Manitoba History: Called to the Bar: An Historical Geography of Beverage Rooms in Brandon, 1881-1966

by Doug Ramsey
Rural Development Institute, Brandon University

and John Cater Everitt
Department of Geography, Brandon University

Number 56, October 2007

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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In his text entitled Interpreting the City Truman Hartshorn discusses “the city’s role as a veritable hotbed of the production and exchange of information” and attempts to “examine the rich tradition of growth and change that weaves the urban fabric as we know it today.” [1] Although urban geography is itself a relatively new sub-discipline this concern for interpreting the urban fabric dates back at least to the times of Carl Sauer who (although not himself particularly urban-oriented) discussed in 1925 the definition of cultural landscapes and the meaning behind these “land shapes” which are social and cultural in nature but firmly rooted in their physical environments. [2] As Sauer went on to point out, geographers should see cultural landscapes, as transformed by people, as a central theme of the discipline: “This contact of man with his changeful home, as expressed through the cultural landscape, is our field of work.” [3]

Carts pulled by oxen were already historic by the time of this 1904 photo, taken as a publicity stunt for the newly renovated and renamed Pacific Hotel.

Carts pulled by oxen were already historic by the time of this 1904 photo, taken as a publicity stunt for the newly renovated and renamed Pacific Hotel.
Source: S. J. McKee Archives, Brandon University, Lawrence Stuckey Fonds, L3.

In this article we propose to interpret selected aspects of the historical urban geography of Brandon, and in particular its bars, [4] and we will thus show how one segment of this urban landscape has been shaped by Brandonites over time. We have chosen bars (most often located in hotels) because they were important locations within the city for a number of reasons. First, they were (and are) “veritable hotbeds of the production and exchange of information”—that is to say they were important social/recreational places—especially for unattached males. [5] Second, they were important economic-urban nodes where people came together, stayed (in rooms overnight or for lengthier periods of time), and consumed a variety of products including food and drink. In addition, a range of other economic functions could be found in many hotels, including news stands, cigar stands, and barber shops. Third, they were significant landscape features. They were usually among the first structures constructed; in some case they were the first structures people saw when they arrived in town (by train, at least); and in many instances they were imposing architectural edifices, often with even more imposing names, that dominated their locations within the central business district of the city. As such we are looking at one example of the “landscape heritage” of prairie settlements. [6] Fourth, they have been an index of changes—social, economic, and landscape—in the city’s role as a central place and a service centre. Bars in Brandon, and elsewhere in the Great Plains/Prairies have been neglected by academics, but are deserving of greater attention. [7] We propose to pay them some of this heed. Although our remarks will concentrate upon the Brandon case study, we feel confident that they largely apply to other prairie centres, both large and small—including the small town hostelries recently discussed by Radenbaugh. [8]

Our article will discuss the time period from 1881 when Brandon was laid out by CPR surveyors after being chosen as a town site (in May), and when the first passenger train arrived (in October). At this time the “Central Business District” (CBD) was relatively small and compact and was geared for a walking population. Although we will concentrate on Brandon’s first fifty years, we will end our study in the late 1960s, by which time the bars of Downtown Brandon were about to begin to succumb to the growth of suburban hostelries, and the city’s future was firmly tied to the automobile. In fact, 1964 marked the opening of the first “motor hotel” in Brandon’s CBD. Although the suburban malls, the new-style suburban hotel/motels, and curvilinear street patterns of the new suburbs, which were to contrast strongly with the grid of the core area, were just over the Brandon horizon, they were by this time well-established elsewhere in Anglo America. Despite the fact that Downtown Brandon had been able, into the 1960s, to retain its retail function to a greater degree than some urban centres, [9] and thus a large proportion of its early architecture, the writing was clearly “on the wall” as far as “traditional” bars were concerned.

