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Historic Beer Birthday: George W.C. Oland

Today is the birthday of George W.C. Oland (August 23, 1855-January 25, 1933). He was born in Hampshire, England but emigrated to Canada, settling in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was the son of Susannah Oland, who founded Moosehead Breweries. After his mother died in 1885, he took over control of Moosehead, but “sold the brewery to an English syndicate and used the proceeds to acquire the Highland Spring Brewery of Halifax and another brewery in Saint John.

George W.C. Oland seated in the front, with his sons, Sidney, George Bauld, and Geoffrey behind him.

The Halifax brewery was destroyed in the explosion of 1917 and, as a consequence, George W. C. Oland transferred all his energies to the Saint John Brewery, which was run by his son George Bauld (see Halifax Explosion). His second son, Sidney, joined him in the business at the end of the First World War and with the aid of government compensation for victims of the Halifax explosion, the Olands rebuilt the old Highland Spring Brewery.”

The Oland Brewery after the Halifax explosion in 1917.

During Prohibition, when the sale of intoxicating beverages was illegal, the Olands supplemented the little money they made from soft drinks and 2 per cent beer, which was legal to produce, with profits from selling illegal “strong” beer in pubs and shops. In 1927, George Bauld admitted to selling illegal beer to various pubs and shops, which cost his business some $24,000 in fines over the course of Prohibition. This dodgy practice helped keep the business afloat. In 1928, Oland & Sons purchased the Alexander Keith’s Brewery when it came up for sale. Keith’s was the oldest brewery in the Maritimes and its acquisition gave Oland & Sons a monopoly on brewing in Nova Scotia.

The Moosehead Brewery in the 1930s or 40s.

Soon after the Oland family acquired the Keith’s brewery, Sidney Oland’s older brother, George Bauld Oland, acquired the James Ready Brewery in Saint John, which was renamed New Brunswick Breweries (and again renamed Moosehead Breweries Limited in 1947). In 1933, George Bauld introduced Moosehead Pale Ale to the public. Ever since they were boys, Sidney and George had been in competition with one another. While their father was alive, the intense rivalry was never allowed to descend into a family feud. But when George Sr. died in 1933, the brothers went their separate ways. By the end of the Second World War, there were two distinct branches of the Oland family: the Nova Scotia Olands, who owned and operated the Alexander Keith’s Brewery, and the New Brunswick Olands, who controlled Moosehead. Eventually, control of the Moosehead brewery in Saint John was given to George Bauld’s son, Philip, while Oland & Sons of Halifax was taken over by Sidney’s three sons Victor, Bruce, and Don.

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