I rarely think of things as being “Canadian” because “Canadian” is a bit elusive. Usually you need an American friend to let you know something is weird so that you can tell him “oh, that’s Canadian.” Sitting in a beer tent at long plastic covered tables during a cold downpour watching iconic 1970s rockers April Wine on a military base at a civvie invitation only concert feet in chilling puddles watching soldiers and pals and dates and, apparently, parents and grandparents having a good time on the one macro beer on offer struck me as pretty Canadian as I was sitting in the midst of it there last night. There in the foggy tent on the parade square asphalt. Do other nations even have laws requiring beer tents? The stamping of hands as you go in? I didn’t have any beer. Not because I didn’t like the beer. Mooseheads pale ale is decent enough for a beer tent. Fact: the porta potties were a hurricane away. Others didn’t pass on the opportunity. Watched one guy down eight or ten Mooseheads in the first half hour we were there. He was givin’ ‘er. As we say. It was so foggy in the tent from the downpour outside that it started condensing on the inside of the tent, rain reforming to pour on our heads. A science lesson in itself. We left not just because of that or because it was so loud that I stuffed wads of Kleenex in my ears but because they played their 1979 cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” which I had not appreciated they had in fact once recorded. They did an excellent job for the eleven minutes of that tune but the crowd was there for songs on the radio, songs with lyrics like “tonight is a wonderful night to fall in love, oh yeah” and not covers of early prog rock speed metal. Earlier, folk had happily Legion danced to the opening band, Whiskey Overdrive, playing classic rock covers. Legion dancing requires a generous application of the elbows. And a few Mooseheads. There’s a real happy levelling that goes on when military folk are partying. The opposite of the oneupsmanship you can get at house parties filled with strangers. Military folk already know who in the room is one up. Still, there was a bit of a crush at the exit gate as we left. But plenty stayed. It was really good. Good company. Good out dinner before. Good being among Canadians. People were having a time.
The new Nanos numbers this morning were not good. Another small slide. When he had called a friend’s office later he hadn’t been in yet. The voice on the phone had used the words “death march” even with weeks to go. Weeks to go this time could mean weeks to go of this. Or, worse, an “anyone but the NDP” move to the Grits leaving us in the wilderness. Again. It had stung hard to have to listen to Elsie Wayne so often.
Limited upside. Great. And the boss let the message out that he’s not perfect. What an interview with Joe Rockhead the other night! I am who I am and that’s who I am. People want a Syrian grannie in every church… for God’s sake. Somewhere they know they can drop off Timbits or a casserole or a blanket or something to feel good about themselves. Why is that too much to ask?
The footnote quoting a text from 10 August 1620 actually reads in full:
Nous avon du grain suffisamment pour faire du pain and de la bière
That statement was written by Denis Jamet, Récollet missionary at Quebec in New France. When I wrote the bit about New France in Ontario Beer a year ago, I only thought to state that beer “came to New France at the latest in the 1630’s with Jesuit priests who brewed as part of their daily duties.” Hadn’t thought of the Récollets. The Jesuits come along a little later and, by 1634, they have a full brewery was being planned but in Quebec the Récollets were here first. I’ve been reading about their entry into the extremely sparce European population along the St. Lawrence Valley in the early seventeenth century in Champlain’s Dream by D.H. Fischer. In 1617 when there were 50 or 60 male residents of New France, there were four Récollets, three at Quebec and one further west at Huronia in what is now central Ontario. Denis Jamet was one of them. He came to New France for a second stint on board Champlain’s spring 1617 sailing from France to the new world.
Early New France did not do without strong drink. As part of their provisions, every year “they imported generous quantities of eau-de-vie, wine and cider.” People were arriving, too. Along with Denis Jamet, in 1617 the first permanent colonial family arrived in New France: Louis Hébert and Marie Rollet along with their three children. Hébert takes up planting, serving as apothecary to the settlement and starts over the next few years to create some economic stability and wealth for his small clan. He dreams of being on a stamp one day. He dies in January 1627 but not before he he becomes, as noted, also associated with “une chaudière à brasserie” – a brewing kettle. This document mentions it arriving in 1622. Which means, if Jamet is to be trusted in that first bit I quoted up there, the first colonists were making beer at least two years before the kettle arrive. Makes sense. Raw ale was a thing. And these technologies like kettles took time to all get in place. Apparently the plough Hébert requested showed up a year after he died.
