B.C.’s beer-story

SFU’s new archive documents the history of craft beer in B.C.

The craft beer collection created at SFU was curated by (left to right): Melanie Hardbattle, Richard Dancy, Paul Hebbard (University Archivist), and Jorda Grundy (Records Management Clerk).

Craft beer” and “library archives”—two things not typically mentioned in the same breath. 

But for the increasing number of people interested in craft beer’s history, archives are a place to start. Simon Fraser University’s Archives and Record Management Department is meeting that need by assembling a craft beer collection that bears witness to the growth of the industry here in British Columbia. As a beer historian myself, I was eager to check it out. 

SFU’s craft beer archive was the brainchild of Melanie Hardbattle, the university’s Acquisitions and Outreach Archivist, and Richard Dancy, Systems and University Records Archivist. Upon beginning her position in acquisitions and outreach early in 2020, Hardbattle knew she needed to create an archival strategy that would appeal to a population beyond academic researchers.

SFU houses archival collections documenting B.C.’s history of important cultural touchstones, such as feminism and social activism, but food and drink are also elements of culture—and sometimes their histories are not as rigorously preserved. Dancy thought the history of craft brewing from B.C. would be a good fit for a new archival project and together, they began the process of collecting craft beer records, focusing on materials from 1980 onwards. 

Beer fans will appreciate items within the SFU collection, such as this label from Silver Spring Brewery (left); a festival poster for the second annual Great Canadian Beer Festival (middle left); a vintage ad for Esquimalt Brewing (middle right); and this empty bottle of Granville Island Brewing’s 10th Anniversary Ale. Noëlle Phillips photos

“We’re beginning with Frank and John,” Hardbattle laughed, referring to Frank Appleton and John Mitchell, who jointly launched B.C.’s earliest craft breweries.

Of course, some of the province’s craft beer history is already housed in other institutional archives. However, as Hardbattle points out, there is a great deal of the industry’s recent history that remains hard to find. Sometimes this is because the documents tend to be temporary and not stored in official repositories—like festival posters or handwritten notes—and sometimes it‘s simply because they’re owned by private individuals rather than public organizations. Hardbattle and Dancy have begun the challenging work of contacting beer industry insiders and requesting donations to the collection. So far, they’ve seen success—craft beer folks have been enthusiastic supporters of the project. 

In September 2021, the family of late beer historian Greg Evans donated approximately 20 boxes of his notes and research. A few months later, in February 2022, Hardbattle acquired the John Rowling collection (approximately 15 boxes). As the founder of the Great Canadian Beer Festival, Rowling kept the sorts of ephemeral material that often gets lost to history—brewery coasters, beer festival posters, beer labels and old photographs and newsletters. 

Noëlle Phillips was delighted to hold a rare bottle of Horseshoe Bay Brewing Company’s Bay Ale from the early 1980s. Noëlle Phillips photo

Other donors include Gerry Hieter, the co-founder and chairperson of the Great Canadian Beer festival, Kim Lawton, who has a collection of Okanagan brewing history memorabilia, Firehall Brewing in Oliver, Dave Smith of What’s Brewing? magazine, and the current and former owners of Tin Whistle Brewing, one of the oldest breweries in the Okanagan. And, as Hardbattle emphasized, the collecting continues—the archive is still growing.

Whether you’re interested in business notes from an early CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) meeting, beer labels and bottles from the 1980s, old tap handles, copies of beer-related government documents, or advertisements for brewery openings, this collection will have something to catch your attention. During the limited time of my visit, I barely scratched the surface. However, one memorable moment was holding an original Bay Ale bottle—the first craft beer made in B.C.! 

Hardcastle and Dancy are hoping this collection will be of interest to a wide range of people—from casual beer drinkers to local historians to beer writers. Hardbattle emphasizes these archives are there for public use and everyone is welcome to visit and explore the materials. 

If you’d like to visit SFU’s new craft beer archival collection, please contact Melanie Hardbattle at melanie_hardbattle@sfu.ca or visit the SFU Archives website for more information: sfu.ca/archives/archives-program.

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