The Establishment of Brandon

Brandon was chosen as a town site by General Rosser in May 1881, was soon surveyed by the CPR, and received its first passenger train later that year. [10] Brandon’s first “pioneer store” was located (in July 1881) at Pacific Avenue and Fourth Street, but the centre of the CBD soon migrated south and west as the city grew. With the establishment of the CPR station at Tenth and Pacific, and the entrenchment of Tenth Street as the “vertical” of Brandon’s commercial “T”, [11] the centre of the CBD became Tenth and Rosser Avenue—a situation that has persisted to the present day. When people arrived in Brandon in its early days, they invariably came by train, and if they needed somewhere to stay, they looked for a hostelry nearby the station—which meant Pacific Avenue, Rosser Avenue, or one of the connecting streets. Not surprisingly, hotels and boarding houses were soon constructed, and by January 1882 there were six hotels in operation mostly, as was characteristic of the prairies, near the station; by 1883 there were ten (Table 1). [12] Interestingly there was no such structure on Tenth Street, reflecting the rapid rise in its land values for “higher and better uses.” But Pacific Avenue, a major commercial and industrial street, had many hostelries.

Table 1.
Hotels, boarding houses, and alcohol retail in Brandon, 1883. Source: Brandon Sun, 7 November 1912.


Boarding Houses (# rooms)

Alcohol Retail Stores

Grand Central
Royal Arms
Star and Garter

American (31)
A. MacDonald (6)
Beaubier (31)
Brunswick (8)
Edie (15)
Harris (21)
Kelly (29)
Lambton (30)
Ontario (9)
Ottawa (9)
Simpsons (7)
Thomas Lockhart
Yorkshire (3)

McIvor & McIntyre (wine & spirts)
Henley & Co. (brewer’s agent)
Mulligans Wine & Spirit Emporium
Brandon Vegetable Cellars and Wine Vaults
I. B. Murdoch (wine & spirts)

Boarding houses were just that, buildings where people could spend the night. Hotels were usually more substantial and included rooms for rent, restaurants where meals could be purchased, and bars (“saloons”) where a libation could be enjoyed after a hard day’s work, or after a long journey on the train. In fact, a beer parlour/bar/saloon had to be in a “hotel”, as rooms had to be provided in structures serving alcohol. There were also regulations regarding the number of rooms required to be designated as a hotel. This correlation between function and location meant that “hotels” were often synonymous with saloons to many “drys” during the times preceding prohibition, and thus were landscape targets of their attacks upon “demon drink.” Central Brandon has had many hostelries over its short lifetime with at least seventeen hotels in addition to the boarding houses being documented at one time. Many suffered from the prairie disease of fire or prohibition, others were razed for successive functions, and still others could not make it as bars and went bankrupt. However, a few have persisted and four remain today in locations that have contained a bar/hotel/boarding house for most of Brandon’s history.

The users of pubs in Brandon are hard to discern even today, as house rules (“no photos”) and house etiquette (“no questions”) have always made information gathering something of a difficulty, but some insights gleaned from personal observations as well as from “key observers” and the popular literature that remains in libraries and archives, can be made. The “no photos” rule apparently dates back to post-prohibition days when newspapers published pictures of bar patrons (e.g., “husbands”), which were used against them by their peers (e.g., “spouses”). Given this background, what were some of the social and locational characteristics of the bar scene in Brandon?

Social Characteristics of Bars

First, the bar was until recently predominantly the haunt for males—in fact they were often, and especially in the city’s early days the only, recreational opportunities for single men. [13] Men outnumbered women in Brandon at this time, by perhaps a factor of two to one. Women were discouraged/not allowed, in large part because of a perceived (and probable) correlation between bars and prostitution. As Gray indicates, these early years were part of an “era in which the forces of self-righteousness collided head-on with the entrenched forces of prostitution” and the venue was often the bar/saloon. [14] Bars were also associated with crime and this reinforced their doubtful reputations. When women-in-general were eventually allowed into bars (and the date of this change in Manitoba is uncertain, although it was 1961 in Saskatchewan [15]), they were segregated into hastily constructed “Women and Escorts” sections that often had separate entrances to the outside world. It is instructive to note that in Elizabeth Mitchell’s classic study of Western Canada Before the War (first published in 1915) there are detailed discussions of an extremely wide range of topics but no mention of life in the bars—which were not the “sphere” of women, and certainly not those of the social stature of Oxford graduate Ms. Mitchell. [16] In fact, perhaps reflecting her own social orbit, Mitchell states that she “heard of no drinking among women” in her travels. [17]