Which leads to a bit of a puzzle for me. When Jamet made that statement, who is the “nous” – the Récollets only or the population of New France as a whole. Perhaps just the priests yet this brewing history of Quebec seems to indicate that both Hébert and the Récollets were brewing in or before 1620. None of this will win the prize as to the first beer brewed in what is now Canada as that was clearly going on in Newfoundland at Cupids in the early 1610s and was likely also being done for a few decades before that by summering West Country English fishermen on the Newfoundland shores who brought along barrels of malt. I do think, however, that Hébert and/or the Récollets may be the first to grow their own grain for beer making, to take control of the whole process. Hébert is understood to be the first wheat farmer in New France.
He was also the apothecary. You will recall that I posted a while back about Richard Whitbourne, who was in Newfoundland around the same time and described how “many of our Nation finding themselues ill, haue brused some of the herbes and strained the iuyce into Beere.” One of the things folk were struggling with was how to survive in North America. Baffin and his crew get hammered by scurvy in the Arctic 1616 and in the years before that Champlain loses many early overwintering explorers to the disease. He thought that it had to do with having access to fresh meat. They are working out new Baroque era medical science on the edge of known world. And likely experimented with the properties of their beer as part of that process.
What is not to like? Exploring farmer scientist educated devout brewing adventurers. What did you do today?
It’s that time again. The monthly edition of The Session. Beer blogging boys and girls gather ’round the coal fired ISPs throughout the world to share their thoughts on a topic. This month our host is the Pittsburgh Beer Snob who writes:
At many points in history you can look back and find alcohol intertwined. A lot of times that form of alcohol is beer. Beer is something that connects us with the past, our forefathers as well as some of our ancestors. I want this topic to be a really open-ended one. So, it should be fairly easy to come up with something and participate. If you were among any readers I had when I posted most of the time you have a very good idea of where I might be going with my post when the time comes. The same doesn’t apply to you. Do you want to write about an important beer event with great historical significance? Famous figures that were brewers? Have you visited an establishment that has some awesome historic value? Maybe a historically-themed brewpub? I wouldn’t be surprised to even see a few posts on Prohibition. It doesn’t really matter when it comes to history!
History is good. I am actually of the opinion the best histories of beer and brewing are yet to be written. But I also believe the best beer writing, thinking, constructs, descriptions and criticism are all a fair ways off, too. We wallow in times of self-satisfaction. Would you just look about you at the works so far, Ozzy?
Anyway, that being or not being the case, what to make of the state of brewing history? I have written a bit of my bit to be sure but I am still not satisfied. I have come across beer in the Arctic in the 1570s, the 1670s and the 1850s. Fabulous facts. Beer for those living on the edge. Why? Because it kept them alive. Happy and alive. Billy Baffin, that giver of what I think the most Canadian surname, on his fifth voyage in 1616 got into a real pinch and had to hightail it to an island off Greenland and make a tea to keep he and his crew alive:
Now seeing that wee had made an end of our discouery, and the yeare being too farre spent to goe for the bottonie of the bay to search for drest finnes ; therefore wee determined to goe for the coast of Groineland to see if we could get some refreshing for our men ; Master Hei’bert and two more having kept their cabins above eight days (besides our cooke, Richard Waynam, which died the day before, being the twenty-six of July), and divers more of our company so weake, that they could doe but little labour. So the winde favouring us, we came to anchor in the latitude of 65° 45′, at six a clocke in the evening, the cockin eight and twentieth day, in a place called Cockin Sound. The next day, going on shoare on a little iland, we found scuruy great abundance of the herbe called scuruie grasse, which we boyled in beere, and so dranke thereof, using it also in sallets, with sorrell and orpen, which here groweth in abundance; by meanes hereof, and the blessing of God, all our men within eight or nine days space were in perfect health, and so continued till our arrivall in England.
