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The Many Vices of Sir John A. Macdonald

Quick—what’s an interesting fact about Sir John A. Macdonald?

Well—he was Canada’s first Prime Minister.

And he really, really liked his drink.

He’s probably one of Canada’s most famous drunkards, which is a fact that seems to get bandied about a lot. Of course, it’s worth pointing out that Sir John A. wasn’t perpetually drunk. No, he went on binges. Sometimes, he was quick, calculating, and stone-cold sober—and sometimes, the Governor-General was writing letters explaining that they weren’t entirely sure where the erstwhile politician was.

There are a few anecdotes that always get retold. In one, Macdonald is notably…ah, “unwell” on the campaign trail (likely a by-election). During the debate, he vomits. When his opponent points this out, he responds, ““I get sick…not because of drink [but because] I am forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent.”

In June 1866, the Fenian Brotherhood launched an invasion into Canada from Buffalo. The Battle of Ridgeway was the first battle fought on Canadian soil, led by Canadian officers, and also marks the last foreign invasion in Ontario. At the time, Sir John A. was the Minister of Militia and Defence. So of course, news of the attack went straight to him.

And…he was passed out drunk.

Bills failed and languished. Telegrams went unanswered. International relations could be embarrassing at best and dangerous at worst—during the London Conference that sought final British approval before Confederation, Sir John A. nearly set himself and his hotel room on fire when a candle tipped over while he slept.

(In fairness, he might not have been drunk that time—but his fondness for the Athenaeum Club and its libations is well-known.)

The Globe attacked his habit viciously. In fact, one article was so eloquent, I wanted to show a larger extract:

“The truth is that the prime minister has again yielded to the temptation of drink, and has again rendered himself incapable of attending to his duties at a most critical period of affairs. It would almost seem that Sir John A. Macdonald choose those seasons when his vice is calculated to bring the greatest disgrace upon himself and upon the country.

His pitiable condition during the Fenian raid when telegram after telegram was left unanswered because he was in such a state of intoxication that he could not comprehend them, was a matter which would have brought severe retribution upon a Minister in England; his disgraceful condition during the visit of Prince Arthur will long be remembered to the discredit of Canada; and now when every energy should be devoted to the affairs of the North-West…Sir John A. Macdonald again flies to the bottle.

It is really an outrage to the country. The spectacle of the Prime Minister staggering into the refreshment room of the House, and being taken out thence first by one colleague and then by another, or babbling in maudlin intoxication in a hotel bar-room, is a thing to which no other country would submit for an hour. We are not a nation of drunkards, and we have a right to expect that men occupying the most exalted position their country can bestow upon them shall, at least, behave with decorum.”

The Globe: April 30, 1870.

 

The Globe’s editor George Brown was one of Macdonald’s bitterest rivals, which may explain some of the acerbity, but clearly, there was genuine upset at his functional alcoholism. Macdonald himself shrugged off such criticisms: “…the people would prefer John A. drunk to George Brown sober.”

1873 political cartoon. Note the bottle in his back pocket.

Would they, though? The fact that Macdonald managed to accomplish as much as he did in spite of his alcoholism makes one wonder—what if he hadn’t had it? How might Canada look today? Would he have proven a more able leader, or would there simply have been more Pacific Scandals and exclusionary policies towards Asian and Indigenous peoples?

It’s impossible to say, of course. “Coulda, woulda, shoulda” history is probably best left to thought experiments. I’ll end by saying that Macdonald’s second wife Susan Agnes Bernard is largely credited with fighting Macdonald’s demons—biographer Richard J Gwyn claims she literally kept him alive long enough to see the new nation through its formative years.

So—I think John A. has had plenty of glasses raised to him over the years. If you must toast, perhaps consider toasting Susan Bernard.

To Queen, country, and Mrs. Macdonald!