Within the same building, single men were not allowed inside the “women and escorts” sections. This was to discourage the practice of the “world’s oldest profession”, to reduce the number of fights over the few available damsels, as well as to allow the females some hassle-free down-time away from inebriated males. But women were never “allowed” in all bars, and in fact it is only quite recently that the last all-male bar in Manitoba, the Roblin in Winnipeg, closed its doors.

Second, the pub/saloon was until recently literally a “beer parlour”—still often its vernacular name. Radenbaugh reports that many beverage rooms at one time served whiskey with free beer as a “chaser”, but it is uncertain how widespread this practice was. [18] It is probable that a greater variety of drinks (but not “mixed-drinks” as they are served today) was the case in the early years of bar development, until the temperance movement was successful in bringing about Prohibition (1915-1924 in Saskatchewan, 1915-1922 in Alberta, and 1916-1922 in Manitoba). After Prohibition, other forms of alcoholic libation could be obtained elsewhere, but not in the beer parlour. There were other distinguishing characteristics of bars. In some parts of the west the beer might be mixed with tomato juice, but that was about as experimental as people could get. Some pubs may have had separate lounge bars where “liquor” was served, but this may have been a drink which “higher classes” most commonly consumed at home. In fact, as early as 1883, there were no less than five retail outlets in Brandon that sold liquors and wines. Alcohol (“whisky”) was only allowed in beer parlours again at a later date.

Third, pubs can still be classified in some cities by the “kinds” of beer they serve—just try buying “light beer” on North Main Street in Winnipeg, or until recently, anything other than your basic brews anywhere. Imported beers are still rare in beer parlours, and non-national beers are unusual. Asking for these esoteric brews can be dangerous to one’s health in some instances (like North Main). Curiously, perhaps, some parts of western Canada are characterised by “bottled beer drinkers” and some by draught beer consumers. There are also regional variations in the kinds of beer preferred, although some of these distinctions have been masked or obliterated by the takeover/amalgamation of breweries, and national ad campaigns.

Fourth, bars were the haunts of, or designed for, the working class. To some extent this explains their location, their selection of beverages, and some of the associated behaviour patterns such as lack of dress code, spittoons, and sawdust on the floors. More recently, and reflecting the changing residential and functional nature of today’s “downtowns,” the clientele of many pubs has aged, and is perhaps poorer and more ethnically distinguishable. However, it is rarely even middle class. Even if middle class patrons do imbibe in downtown pubs they usually “dress down” for the occasion.

Fifth, the present-day architecture of the downtown (and some more suburban) beer-parlours reflects (it seems) the times of early post-prohibition in that they have no windows. This apparently evolved as a way of preventing people from being corrupted by the sight of drink and drinkers. At the same time, it provided sanctuary for those not wanting others to know their whereabouts. Some of the older structures that have not been seriously rebuilt still show the locations of ex-windows, but never a pane of glass. Windows that do exist expose restaurants and lobbies, not beverage rooms. This affects the streetscape, but also the interior ambience which is often darker and more gloomy than need be. This characteristic reflects, once again, the degree of control exercised over bars by government control and peer pressure, ranging from clientele to architecture, from beverage selection to operating hours, and from licensing to behaviour patterns within the bar (e.g., no standing or walking with a drink in one’s hand). The hours of operation in the early days are unclear, and have varied over time, but they have long been restricted, and changed at the whim of government. [19]

Sixth, in order to survive pubs have always had to be adaptable. In the past this meant providing a variety of services including offering a “well-stocked bar”, cigars, cigarettes a billiards room and other attractions. Nowadays, women are allowed in, and sometimes encouraged by “Ladies’ Nights”; strippers are sometimes featured (male strippers on Ladies’ Nights); themes (“Rock,” “Country”) are sometimes used to entice the patrons, or particular segments of the populace; even redecoration occasionally takes place—although interior decorating is rarely a notable feature of beer parlours. One end product of this adaptability is spatial change, which will be treated in more detail in the next section, but which has recently led to a relative increase in the number of bars outside of the downtown area, with a requisite decrease in the core.

