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New book cheers local history

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300 Years of Beer authors Bill Wright and Dave Craig are shown with Wright's bottle collection at his East Kildonan home.

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300 Years of Beer authors Bill Wright and Dave Craig are shown with Wright's bottle collection at his East Kildonan home. Photo Store

A new book looks to appeal to those who love a few wobbly pops — but its authors say history buffs could find refreshment as well.

East Kildonan resident Bill Wright and Southdale resident Dave Craig teamed up to write 300 Years of Beer as a labour of love. The project started when the 74-year-old Craig began profiling bygone local breweries for the Great White North Brewerianists newsletter in the 1970s.

When Wright, 54, joined the club in 2006, he suggested the information could be compiled into a book, and set to work on the 200-page work. The book was launched with a signing at McNally Robinson on June 6 with approximately 100 copies.

"This is important information, because it’s all lost history," Wright said. "There’s a whole segment of this province’s past that nobody knew about."

Craig began collecting beer labels in the 1950s, and once came across one from a brewery he had never heard of. He launched an investigation into its history and went from there.

"I started tracking (breweries)," he said. "I started going to the archives and delving deeper into different things. I found quite a bit of information."    

Craig used resources ranging from Henderson directories to various archives to newspapers to the Manitoba Historical Society. He eventually went from writing about one brewery at a time to finding some common threads, writing stories about the 17 breweries that once called Osborne Street home as well as writing about Brandon-based producers.

He said the story that surprised him most was the local connection of Shea’s Winnipeg Brewery to Budweiser’s famous Clydesdales.

"(Budweiser owners Anheuser-Busch) bought Patrick Shea’s horse team, which had won competitions for about seven or eight years," said Craig. "When prohibition ended in the States, Budweiser wanted a team of championship horses because they were the championship beer. They bought the horses and they took the trainer (Andrew Haxton) from Winnipeg down there (to St. Louis) with them."

The Clydesdales debuted in 1933, and delivered Budweiser to the White House to mark the end of prohibition.

The book also delves into connections to Manitoba politicians E.L. Drewry (a brewer who was the first Canadian to use the bottlecap), Stewart Mulvey (Drewry’s business and political rival), and Premier Rodmond Roblin.

With Craig having done decades of legwork, finding information on the bulk of local breweries, Wright came on board and was able to see the project through to completion.

"I said to Dave ‘You’ve done a lot of the work already. You’re retired and I don’t want to saddle you with a lot of the work of putting this thing together,’" Wright said, noting he turned Craig’s research into full chapters and took several of the book’s photos.

After local writer Russ Gourluck passed the duo’s names onto Great Plains Publications publisher Gregg Shilliday, Wright was encouraged to write a sample chapter. Wright said Great Plains was looking to publish such a book, and four years later, it came to fruition.

"I’d never written anything before, so there were many times I thought ‘I don’t know if I can do this, I don’t know if I can pull this off,’" recalled Wright. "The more I did it, the more I realized it was coming together."

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