Katie  

 

 

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New Brew: Ginger Beer

Father’s Day weekend is almost here! On June 17th and 18th, you can enjoy a fun-filled weekend of muskets, soldiers, and spies! That’s right: once again, the village will be hosting a Revolutionary War re-enactment!

And as per tradition, Ed has made an alcoholic ginger beer in honour of the event.

Ginger beer originally descends from drinks such as mead and metheglin (flavoured mead). These were sweet, honey-based beverages, fermented with yeast and flavoured with a variety of spices, including ginger, cloves, and mace. Early ginger beers were made from water, sugar, and ginger, and fermented with the ginger beer plant. Interestingly, the ginger beer plant wasn’t really a plant at all, but a gelatinous composite of yeast and bacteria! From the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, ginger beers were impressively alcoholic, sometimes reaching 11%.

ginger-300x262

By the 1850s, however, new laws forced English ginger beer brewers to water their product down to 2% alcohol. It still remained incredibly popular. In 1877, writers John Thomson and Adolphe Smith estimated that some 300,000 gallons of ginger beer were being sold in and around London.

With the rise of imperialism, ginger beer also went global. Soldiers stationed in the Caribbean and Africa were particularly fond of this spicy brew, drinking it to combat homesickness. The ginger was also useful in treating upset stomachs and inflammation – I guess soldiers are more likely to take their medicine if it comes in the form of beer!

Ed’s ginger beer is a really nice amber-coloured ale. It is a malt-oriented beer, so the flavour comes predominately from the grains, rather than the hops. Because this is a fairly light malt, that translates into a subtle sweetness – this isn’t an overly bitter beer. The ginger is definitely noticeable, but mild. The spice grows more pronounced after the first sip; it gives some warmth in the chest! I like it! There’s a moderate finish, too; the light maltiness comes back through the nose at the very end. I think curries and stir-fries would go really well with this beer: foods that are themselves a bit spicy and complex (actually, a ginger-soy pork stir fry, plus this beer…now I’m getting hungry).

Please note: this ginger beer is NOT for children. It’s still about 5% alcohol, so save it for the adults!

Our ginger beer will be only available in the Black Creek Historic Brewery. It hits our fridges this weekend, and will last until…well, until we run out.

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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A Champagne Conference: The Charlottetown Conference, 1864

I was once explaining to some visitors from overseas how Canada became a country. “There was no war, or revolution, or anything like that,” quoth I. “It was more…like when an adult child moves out of the basement, and into their own place.”

I still stand by the gist of that analogy, though of course, it was rather more complicated than that. With the 150th anniversary of Confederation nigh, let’s look at the first step on the road—and of course, it does involve alcohol.

Yay!

So it’s 1864. Organizers are planning the Charlottetown Conference: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island are all sending delegates to discuss the possibility of uniting these three Atlantic colonies into one.

Not so fast!

Depending on which source you read, a delegation from the Province of Canada more-or-less invited itself…or Governor General Monck did “ask” if they might also attend. In any case, in September 1864, the Canadians duly turned up in PEI—a formidable crew including John A. MacDonald and George Brown from Upper Canada, and George-Étienne Cartier, Alexander Galt, and Thomas D’Arcy McGee representing Lower Canada. Hilariously, the first circus to pass through Charlottetown in twenty years meant that all the hotels were booked and no one was actually working at the wharf. Nevertheless, the Canadians made themselves very cozy aboard their ship.

Province House in Charlottetown, wherein the proceedings proceeded.

Ostensibly, they were there only to observe. However, as the Conference unfolded, they inserted themselves into the discussion more and more, wooing the other delegates and turning the proceedings towards the unification of all the British North American provinces.

So what does this have to do with beer?

Well—politics and alcohol in the 1800s rarely lay far apart. As we saw in the case of the Red Lion Inn and the Upper Canada Rebellion, taverns functioned as political meetings. Groups met, debated, and voted in taverns. Deals were ironed out over drinks; alliances announced and cemented through toasting. Even at modern conferences, business goes down at the bar.