Seventh, and flowing from the above, beer parlours can be seen as aspects of “folk culture” to a large extent. It is possible to visualise being “dropped down” in any central city pub, and being able to recognise one’s location because of the type of clientele (old, young, ethnic, etc.), and the overall ambience or interior decor, both of which may have changed rarely if at all. As such they contrast to the “popular cultural palaces” that are the suburban pubs, which have little “place base,” being rebuilt to fit with the latest in popular culture every few years. Another reflection of the impact of popular culture upon the folk culture of the bar has been the banning of smoking in Brandon (in 2002) and in Winnipeg (in 2003) from bars, even when the majority of the bar patrons may have been smokers. In fact, the owners of some Brandon bars have suggested that the smoking ban could put them out of business. [20] Although no bar has succumbed since the ban was imposed, it is likely that this imposition of what might be seen as middle class values of the more youthful generations upon poorer and older echelons of society will indeed lead to the closure of at least one of Brandon’s few remaining central city bars.

Thomas Jefferous Beaubier (1830-1915) operated a hotel in Ontario for six years before arriving in the Brandon area in 1880, as the CPR was conducting its surveys for a transcontinental railway. In 1882, he built and operated the original Beaubier House, which was destroyed by fire in 1893, and replaced by the Beaubier Hotel.

Thomas Jefferous Beaubier (1830-1915) operated a hotel in Ontario for six years before arriving in the Brandon area in 1880, as the CPR was conducting its surveys for a transcontinental railway. In 1882, he built and operated the original Beaubier House, which was destroyed by fire in 1893, and replaced by the Beaubier Hotel.
Source: Gerry Beaubier

Locational Characteristics of Bars

As mentioned earlier, Brandon’s original saloons, like those in most western Canadian settlements, were located close to the railway station—the raison d’être of the settlement. The City was founded in 1881, and by 1883 there were ten hotels, as well as eighteen boarding houses (some would later be “upgraded” to hotels) and five alcohol retailers (Table 1). [21] Although tents and shacks were initially more common than substantial buildings, these were boom times for Brandon, as the CPR expanded westward. Interestingly, in 1881 when future mayor James Smart arrived in town, the Royal Hotel, a “good hotel” according to Smart, in contrast to the two “canvas” hotels further east, was being constructed on Rosser Avenue at Thirteenth Street. [22] It would prove to be one of only two hostelries west of Tenth Street (the other was the Langham, about which little is known). It was later succeeded in this location by the Reno Hotel, which eventually became an apartment block in 1917 after Prohibition before being demolished in 2000. By 1882, W. J. White wrote that there was enough “hotel accommodation for 1000 transient people”, but that only six hotels were listed suggests that the boarding houses were taking up much of this transient load. [23]

Figure 1. Brandon’s hotel and beverage room landscape.

Figure 1. Brandon’s hotel and beverage room landscape.

