Province that pioneered craft beer in Canada to have movement’s priceless 40-year history protected
From the moment we first got the word, there was a sense of excitement in each of us. For this author, that moment came almost a year ago, November 9th, 2021 in the form of a note from Kim Lawton. What’s Brewing likes to refer to her as the ‘Mob Boss of Penticton Craft Beer’ (for the leadership efforts making her the glue which helps bond their exceedingly cohesive beer community).
Kim herself had gotten word the month prior via Cayla Stiles-Clark, President of the Campaign for Real Ale Society of BC (CAMRA) branch based in Victoria. Cayla had exciting news: she’d been contacted by a person from Simon Fraser University who was apparently interested in craft beer.
Given that SFU had previously run a since-dormant craft brewing education program, any community member might easily assume that the university must have been working on a beer school revival. But that’s not what this was about. What Cayla relayed was more stunning and came completely out of left field. For some then-inexplicable reason, SFU had decided to create what some of us had only ever dared hope for: a lasting home for BC’s craft beer history.
Part I: The Revolution Will Not Be Lost
If you’re not the nostalgic type, but you at least appreciate the fact you can consume much better food and drink today than back in the darkest days of the 20th century, you have a reason to be thankful for what ‘Thirsty Writer’ Joe Wiebe calls our Craft Beer Revolution. WIthout the change that began forty years ago, British Columbia—and, by extension, Canada—might be much more of a beer desert than it is today.
There are times when this revolution reaches the right people at the right time to inspire them to build something new. Sometimes, that results in the creation of a brewery, or a beer tasting event. In this tale, the right people were Richard Dancy and Melanie Hardbattle, two specialists working in the Archives and Records Management department at Simon Fraser University, helmed by Paul Hebbard. At separate points they would reach the epiphany many of us have experienced, and join the (now) legions of good beer lovers in BC. To our lasting benefit, their beer fandom ultimately inspired the creation of a new SFU-based BC Beer History Archive.
Archives management is all about preserving history, and job one for this type of department at any educational institution is to safely store the school’s own records. For this, a formal space is set up with suitable safeguards against theft, fire, and document deterioration. Once this facility exists, it can be used to capture historical aspects of the community at large. In the case of SFU Archives, this includes women’s history, social activism, social justice and politics.
Recently, the department has emphasized the acquisition of external materials and records from the public, in order to chronicle some of the contemporary movements in British Columbia. With the establishment of the nascent BC Beer History Archive (let’s call it ‘BHA’), BC’s craft beer community now has a go-to location to store its rich modern history.
It’s a great year to break ground, given that 2022 marks four decades since Canada’s microbrewing industry was born at Horseshoe Bay Brewing in 1982. After the last decade marked by explosive growth, followed by a devastating pandemic, it’s the perfect time to pull together an archive which looks back at what our craft beer people have accomplished since the 1980s—as well as BC’s wider beer history for a century or more before that.
The budding SFU collection already has a wide variety of items, ranging from breweriana to historical research papers. This is due to the work of the aforementioned Melanie Hardbattle, who is the department’s Acquisitions and Outreach Archivist. Once the team decided to pursue the BC craft beer idea, Melanie began researching the topic online and made contact with people behind the scenes. That led her to CAMRA Victoria, and the jewel of the new archive.
Given to CAMRA in recent years was the single most important collection of works about BC beer history: those of Greg Evans, BC’s preeminent beer historian. Evans, who passed away at the end of 2018, was revered in the beer community as an academic professional who seriously studied BC’s brewing past. He was working on a book at the time of his death. CAMRA had originally hoped to digitize as much as possible of Greg’s collection, then donate it to the Royal BC Museum, where he had worked. Now, the collection which his family had generously bestowed has an especially appropriate home at SFU.
Connecting with people in Victoria is especially critical for a project like this because that’s where the BC beer enthusiast community first formed a lasting association, primarily in the form of CAMRA. The branch’s original President, John Rowling, met with Melanie earlier this year and became a key contributor to the new SFU archives, with records including correspondence with early craft luminaries such as Michael Jackson, Charles Finkel, Ed McNally and others.