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George Brown: politician, newspaper editor, not a beer fan.

What’s more, the 1860s delegates used this socializing as a means of building relationships—and thus furthering their goal. A general session welcomed the Canadian crew on Friday, September 2nd. On the 3rd, the Canadians reciprocated with a champagne lunch. According to one source I found, they’d brought nearly $13,o00 worth (in today’s money, obviously). As George Brown wrote to his wife:

“Cartier and I made eloquent speeches — of course — and whether as the result of our eloquence or of the goodness of our champagne, the ice became completely broken, [and] the tongues of the delegates wagged merrily…”

(Two things. One: George Brown was a temperance advocate, but one assumes he saw the practicalities of not lecturing about alcohol in that moment. Two: I love the “of course” he inserts in there: so, so very much.)

An article in Brown’s newspaper shows that one conference member took the notion of relation-building to another level:

[He said,] “If any one can show just cause or impediment why these colonies should not be united in matrimonial alliance, let him no express it, or forever after hold his peace.” There was no response. “Then,” said he, “ere my days on earth, which are comparatively few, shall close, I may yet witness the conclusion of the ceremony and hear them pronounced man and wife.” (The Globe, September 16, 1864)

The Conference wrapped up on the 7th, at which point the original plan for a Maritime union had been scrapped in favour of joining with the Province of Canada. The delegates agreed to meet in Québec City the following month, one more ball was held, and then everyone went home.

Group photo taken on the portico. John A is sitting down, near the centre (by his pals Thomas D’Arcy McGee and George-Étienne Cartier. John A looks a little tired.

Historian J.M.S. Careless sums it up perfectly in his biography, Brown of the Globe: “There, in the chief stateroom of the Queen Victoria, amid the wineglasses and cigar smoke, 23 men had warmly agreed to found a new nation. Other states might have a more dramatic start — but few, surely, a more enjoyable one.”

We’ll toast to that!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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New in the LCBO: Canada 150 Ale!

Hello, beer-lovers!

We’ve brewed up a surprise for you! To celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, we are releasing a new beer for the LCBO! The Canada 150 Ale is a special edition of our beloved Best Bitter—a refreshing way to enjoy the sesquicentennial.

If you enjoyed the historic version of this beer down in the Black Creek brewery, you’ll probably be a fan of this ale, too. It pours deep, coppery amber; almost like an autumnal maple leaf. As with all our commercial beers, you can expect some moderate head, too.

The nose is fairly mild with sweet, biscuit-like and malty aromas. Those flavours continue through the first sip and mid-tastes as well. You’ll notice some caramel/toffee notes too, and an earthy hop presence on the finish. It’s a light-bodied, easy-drinking beer: perfect for a summer barbeque, patio session, or as a refresher after time in the sun.

Another cool thing! You’ll notice that we’ve got snazzy new cans. We’re kicking things off with a fantastic Canada 150-themed design—it may have caused some swooning down in the brewery. 😉

Our Canada 150 Best Bitter will be available in the LCBO starting in June. As always, I strongly recommend checking availability on the LCBO website before you head out! Here’s to another 150 years!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

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Half Way House’s Doors: Doors Open Toronto 2017

Hello, Beer-Lovers! Guess what?

Doors Open Toronto is this weekend! In keeping with 2017’s sesquicentennial celebrations, this year’s theme is Fifteen Decades of Canadian Architecture, highlighting each decade of Canadian history since the 1860s…along with a few buildings from before Confederation!

That’s us! Yes, Black Creek Pioneer Village is once again participating in this annual cultural event, and most of our buildings date from the first half of the nineteenth century. The brewery was built in 2009, but it’s located in the Half Way House, which was originally built ca. 1847/48.

The idea of doors is an interesting one to apply to the Half Way House. Since our inn has seen many different owners and purposes, one can’t help but imagine how many people have walked through its doors…

There is the front door, of course—once used by travellers taking the stage coach route along Kingston Road. At the time of Confederation, those thirsty travellers would have been greeted by Mary and Alexander Thompson: the inn’s original owners.

