It happened in Calgary: How beer was born in Calgary

With a growing craft beer sector and the Calgary International Beerfest on the horizon, there is no denying our city’s fascination with barley pop.

But the importance of liquid lager in Calgary has been brewing since its earliest days.

In 1875, the North-West Territories Act was passed, which prohibited alcohol across western Canada. The small community at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers was as dry as dust but there was a thirst for change. That change came in 1892 when prohibition was repealed. Just three months later, The Calgary Brewing & Malting Company was born. The first batch of the famed buffalo and horseshoe logoed beer hit town streets in 1893 – a full year before Calgary would become a city.

The brainchild of A. E. Cross - one of Calgary's first modern industrialists who is immortalized as one of the Stampede’s Big Four – was elected president and quickly assembled a team of his rancher friends to finance and establish the fledgling company – Alberta's first brewery.

The brewery quickly proved successful and over the next decades Cross re-invested the company's profits into growth and diversification including the acquisition of smaller breweries and hotels. The influence of the brewery was so far reaching that the Inglewood area in which it is situated became known as “Brewery Flats.” Many of Calgary's leading citizens were original shareholders of the company.

The primary product was “Calgary Export Lager”, which was shipped as far as China and Australia, but distributed mainly in western Canada. The founding of the Brewery introduced barley growing to Alberta. To encourage barley growing for malting purposes, the company imported seed barley from Ontario and distributed it amongst the farmers of Alberta and guaranteed a return of 25% higher than regular market price.

When Prohibition was enacted in 1916, beer production was limited but the company turned to producing temperance beers and soft drinks as a substitute, which turned out to be quite popular.

The Calgary Brewing & Malting Company was responsible for many innovations in Calgary's industrial and social history. The brewery was one of Calgary’s largest early employers and was one of the first in the province to introduce pension plans and insurance for its employees, as well as providing Depression-era relief work. Additionally, in 1910, the brewery became the first commercial user of natural gas in Western Canada.

The 1930s witnessed two significant additions to the site. In the early 1930s, J. B. Cross, continuing his father's legacy of community service, built a large garden adjacent to the brewery as a make-work project for his Depression-era employees. Begun in 1932, the garden eventually included a variety of species of flora, fish hatcheries and waterfalls. A small section of the lot was donated by the Cross family to the City of Calgary and became the site of Inglewood’s community swimming pool in 1963. Most of the rest of the original buildings have remained together through multiple changes in ownership.

Between the 1910s and the 1950s, the company's fortunes ebbed and flowed with the First and Second World Wars, Prohibition and the Great Depression. By 1961, however, the company was beset by insurmountable challenges and was sold to Canadian Breweries in 1961 and then bought by Rothman's in 1969. Renamed Carling O'Keefe in 1973, the brewery was finally taken over by Molson Breweries in 1989 and eventually ceased production in 1994.

Its majestic buffalo head logo stills strikes a chord with many Calgarians.