This has been a year that I have thought about history a bit more than others. Canadian history for the most part. We make great mistakes in considering our own time on this land. We dismiss the First Nations. We pretend that Canada began when the current constitution was signed in 1867. But Canada has been populated for thousands of years and Europeans have been nibbling at the edges for the best part of a millennium. Vikings lived in northern Newfoundland back then. In 1674, the Hudson’s Bay Company was importing malt and hops into the Arctic. But this year I came across another couple of fact that I found most interesting in this report. It’s in the bibliography:
ROSS, L. (1980) – 16th-Century Spanish Basque Coopering Technology: A Report of the Staved Containers Found in 1978-1979 on the Wreck of the Whaling Galleon San Juan, Sunk in Red Bay, Labrador, 1565. Manuscript Report Series.Ottawa. 408.
See that? 1565. And the other thing? Staved containers. I have found West Country seasonal fishermen recorded as importing malt as part of their seasonal businesses packing salt cod for the Iberian market in the 1630s. How far before that did the practice occur? Peter E. Pope in his book Fish into Wine: The Newfoundland Plantation in the Seventeenth Century explains that there was a regular practice of travel each spring from Elizabethan England to what is now eastern Canada for this fishing trade. It is inconceivable that these men in the 1500s did not ship malt, too. That they did not pack drinks in casks for the voyage here and back, too.
But where are the records? Where are the records for Albany ale for that matter like Taylor’s brewing books? Or early Ontario beer? That’s the thing. The records. In overseeing the OCB wiki, it has already become a little bit of a jostle over which record is the one to be trusted. Yet there is the tantalizing possibility that in the later half of the 1500s on cool spring days on the Newfoundland shore, men made beer for themselves many decades before the first beer was thought made in this country. There is a phrase for those whose families went on in places like Ferryland to shift to year round residence: masterless men. Don’t you think they might have made themselves a little beer?