F.F. Passmore did many sketches and surveys of Scarborough in the 1860s. The Half Way House is visible at right (north is down). Courtesy the City of Toronto Archives.

And let’s not forget the taproom’s side door, for patrons who may have accidentally had one too many.

The Half Way House, ca. 1918. (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

In 1872, the Thompson children—James and Delilah—left by that door for the final time. Following Alexander and Mary’s respective deaths in 1867 and 1872, the Half Way House was sold to a man named Ignatius Galloway.

By that point, the Grand Trunk Railway had mostly replaced travel along the Kingston Road. Thus, the people passing through its door likely would have been locals and boarders renting the upstairs rooms. However, Galloway did add an extension featuring a kitchen on the ground floor and a ballroom above—one hopes revellers came through the doors as well, eager for a night’s dancing!

A fine-looking group, ca. 1901 (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

In the early years of the twentieth century, the Half Way House was a popular rendezvous for a local bicycling club—invigorated friends, breathlessly chatting as they trooped through the front door for a break.

The Half Way House, ca. 1912. Can you spot the bicycles on the porch? (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

By mid-century, the Half Way House’s doors had changed greatly. It was subdivided into two stores, the doors constructed where our taproom and parlour are now. Still heavy traffic, I’d imagine, but customers rather than guests.

The Half Way House in 1952. (Courtesy: Toronto Public Library)

There was a time when no one passed through its doors…

Then in 1966, the Half Way House was moved to Black Creek! Its doors (and the rest of the building) were restored, once again ready to welcome travellers and guests—of history!

The Half Way House Inn: home of the Black Creek Historic Brewery.

And since 2009, a steady stream of beer-lovers has passed through the Half Way House’s front door to the brewery sheltered in its basement.

So there you have it: the history of the Half Way House, told through its front door. Come be part of the story this weekend as you enter the building for yourself. Last entry to the village will be at 4:30 pm both Saturday and Sunday, so come early to avoid disappointment!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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Interview with Robin LeBlanc: Beer Writer

Hello beer-lovers!

Welcome back to another installment of our interview series! This week, I am thrilled to welcome Robin LeBlanc to the Growler. Robin is a respected beer expert and reviewer, talented writer, and all-around awesome person. You may recognize her name from her blog, The Thirsty Wench, from Twitter (@TheThirstyWench), or from The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, which she co-authored with fellow beer expert Jordan St. John.

And guess what??? A new, second edition of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide releases May 20th! Packed with nearly 100 new breweries, this book promises a comprehensive survey of the Ontario craft scene. I’m stoked for its release, and I was very glad the chance to chat about the book with Robin!

Without further ado!

KT: We’re always keen on origin stories! Can you tell us how you got into craft beer?

RL: I got bitten by a radioactive brewer, and…
No. That’s a lie. What really happened was I was in a friend’s apartment in 2007 and their roommate brought over a bottle of Chimay Première, a Trappist dubbel and shared some of it with us. Considering the most adventurous with beer I had been at the time was a pint of Guinness, I can safely say that I experienced an explosion of flavours that were earth-shattering. Dark fruits! Caramel! A subtle alcohol burn! From then I was hooked. I started going to the original Bar Volo with friends, which then led to picking up books on beer, which then led to starting a blog about beer, and that ended up with being a columnist and author on beer. It’s amazing how much it just escalated.

 

KT: The Ontario craft beer scene has exploded over the last number of years; what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

RL: Well the big one is that there is no more craft beer out there. As you said, the Ontario beer scene has exploded and we’re seeing more and more breweries pop up every WEEK in areas both urban and rural. The great thing has been seeing the places outside of the city fully embrace craft breweries opening in their area because it adds to part of their identity. So really that’s the biggest change, where we are now at a point where one could take a weekend trip to almost anywhere in the province and chances are really good you’ll be able to visit many breweries throughout.

