November 2, 2009
by Andrew Joseph, Features Editor
It takes a lot of nerve, faith and smarts for a family business to compete in a market dominated by a few foreign-owned multinational giants with vast financial resources, but for folks at the Saint John, N.B.-based Moosehead Breweries Limited, overcoming the odds and adversity is all part-and-parcel of a long and proud heritage that enabled Canada’s largest independent brewery to generate very respectable revenues of about $190 million last year.
Tracing its origins right back to the founding of Canadian Confederation in 1867 with the formation of The Army & Navy Brewery in Halifax, the brewery continued to operate in Nova Scotia’s capital—despite surviving two devastating fires—under the names of S. Oland, Sons and Co. and Maritime Brewing & Malting Co. right up until 1917, when the horrific Halifax harbor explosion disaster not only leveled the brewing plant, but also killed one of the three brothers running the company, Conrad Oland, while severely injuring his sibling John Jr.
Undaunted, George Oland proceeded to move whatever was left of the business to neighboring New Brunswick and, once all the related insurance claims were settled, Maritime Brewing & Malting commenced operations again in 1928 at a larger, newly-purchased brewery in Saint John, which has remained the resilient beermaker’s central production facility to this day.
Over the years, the runaway market success of the company’s flagship Moosehead Pale Ale allowed the brewer to expand its production output and market reach—ultimately prompting it to change the corporate name to its current moniker in 1947.
Today, the 180,000-square-foot Saint John brewery boasts annual output capacity of 1.2 million hectoliters of beer—an equivalent of nearly 29 million dozen standard-size beer bottles—according to the director of plant operations J.P. Auger, with a sister plant in Toronto taking care of any additional out-of-province brewing and packaging work backlog.