God is good, indeed. Beer is a bounty that is provided to us for health and joy and the lessons of history prove it. Yet, history also proves the wages of not only drunkeness but seeking out the best and brownest. Beer is neither benign or neutral but a powerful tool. That is what history teaches us. It can trace empires for us. Fortify a frontier. Collapse a region. Give hope. And bring despair.
Nine years ago, back around those heady days of political blogging, I wrote a series of posts on a fictitious Atlantic Canadian separation movement focused on a mde-up new capital called Tantrama City. One post set out details of the Canada Day celebrations under the new governmental order and featured the photo of Neil and Larry above. I have no idea who these guys are but I love it. It may be the most Canadian image I have ever seen. The nutty bow ties in the national colours, Neil’s boring earnest shirt and Larry drinking a Bud. And the fact they don’t give a crap and are just having a good time.
Is there a Peru Day or a Norway Day? Canada Day is such a politely bland concept but, this being a confederation with lingering prickly regional identities, it suits us. We are the country that cancels recreations of historic events. Why recall past unhappinesses? What we remember in particular is the formation of one semi-autonomous colony out of three in 1867 (or was it four… Canada was sort of split into Canada East and Canada West but had formerly been separately Lower Canada and Upper Canada from 1791 to 1841), two of the invitee colonies not joining in until six (PEI) and eighty-two (Newfoundland) years later. My particular part of the nation remembers the events with mixed emotions.
So, on this we day celebrate the fourth version of Canada after the one that was otherwise a bit chunk of New France up to 1760, then the one with the Upper and the Lower, then the one that didn’t work from 1841 to 1867. And maybe the one from 1763 to 1791, too. OK, maybe this is the fifth Canada. Most of all we recall the man who is attributed with bringing the four colonies together, Sir John A MacDonald. Larry and Neil might well have been making a joke or two about him – as the founder of a large part (but not all) of our current constitutional structure (yes, it is a bit messy) was a bit of a drinker. A bit of one. Consider this description of one of the planning sessions from the pre-Confederation years:
“…The Council was summoned for twelve and shortly after that we were all assembled but John A. We waited for him till one – till half past one – till two – and then Galt sent off to his house specially for him. Answer – will be here immediately. Waited till half past two – no appearance. Waited till three and shortly after, John A. entered bearing symptoms of having been on a spree. He was half drunk. Lunch is always on the side table, and he soon applied himself to it – and before we had well entered on the important business before us he was quite drunk with potations of ale.” But, after two and a half hours of debate, the wound up their discussions of the constitutional changes and agreed on the course to be followed…”
So, we are a nation imagined and brought into being by a drunk. That is the story we are told. Historian Ged Martin in 2006 published this detailed study of the record of Macdonald’s drinking patterns which both confirms the fantastic level of consumption, his personal struggles as well as the possible causes. It is a very sympathetic piece. If they read it, I am sure Larry and Neil would like him more… and raise another beer to the nation imagined mid-spree thanks to potations of ale. They’d probably raise an American one come to think of it. But only if it was the nearest one. We are not that fussy.
Martin Frobisher. He was taking a group of miners to what later gets called Baffin Island¹ in the Canadian high Arctic to dig for ores. The image is from The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher, a book from 1938 that reprints the 1576-78 journal of crew member George Best along with other records. It is very likely that this is not of the first beer in any respect. Almost certain. Because it is from the second of the expeditions. The 1576 expedition had five tons of “beare” listed amongst the “furniture” – as in things furnished – for the voyage. So it’s nearly the first… maybe.
The thing I thought I would find as I have seen elsewhere was barrels of malt and hops being shipped over. I’ve seen it on Newfoundland’s shores about twenty years later as well as in Hudson Bay a century later. But this was no crew of masterless West Country men salting west Atlantic cod or factors left to overwinter to trade in northern furs. Nope. Frobisher’s crew was funded by Earls, Countesses and Lords to the tune of 50 to 200 pounds each. The Queen’s Majesty herself threw in a rounded thousand. There was a surgeon on board as well as four tons of cheese. Almonds and raisins plus two firkins of prunes. Just in case. They are living in style. There is both Malmsey and sack, for heaven’s sake. That would now be described as Madeira and sherry respectively.
