Distillery is mentioned, of which I wrote earlier, here.

John Sleeman refers to a historic family book of recipes, handed down in his family until brewing could be resumed. I recall him showing it to me when I visited Sleeman brewery with the late beer writer Michael Jackson some 25 years ago.

Mr. Sleeman added some interesting details about the cream ale of Sleeman Brewery, among its most popular brands. He said it was originally made by his Sleeman ancestors in the 1800s by combining an ale and a lager but later they evolved a specific recipe to produce the taste.

The wall-mounted narratives will appeal to the layman and those with more specialized knowledge, not to mention the displays of historic bottles, prints, advertisements, and brewing or labelling equipment

One hopes many Ontarians and other visitors will have the chance to see the exhibit. It is also very well-priced, at only $5.00. This includes access to the general exhibits and another museum in the network.

Given the many attractions of Guelph and Wellington County, Torontonians with the beer or history bug should make the visit to the Royal City this fall or winter.