beer-sidebar-fullannefs-smallBy Anne Finlay-Stewart

The Beer Store is currently a private, for-profit company owned by three multinational corporations, only one of which has even 50 per cent Canadian ownership.

The roots of this peculiar arrangement are part of our own story in Owen Sound. Back in our "Chicago of the north" days as a booming port and manufacturing town at the turn of the 19th Century, a local brewing industry also thrived serving our many hotels and bars.

You could send your child to the corner pub for "a bucket of beer." It was just this environment in which the prohibition movement was born and nurtured, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union made an early appearance in Owen Sound.

Local brewing died under the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916, and took most of a century to return. Alcohol sales began again in the province in 1926 under the strict control of a government that did not want to be seen to be encouraging nor profiting from the social ills of drinking.

Beer was regarded as a more benign beverage and its distribution was left in the hands of the brewers – 30 of them in the province by 1927, all supplying local retailers through a co-operative warehouse system.

Freeze the frame. The 1927 beer model might have been the picture of a sustainable regional economy, supporting local jobs, small farmers and manufacturers, community pubs. Instead – well, roll the tape.

In 1928, Sir Henry Drayton became the chair of the Ontario Liquor Control Board. A lawyer and politician, he had resigned his federal seat with the opposition Conservatives to take the post.

For reasons that may remain forever within the walls of the exclusive Albany Club, Sir Henry abruptly declared in July 1928 that more brewery licenses were "entirely unnecessary" in Ontario.

This closed the door to new players while offering some, like Toronto's E.P. Taylor, to snap up the bargains afforded the wealthy during the Depression. He continued to buy up small breweries with the blessing of Drayton and the LCBO, all in the name of lowering overhead.

In the 1940s, Taylor's Canadian Breweries, Labatts and the handful of other joint owners of Brewers' Warehousing strengthened control by taking over the retail market – the birth of the Brewer's Retail chain. Like the Ontario liquor stores of the day, no advertising of any brand was allowed, and the product itself was hidden in a back room until the purchase was complete.

By 1953, Canadian Breweries was the largest brewing company in the world and by the mid sixties, they, Labatts and Molsons formed the "Big Three" who were selling more than 90 percent of the beer consumed in Canada.

Fast forward. In 1984, Brick Brewing opens in an old furniture factory in Waterloo obtaining the first new manufacturing license for a brewery in over half a century. Craft micro- brewing has grown exponentially since, while the Big Three have been consolidated even further under even larger global companies like Sapporo and InBev who, in turn, now own The Beer Store.

Anne Finlay-Stewart is Community Editor of



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