Museum musings: Prince Albert’s breweries

Photo courtesy of the Bill Smiley Archives. The brewery owned by the Golden Lion Brewing Company (pictured) closed in December 1916.

Konrad Wittemann, who opened a brewery in Prince Albert in 1895, is quoted as having written “When we came here there was hardly any demand for beer in the country, everybody drinking whiskey; but since we started the brewery the sale of beer has increased right along, and the taste here will be cultivated.”

Whether Wittemann was accurate in his assessment of the drinking tastes of the early settlers of the district is likely open to question.  Given the prevalence of rum distributed by the fur traders, a taste for whiskey might not have ranked as the drink of choice.  Although, the preponderance of individuals of Scottish ancestry might have resulted in whisky being the choice of many settlers.

A meeting held in March, 1879, which had been called to discuss the erection of a brewery resulted was reported by the Herald with the following result:  “the majority of the people thought that they could get along very well without (one), and accordingly voted (it) down.

The earliest probable brewery in the Prince Albert area was likely one established by John Wymerskirch  who moved to Prince Albert from Humboldt in 1881.  The Saskatchewan Herald made mention of his arrival here in their newspaper of November 26th of that year.  In November of the following year, the Saskatchewan Times ran an advertisement for The Gable House, which suggested that they had the “best beer, and cigars of the finest brands, always on hand”.  Although no information can be found to provide actual proof that the beer available at The Gable House was brewed in Prince Albert, the fact that Wymerskirch was a known brewer, and was the proprietor of that establishment would suggest that it was brewed locally.

Two advertisements appearing in 1888 would indicate that Prince Albert had two breweries in the community.  One advertisement referred to the Caledonia Brewery which was located in the east end of Prince Albert at what is now 12th Avenue and River Street East.  This brewery was said to produce a pure and sparkling “Saskatchewan (Hop) Ale, delivered to all parts of the town”.  A receipt for the delivery of their ale to a private address exists in the Bill Smiley Archives at the Historical Museum.  In the advertisement, Charles Woodman was identified as the proprietor of the Caledonia Brewery.  In the alphabetical listing contained in the 1888 McPhillips’ Saskatchewan Directory, he is listed as a salon keeper resident in Prince Albert’s east end.

It would appear that Woodman moved his brewery to the East Hill in 1892, where he operated it until 1901.  In that year he sold the brewery to J.R. Downes.  Downes operated it until 1902 under the name British and Bavaria Brewery.

Another advertisement states that the Prince Albert Brewery on 3rd Street (now 13th Street and 1st Avenue East) produced an “Amber (Hop) Ale of superior quality.  It, too, could be delivered to any part of town by its proprietors, McIntosh and Gerrond.  The McPhillips’ Directory lists James McIntosh as a brewer who is resident on Third Street in Prince Albert.  James Gerrond is listed as “of McIntosh & Gerrond, brewers, r, Third-st.”  James McIntosh appears to have lost interest in the brewery business because by the following year, 1889, the ownership of the brewery was reported to be the Gerrond Brothers.  The second brother was likely to have been William Gerrond who was listed in the McPhillips’ Directory as a teacher in Halcro, a community about twelve miles (twenty kilometres) south-east of Prince Albert.

Newspaper reports from August, 1895, kept local residents updated on the construction of the Wittemann Brewery.  Andrew Holmes had secured the contract, with a man by the name of Congdon sub-contracted to complete the foundation and basement.  By the end of October, that work was completed, and Holmes was making rapid progress with the joiner work.

Prior to the arrival of the machinery for the new brewery, malting had begun with sixty bushels of barley being put to steep as a starter.  When the machinery did arrive, at 36,000 pounds and a cost of over $400.00, it was the heaviest train car to arrive in Prince Albert.  Included in the machinery was the boiler and engine, barley cleaners, vats, tubs and innumerable items required for the brewery’s operation.

The construction of the brewery, begun in August 1895, was completed in October of the following year.  The beer being produced, called Bavarian Lager, was said by connoisseurs to rank amongst the best on the continent.  Trial orders shipped by rail resulted in repeat orders for which the brewery was unable to keep up.  As a result, a new cooler was added to the plant which reduced the process from a month to a few days.

In the meantime, on October 1st, the Wittemanns had purchased the Queen’s Hotel, with the expectation that the two businesses would complement each other.  Management of the hotel changed, however, on February 2nd, 1897 with Gladstone and Stalker taking over.

