GETTING TO KNOW: 
‘BREWING CHANGES GUELPH’ EXHIBIT 

INTERVIEW BY SONIA PREISLER 

DAWN OWEN, CURATOR OF GUELPH CIVIC MUSEUM, RECENTLY NOTED THAT ‘IT’SNOT AN OVERSTATEMENT TO SAY BEER BUILT THIS TOWN.’ INDEED, EVEN A CURSORY GLANCE AT GUELPH’S CURRENT BEER LANDSCAPE ONLY SEEMS TO STRENGTHEN DAWN’S SUGGESTION. WELLINGTON BREWERY. SLEEMAN BREWERIES. ROYAL CITY BREWINGCO. FIXED GEAR BREWING CO. THE RECENTLY-DECEASED STONEHAMMER BREWING.(RIP STONEHAMMER.) NOT TO MENTION GUELPH’S GREAT BARS AND PUBS WITH BEER LISTS THAT CAN MAKE EVEN THE STODGIEST HOP HEAD WEAK AT THE KNEES. ONE OF THE CIVIC MUSEUM’S CURRENT EXHIBITS, ‘BREWING CHANGES GUELPH,’ ATTEMPTSTO BOTTLE GUELPH’S BEER STORY AND PUT IT ON DISPLAY – FROM ITS EARLIEST BEGINNINGS STRAIGHT THROUGH TO THE STATE OF TODAY’S BEER SCENE IN GUELPH. RECENTLY, TOQUE’S SONIA PREISLER CHATTED WITH GUELPH MUSEUM’S SARAH BALL ABOUT THE EXHIBIT. HERE’S WHAT SARAH HAD TO SAY: 

SO WHAT’S THE STORY AT THE HEART OF AN EXHIBITION ON BREWING IN GUELPH?
‘Brewing Changes Guelph’ examines the social and economic impact of brewing beer in the Royal City and documents the changes brought about by the rise, fall and resurrection of Guelph breweries. Guest curated by Eric Payseur, ‘Brewing Changes Guelph’ is about the present, past and future of brewing in Guelph.

WHAT SORTS OF INTERESTING TIDBITS MIGHT I TAKE AWAY FROM THE EXHIBIT?
Did you know that women were the original brewers around the world? In early Guelph they brewed domestically as well as in inns and taverns right up until larger commercial brewing operations (usually run by men) were established. I found it interesting that it was a matriarch of the renowned Sleeman family who was responsible for saving the family recipes back in the 1930s – enabling them to be resurrected by John Sleeman when he re-started the family business in the mid- 1980s.

THERE MUST BE SOME INTERESTING ARTIFACTS IN THE EXHIBIT.
Many. People might enjoy seeing label-making plates from the original Sleeman Breweries, for example, and vintage stoneware beer bottles. Or nineteenth-century brewing & malting licenses and invoices that reveal how essential the brewery industry was in Guelph’s early economy. There’s an array of tap handles from all of Guelph’s post-1980s breweries and video interviews with present-day Guelph brewers and other industry movers and shakers. Maybe most notable is a 1,500-pound slab of concrete – the name-stone from the once important Thomas Holliday’s brewery from 1868 – rescued from demolition decades ago and preserved by a family in Paisley. I especially love what we’ve labeled the ‘artist wall’ in the contemporary brewing installation. It includes a number of the process works that go into designing beer labels, and reflects the creative contributions of local artists collaborating with local breweries.

ANY OTHER COOL BITS OF HISTORY THAT MIGHT INTEREST LOCAL FOLKS? 
For sure. How about this: all modern malting barley varieties (except for two) are descendants of ‘OAC 21’ barley – the twentieth-century brewing industry standard for over fifty years. This strain was developed right here in Guelph at the Ontario Agriculture College by Charles Zavitz, who earned several honorary degrees for his work as an experimental agriculturalist and peace activist. When the Canadian Brewer’s Association wanted to present him with an award for his spectacular work on developing so fine a barley for the malting process, Zavitz, a Quaker and a teetotaler, would not accept the award in public. 

DO YOU HAVE TO BE A BEER DRINKER TO ENJOY THIS EXHIBIT?
Absolutely not. The exhibition is not about consuming beer and, frankly, Guelph’s brewing story is so much more than the great beers that are produced here. The brewing industry quite literally put Guelph on the map – from its incorporation as a cityto the recent ranking by expedia.ca of Guelph as one of the three best beer destinations in Canada.

Guelph Civic Museum
52 Norfolk St
guelphmuseums.ca