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"A Fermenting Tub." Patent no. 2717, filed by George Sleeman and Thomas Steele, 1873. Top view

 

Patent no. 2717. Filing Year 1873.

"A Fermenting Tub," George Sleeman et al.

The beer industry in 19th-century Canada consisted of a handful of large breweries -- Molson, Carling, Labatt, and a few others -- and several small regional breweries. One of the most ambitious and successful breweries of the day was the Silver Creek Brewery, captained by a family with a familiar name, Sleeman.

John Sleeman, a brewer from Cornwall, England, had immigrated to Canada in 1834. In 1851, he started the Silver Creek Brewery in Guelph, Ontario, taking advantage of the region's hard and pure well water. In 1859, at the age of 18, his son George became manager of the operation; George took over the brewery when his father retired in 1868.

George Sleeman proved to be talented both in business and in the art of brewing. He introduced a preservative, bisulphate of soda, in the early 1870s and patented his "Temperated Fermenting Tub," above, in 1874. The tub was really two -- an inner and an outer -- between which flowed water or another coolant. This gave Sleeman more control over the temperature of the beer or liquor in the inner tub and allowed him to make lager. It also saved him labour costs, and he further reduced costs by vertically integrating all aspects of production and distribution. Fuelled by Ontario's growing population, Silver Creek expanded its operations, distributing the brand from Sault Ste. Marie to Québec, and introducing Canada's first cream ale. By 1900, Sleeman had opened a second plant in Guelph.

Sleeman also pioneered the longstanding relationship between beer and sports. As chief financial backer of the Guelph Maple Leafs baseball club, he imported American players and helped professionalize the sport in Canada. He started his own team, the Silver Creek Club, in 1870. In 1999 he was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions.

The Prohibition movement was gathering strength in the late 19th century, and its threat spurred Sleeman's entry into politics. In 1880 he became the first mayor of the newly incorporated town of Guelph, leading the fight against local campaigns to ban the sale of alcohol. While he was successful on that front, a later project, his drive to bring an electric streetcar operation to Guelph, was a financial disaster, nearly costing him his business.

Sleeman's brewery received another blow with the 1916 establishment of Prohibition in Ontario. The business was eventually sold and the brand disappeared until 1988, when George's great-grandson, John, restarted the brewery using the family name, and brewed Sleeman's Cream Ale using his great-grandfather's original 19th-century recipe.

References

Kidd, Bruce. "Sleeman, George." Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=41999&query=sleeman (accessed November 5, 2005).

Sneath, Allen Winn. Brewed in Canada: The Untold Story of Canada's 350-year-old Brewing Industry. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2001.

"Brewing." World of Invention. Edited by Kimberly A. McGrath. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, 1999, p. 97.

"Our Story." About Sleeman.
www.sleeman.com/en/html/about_sleeman/our_story.htm
(accessed November 5, 2005).