A gallon of beer for each man each day. Likely downed in wooden tankards like these. A gallon. That is the equivalent of twelve 12 oz or 350 ml bottles a day every day. In 1576, it was two pounds two shillings for a ton of beer but two pound five shillings in 1577. Seven percent inflation over one year is unlikely. Maybe a better grade of beer? Not a lot of detail of the life on shore in the accounts. Just interaction with the local Inuit as well as the work gathering of tons of ore. Each group seemed to appear pretty silly to the other.
¹… because our lad Billy Baffin isn’t even born until around 1584.
Even though it is just the 17th of May, this weekend is nicknamed May Two-Four. It is Canada’s non-much-observed celebration of the lass who was Queen Victoria. Monday is still called Victoria Day. It also has a quiet subtext of somehow being the celebration of the present Queen’s birthday. If those are the dimming antecedents, the once glowing purposes of the day – they are doubly wrong. Our current absentee monarch was born on an April 21st. Vicky was born in May 24th but, as you may note, that is not today’s date.
And yet this is the weekend of May Two-Four. Not next weekend which contains the twenty-fourth day of May. This one. Why? Because a two-four is the name of a cardboard case of 24 bottles of beer. Twenty-four 12 ounce bottles is that unit that is beyond personal consumption. It implies either sharing or duration. A long warm weekend is apt for both. And gardening and fireworks. Because we have no real remaining cultural focus on this long weekend, unlike any other long Canadian weekend, we are now free to create our own. So we think about drink in itself. We just enjoy ourselves.
It was not always so. In the course of co-writing one book on the history of beer in Ontario and another on Albany, I have written about three drink laced celebrations of the Monarch’s birthday in 1755, 1776 and 1828. As I mentioned the other week, Sir William Johnson supplied the Royal loyal allies of the monarchy, the Mohawk nation of central New York, with beer during the Seven Years War – aka the French and Indian War. One of those deliveries, as noted at page 572, was on June 4, 1755 when he obtained two barrels of beer from Hendrik Fry for the Mohawk at Conajoharee to drink to toast the birthday of George III. As I wrote a year ago, Craig and I located the scene of the drunken tavern brawl 21 years later in Albany which finally ripped that city’s Tories and Patriots apart triggered by overly vigorous toasting to the King. Perhaps my favorite Royal birthday celebration in British North American happened about half a century later. As you will see in Ontario Beer, at a celebration of the King George IV’s birthday hosted by the Canada Company on 12 August 1828, 200 settlers gathered at what is now Guelph when it was at the point where the forest met the clearing of fields. A whole ox was roasted held over the fire with logging chains. As there were few utensils, most of it was eat off of wooden shingle plates with a stick for a fork. After the eating was done:
…toasts were drunk to everybody and every conceivable thing, the liquors of all imaginable descriptions being passed round in buckets from which each man helped himself by means of tin cups…
It is recorded that many were found the next morning reposing on the ground in the marketplace “in loving proximity to the liquor pails.”
Now, I am not suggesting we take our Canadian admiration of the Crown to that point. But… it is a proud tradition. It brought together peoples as loyal allies, insulted our treacherous enemies and celebrated the new frontier in our new homeland. If I had my druthers, that would be what we celebrate today. Not so much the Crown or a particular monarch but the loyal pioneers who defended the cause and created the nation. And drank like idiots as they did and because they did. Because we are like that.
Note: On a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor, section 62.1 is repealed by the Statutes of Ontario, 2006, chapter 32, Schedule D, subsection 7 (2) and the following substituted…
62.1 (1) A municipality may pass by-laws extending the hours of sale of liquor in all or part of the municipality by the holders of a licence and a by-law may authorize a specified officer or employee of the municipality to extend the hours of sale during events of municipal, provincial, national or international significance. 2006, c. 32, Sched. D, s. 7 (2).
That is a cut and paste job of a section of Ontario’s Liquor Licensing Act and it follows a provision that currently reads “The City of Toronto may pass by-laws extending the hours of sale of liquor in all or part of the City…” Notice the difference? The current law only applies to that city at the other end of the lake. The portion I quoted from above is a pending amendment to the law. Pending. Pending as the law has already passed the legislature, The decision has been made by the law makers. We are just waiting for the proclamation. We are waiting for the paperwork. Excellent.