Asked about his first reaction to the SFU project, Rowling shares, “I was delighted, as I had been archiving material with the hope that the Royal BC Museum and Archives would be interested one day.” John also confesses a sense of relief that is candidly common to most of the contributors, at least as far as this author is concerned. He notes, “About a year ago, my family had asked what I was going to do with all my beer memorabilia, saying ‘We don’t want it!’ The timing was perfect, and I was excited that it was going to a permanent repository.”
One early spinoff of CAMRA Victoria was the Great Canadian Beer Festival, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. Rowling provided SFU with notes, business plans and operating manuals for GCBF, as well as posters, programmes, glasses, volunteer shirts and essentially his entire treasure trove. He had co-founded the event back in 1993 with longtime BC craft beer industry and community leader Gerry Hieter, who managed this pioneering festival for years. Melanie has been fortunate to also meet with Heiter and collect a large haul of materials from his priceless archives as well.
Another spinoff of CAMRA Victoria’s formation in 1990 was this very publication, What’s Brewing. Originally the CAMRA newsletter, WB has always documented BC’s beer scene with a focus on history, and never was that more evident than with our 30th Anniversary issue in Summer 2020. Melanie Hardbattle cites that edition, available online, as a valuable resource in planning the archive. As a result, when Hardbattle connected with this author, we had a lot to talk about, and the result was a major intake of materials for the program.
What We Donated, and How You Can Too
Thanks to years of collecting breweriana (miscellany related to beer and brewing), this author was able to donate hundreds of pieces to the archive on behalf of What’s Brewing. Many of these had actually been acquired from the Gerry Hieter himself a number of years ago when he was forced to downsize. It was the perfect opportunity to forward these materials to a place where they will be safe and the public can access them.
“I stashed away pretty much every single thing I came across related to craft brewing between 1986 to 2020”, Hieter relates. “I never once gave much thought as to where it might all end up. As I grew older, I just figured that most of it would end up in a landfill somewhere.”
A happy Hieter enthuses, “Now, [these items] will be archived, digitized and available for anyone to see in the future. I can’t tell you how good that feels, and how grateful I am to SFU, Melanie Hardbattle and Dave Smith for helping ensure all of this stuff gets saved.”
What sort of material is Gerry talking about? Our donation includes full and empty bottles and cans, tap handles, posters, coasters, tent cards, documents, letters, booklets, publications and various other collectibles. SFU is interested in anything of historic value in its intake, whether it’s physical or digital, and whether it’s on paper, video, audio, photography or any other format. It can even be beer recipes or spoken word stories.
That means there are numerous beer fans, industry members and collectors around BC who could conceivably contribute to the archive. For this reason, readers of this article are invited to reach out to SFU Archives to find out whether their memorabilia could be donated to the program. Here is an excerpt from their Private Records Acquisition Strategy document that summarizes their recent interest in BC beer:
Records documenting the development of the craft brewing (beer) industry in British Columbia, with a particular focus on records from the 1970s onwards. Includes brewery business records; the records of brewing associations and affiliated organizations, including industry media and promoters and festival and event organizers; and the archives of individuals who have played a significant role in establishing and expanding the industry. Types of records to be acquired include administrative records, minutes, correspondence, financial records, contracts, reports, sales records, equipment records, publicity and press clippings, publications, podcasts, photographs, conference and event records, and advertising and marketing records such as graphic design material, label art, and merchandise.
Contact the BC Beer History Archive
If you think you have something that is a fit, here’s how to reach SFU:
Attn: Melanie Hardbattle
Acquisitions and Outreach Archivist
E: [email protected]
Start your journey here, and use the links below to learn more:
Next in Part II
Next in this series: more about why this is a massive development for the beer community. Meet the team at SFU Archives, hear what they have to say and dive deeper into what you’ll one day be able to browse online or view in person. Find out how some of this material may make its way to a beer festival near you!