The first recorded Canadian Brewer, Brother Amboise, a Jesuit, was reportedly making beer following New France’s foundation. At this time, brewing was primarily done domestically for personal use and special occasions.
A few years later, the Great Intendant Jean Talon, founded Canada’s first commercial brewery in Québec City, to reduce his colony’s dependence on imported brandy. His brewery, which opened in 1688, was so successful that its brews were sold to the West Indies, making it the first Canadian beer ever exported.
The Talon brewery only operated for five years, but its remains — known as the Talon Vaults — can still be seen in the lower city of old Québec.
By 1786, John Molson established his first brewery in Montréal, which is today the oldest brewery in North America.
Alexander Keith & Son founded their brewery in Nova Scotia in 1829. John H. Sleeman established his first brewery in St. David’s, Ontario in 1836.
Thomas Carling opened the doors to his new Brewing & Malting Company in London in 1840. The Labatt name entered the scene in London, in 1847 and in 1867 the stage was set for both the Oland and Moosehead breweries by the Oland family.
By the 1870s, brewing had come into its own with brewers as far west as Victoria, British Columbia and as far east as Saint John, New Brunswick. Despite occasional economic setbacks, sales grew up until the First World War.
With the outbreak of war, beer prices increased due to a “doubling” of the excise duty on malt, and many provinces decided to go “dry” as a war measure. In 1918, the federal cabinet decreed that no intoxicating liquor of any kind could be manufactured or imported until 12 months after peace was restored. Canada’s experiment with prohibition lasted into the 1920s (and as late as 1948 for Prince Edward Island), when consumer demand and common sense reasserted itself.
Prohibition, the Great Depression and the Second World War hit brewers hard, and forced a great period of industry consolidation. Regional brewers across the country merged or were bought out by other brewers, resulting in larger companies and a competitive industry.
As beer drinkers in other countries became aware of the quality of Canadian beer, exports also began to grow.
Beginning around the 1980s regional breweries began opening in communities across the country, increasing the range of brands and styles of beer available. In 1984, Jim Brickman began Brick Brewing in Waterloo, Ontario and is hailed as the pioneer of present day craft brewing in Canada.
The rise of “craft” brewing has re-invigorated beer’s brand within Canada. Today, Canadian beer drinkers have access to one of the largest selections of different beer brands and styles available anywhere in the world. At our last count, Canada is home to 1200 breweries and 5800 domestically made brands.
Craft brewing has become a significant part of the Canadian beer industry today. The number of microbreweries continue to multiply, especially in high-population provinces like Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Between 3006-2015, craft brewers recorded more sales as the demand for craft beer grew steadily.
Each Canadian beer brewing region has a style that reflects its people’s origin, history and culture. However, Canadian beer tends to be a softer and more palatable style suited for North American tastes.
Canada’s preferred beer styles are pale lagers like ice bears, while the Maritimes and Quebec areas favour larger ales like cream ales. One of Canada’s unique beer styles is spruce beer. Indigenous tribes initially created spruce beer to prevent scurvy in 16th century New France. It is believed that the Hurons and First Nations were the first to brew spruce beer, and they later combined their brewing methods with settlers fermenting practices. Spruce beer is an authentic Canadian beer style and is among North America’s oldest forms of beer.