In May, 1904, news reports indicated that one of the highest real estate transactions in the town of Prince Albert had taken place.  It involved the purchase of the Wittemann Brewery by local merchant F.C. (Fred) Baker, contractor Thomas Baker, and brewer Gustave Wagner.  The value of the sale was stated to be $60.000.

The title for the brewery was thereafter transferred to the Golden Lion Brewing Company, with the company’s first advertisement appearing on April 11th, 1904 in the Prince Albert Advocate.  The business operated from the north side of River Street in the original location of the Wittemann Brewery until a fire in March, 1913 resulted in the need to rebuild the brewery.  The new construction was on the south side of River Street on land now a part of the Riverside School grounds.  By 1914, the brewery’s equipment was considered to be outdated, and sales and profits began to drop.  The local prohibition ballot in Prince Albert resulted in the brewery’s last day of operation occurring on December 30, 1916.  The Golden Lion company folded in June, 1916.

Another brewery which was open in 1895 was one owned by Joseph Courtney.  Also located near the river, this brewery was actually on the Hudson’s Bay Company reserve, slightly to the east of the town’s Electric Light Company.  The brewery was located in a three story, 40 foot by 36 foot building.  Courtney employed six staff, and purchased his supplies from local area farmers for cash.  The water, considered to be the most requisite article for a brewery, was obtained from a 57 foot well which was 26 feet below the level of the river.  Courtney sold the building in 1902 to G.R. Russell.

In April 1921, Hiram Fletcher made an application for a brewer’s licence to sell beer to drug stores.  His small brewery was located at 2317 – First Avenue East, and housed a 16 gallon mash tun, two 40 gallon kettles, a 30 gallon cooling vessel, and three 140 gallon fermenters.  When Fletcher ordered 500 pounds of malt from The Canada Malting Company, he was advised that they would only ship orders for 2,000 pounds.  As a result, he decided that he would build a larger plant at 59 – 17th Street West.  A brewer’s licence was issued in 1930 in the name of the General Breweries Ltd. (later renamed the Red Wing Brewing Company).  By this time, the company’s directors were Omer Demers, a farmer from the Debden area, and A.J. Hanson, the local sheriff.  Red Wing’s brewer was George Kiewel, whose father had started in the brewery business in 1882, and whose family had breweries in Minnesota and Manitoba.

An announcement was printed in the local newspaper on May 16th, 1924 indicating that The Star Brewery would begin construction the following Monday.  It was to be licenced under the name of Prince Albert Brewing Company, and was to be run by the Sicks’ family from Lethbridge.  Fritz Sicks bought Fletcher’s licence, and the construction of the brewery began on a site near 17th Street West and 6th Avenue.  The new brewery was to be managed by R.J. Chiswick.

On January 2nd, 1936, the Red Wing Brewing Company was acquired by the Prince Albert Breweries Ltd.  The Red Wing manager, George Kiewel became the joint manager of the Prince Albert Breweries along with Bill Quinn.  Between 15 and 20 employees and three brands were absorbed from the Red Wing firm into the Prince Albert Breweries operation. The site of the Red Wing Brewery re-opened as the Central Cold Storage Company (now the business premises of Charles’ Repair).

During the Depression, sales of beer fell back.  However, of the eleven breweries in existence in the province in1932/33, the Prince Albert Breweries Limited ranked first in the order of sales and the Red Wing Brewery ranked sixth.

Prince Albert Breweries name change occurred to Sicks in 1944, and then in 1964 it became Sicks’ Bohemian Brewery Ltd.  The plant was acquired by Molson Breweries in 1958, although the name of the plant was not changed to Molson Prince Albert Brewery until the 1970s.

Bohemian Lager was the only krausened beer in Canada.  Krausening (or self-carbonisation) involves two natural fermentations followed by a lengthy aging process.  The Prince Albert beer won the Gold Medal for Excellence at Brussels in 1967 and 1968.  In 1968 it also won the Gold Medal at the Seventh World Brewing Olympics held in Germany.  The brand accomplished over 50% of provincial sales, and coupled with sales of its provincial partner from Regina, Sicks’ total sales exceeded 70% provincially.

Molson Prince Albert Brewery had its final packaging shift on April 4th, 1986, after which the bottling of Saskatchewan’s Molson products was shifted to the Regina plant.  Until recently, Prince Albert has been without a licenced brewery.  It currently has only one brewery, the Prince Albert Brewing Company, located on 6th Avenue East.