KT: Researching “The Ontario Craft Beer Guide” was an impressive undertaking! Were there any surprises along the way?

RL: There definitely were! In doing research we would get to as many breweries in the province as possible and more often than not I found myself in small areas getting a feel for the context of which the brewery makes their beer and the local inspiration that drives them. Places like Sleeping Giant in Thunder Bay, or New Ontario in North Bay, and Haliburton Highlands in Haliburton. All breweries that are shaped by the places they call home.

KT: And finally, what can readers look forward to in the second edition?

 RL: A more massive book than the first one, for sure. We’ve completely expanded and revised this second edition, revisiting many of the breweries from the first edition and adding nearly a hundred new breweries in the book, with ratings for over a thousand beers. On top of that we have chapters covering the history of Ontario beer, where to purchase the beer, and Ontario ingredients. We’ve also expanded the suggested pubs list from 50 to over 100, showing all the great places in this province to get a decent selection of local beer. And finally, we have colour pictures, giving a nice visual representation of Ontario beer.

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Robin, thanks again for sharing your time with us! Remember, you can pick up your copy of The Ontario Craft Beer Guide on May 20th – a perfect start to the long weekend!  Here’s to many more fantastic beers ahead!

To Queen and country!

Katie

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Trying Beer Quizzes

There comes a time in every Beer Expert’s life when you wonder, “Just how expert am I?” For myself, I’ve been studying beer for… (*squints*) five years. I’ve logged tasting notes for well over 400 distinct brews on Untappd. Down in the brewery, I received almost every conceivable question.

So—how does that knowledge stack up?

Fortunately for the budding beer enthusiast, the internet is rife with beer knowledge quizzes of every stripe. I found a selection of five, took them, and made notes on each. Take a look through, and try taking a few yourself!

Ultimate Beer Knowledge Test

The title is promising, and it is one of the longer tests I took. There are a few oddly phrased questions in here, and it seems more focused on stats (breweries per capita, quantity of breweries per country) than history.

I scored 87%.

Test Your Craft Beer Knowledge

I will do precisely that, thank you! This quiz mostly asks you to differentiate between styles: their origins, history, characteristics, etc. There’s a tiny bit about the brewing process, too.

It’s helpful to know US measurements (I think in litres, but I am learning to speak in gallons).

I scored 100%.

Beer Knowledge Quiz

There’s a mistake on this quiz. I’ll just point that out right now. The quiz asks in which year the Reinheitsgebot (German Beer Purity Law) was issued. This decree regulated the ingredients and prices of beer—it was meant to prevent competition with bakers for wheat and rye. As we all know, it was issued in 1516.

1516 was not listed as an option. The answer was listed as 1487. While some similar regulations were passed prior to 1516, that’s not what this question asked.

I scored 9/10. I protest my score.

Girls’ Guide to Good Beer: Beer IQ Test

Grab paper and a pencil for this one: no clickable boxes! Overall, it’s a decent overview of different areas of beer knowledge, but I have two quibbles: one, with their definition of what makes “craft” beer, and second, on their unclear distinction between “grain” and “malt” (after all, malt is grain—but it’s been partially germinated and roasted).

I scored 12/12. There was no badge.

Cicerone Certification Practice Exam

You’ll need to make a free account to access the official 10-question quiz. This is a practice test towards becoming a Certified Beer Server: the first level of cicerone certification. The cicerone program is demanding: beer history, styles, brewing methods, and serving protocol. For obvious reasons, I am less comfortable with that final one—there were no draught lines in the brewery.

Nevertheless, I scored 10/10.

They’re fun quizzes, eh? If you’re looking to brush up on your beer knowledge, our brewmaster Ed is a veritable fountain of brewing facts (most of my technical knowledge comes from him). Remember to drop by the brewery on weekends to see him in action!

To Queen and Country!

Katie

 

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