Excellent? See, there is a big game tomorrow morning at 7 am in which the national pride of Canada is on the line. The gold medal game in men’s Olympic hockey. It’s our World Cup final and we hope to beat the Swedes. People are excited. Churches will be empty. Some provinces are allowing early morning tavern openings and some are not. Which is fine as it is up to each Province to make up its mind in these matters under the division of powers under our constitution. But in Ontario, Toronto has been granted the power to make local decisions but every other municipality is prohibited. The results are obvious. Confusion and a bit of annoyance. The City of Kawartha Lakes council thought it was within its rights and passed a special bylaw last Wednesday only to be advised by the bureaucracy that the action was void. Because someone forgot to proclaim the amendment. How’s that for a salute to democracy?
Personally, I am not missing out on anything. Even in Ontario’s tightest period of alcohol control in the early 1920s, we were subject to a form of regulated temperance which allowed home drinking and even home brewing. So, if I want a drink that early in the morning nothing is stopping me. But – solely because someone forgot to proclaim the amendment – only if I was in Toronto could I go out and have a beer at 7 am like normal people elsewhere do all the time. Most irritating is having to read Josh’s tips for drinking in Toronto tomorrow morning. Nice to know, however, that the general rule that you can be wrong when drinking beer has reared its head. Me? If I can have unsweetened grapefruit juice along with hot sauce on my eggs, I think I might be able to handle an IPA in the morning, Mr. B. If I was allowed.
Somethings just won’t make the book on Ontario’s beery history that I am writing with Jordan. I am working my way these days through the period after our version of prohibition ends in 1927 until, roughly, the beginning of microbrews in 1985. Jordan is back there somewhere untangling the Victorians.
This image is one from a regular series of serial cartoons placed in Ontario newspapers by Labatt during WWII under the pen name Ti-Jos. They are obviously patriotic but there is a theme of moral economics that flows through the set. They are set largely in the home or shops but the message is about what citizens need to do on the home front to aid the war effort. In this edition, you better damn well not be spreading rumours if you don’t want shortages.
Which is my message for each of you today, too.
I hadn’t thought of an attack on Ontario’s beer retailing weirdness from the Federal level but that may be just what is lining up for 2014:
A spokesperson for the Competition Bureau confirmed Friday that it’s “currently examining the differences between the beer industries in Ontario and Quebec and exploring the effect that these differences have on competition in each province….” “The bureau chose to focus on the beer industry as there have been a number of conflicting reports as to why the price of beer varies between Ontario and Quebec,” Phil Norris, a spokesperson for the Competiton Bureau, said via email. Sources told Global News Beer Store officials and others have been interviewed by the bureau. Regulators were “collecting information from industry participants,” Norris said.
Collecting information? I suppose if the mandate is limited to assessing a nutty regulatory system’s effect on pricing one must make a study of the obvious. As Jordan has detailed, the pricing arguments may not be all they appear but for me that is not the point. I have no interest in limiting my choice when it comes to my shopping whether for beer, cheese, shoes or books or anything. I buy at least half my beer ever the course of the year in Quebec or the USA. I’ve gotten the occasional wee lectures from overly eager border guards telling me I should not buy in the States but, really, when you allow yourself to take consumer product advice with folk with sidearms where are we?
I am happy to pay full freight. I am happy to declare purchases at the border, support local and support actual well crafted just about anything. But, when it is all boiled down, what I am most happy with is the idea of reducing the intermediaries. I prefer two parties to a transaction, the maker and me. Add a third as retailer and I am not upset but getting into wholesaler, bonding firms, distributors, importers and clearance certificate issuing laboratories and you start seeing not only why a simple product like beer is over priced but over wrought. As in what hath this system wrought?
At the moment – as it has since 1927 in Ontario – it hath wrought market constriction to the point one cannot be sure of value or even preference. We get what we are given and are expected to line up and praise the short shelves of selected goods. No thanks. I’ll continue to take much of my money elsewhere until that changes. If that takes a prosecution of the provincially regulated monopoly by Federal officials, so be it.