Apart from their location, the hotels were also notable for their names. Grandiose, or at least respectable names were characteristic of these hostelries. Similar naming practices characterised other businesses such as the early railways (e.g., The Great North West Central Railway) and grain elevator companies (e.g., The Golden West Grain Co.). Thus we find the “Grand Central,” the “Grand View” (which looked across Pacific Avenue at the CPR and its associated industrial uses), along with the “Royal,” the “Royal Arms,” the “Queen’s,” and the “Windsor” among others. Boarding house names tended to be more modest, often commemorating the owners, such as “Wiggins,” “Edie,” “Simpsons,” “Kelly,” “Douglas” and “Beaubier” or place names such as the “Brandon,” “Ottawa” or “Ontario” (Table 1). The Beaubier family was to become an important one in Brandon, continuing in the hotel and bar business for many years. Their name remains today on one of four functioning “beer parlours” in contemporary central Brandon. The present structure is on the site of the original Beaubier Boarding House, although a fire in 1893 has meant that the original structure is long gone. The rebuilt 1893 structure has also been changed considerably.

In 1884, perhaps recognising the difficulty of keeping the drinking scene in order from afar, there came the Dominion Liquor License Act. This gave hotel permit-control to local authorities and “insomnia to various inn-keepers who were refused further bar-operating privileges” by the local government. [24] Brandon decided that eight licenses would be enough for its population, and some bars closed, although it would appear that some later gained permission to re-open, as there were once again ten bars operating in Brandon by 1894. [25] This was not the first government intervention that would affect the bar scene in Brandon and it would prove not to be the last. In part because of this legislation and its implementation, there was a change in ownership of several hotels. Such ownership changes (as were establishment-name changes) were to prove common in this business, which has always appeared to be characterised by transient (and sometimes absentee) owners as well as transient clients. [26]

By the late 1880s when the initial boom was beginning to slacken, the City was characterised by better quality buildings, no doubt including hotels and two breweries. A “disastrous fire” in 1889 was a setback, but by the early 1890s Brandon was “rapidly rounding into shape as a commercial, manufacturing, and jobbing centre,” [27] although, in 1894 there were still only ten hotels (Table 2). It is likely, however, that many of these were larger and better built than a decade before, although the extension of the “head of steel” to far west of Brandon (the first Montreal-Vancouver train ran in 1886), and the construction of other rail lines in the region, meant that Brandon had lost some of its earlier competitive advantage. Consequently the hotel trade in Brandon steadied off, and became “established.”

Table 2.
Number of hotels in Brandon, 1883-1966. Sources: Henderson Directories*, Statistics Canada, Census of Population**.


















































6 (1937)




















7 (1964)



The 1890s were a time of consolidation for Brandon, with economic ups and downs contrasting with the boom of the early 1880s. Population was over 4,000 in 1894 and over 5,600 in 1903 (Table 2). But the first decade of the twentieth century, and arguably extending up to the First World War, was the greatest period of growth in Brandon’s history. Population rose to nearly 14,000 in 1911. This boom was represented by a growth in hotel numbers from ten in 1903 to fifteen in 1911 and sixteen by the outbreak of the Great War (Table 2). One of these was the elegant Empire Hotel, opened in 1904 by David W. Beaubier on Rosser Avenue in the heart of Downtown. The name may be a reflection of the fact that old the Beaubier Boarding House on Eighth and Princess was, by this time, owned by somebody else.

In practice there was also a greater variability in drinking establishments than these numbers show—in large part because of fire—the scourge of wood-built prairie settlements. Two people died in a fire at the Albion in 1885, and in 1895 the Royal Hotel experienced two fires within twenty-four hours. The first left the hotel in repairable state. The latter “only left the bar-room and its contents intact”! [28] In 1901 the Queen’s Hotel was destroyed in a conflagration. The owner quickly purchased the Merchants’ Hotel, and maintaining a theme, renamed it the King Edward Hotel. [29] In 1902 there was a fire at the Kelly House. [30]

Exterior and interview views of Brandon’s Grandview Hotel, circa 1901.

Exterior and interview views of Brandon’s Grandview Hotel, circa 1901.
Source: Brandon Illustrated Souvenir, William A. Martel, Publisher, p. 112.

Although Brandon’s spatial growth roughly followed a semi-circular pattern around the downtown core, the distribution of its hotels—and thus its bars—was much more restricted. Most bars over time have been located between Tenth and Fourth Streets, and Pacific and Princess Avenues (Figure 1). The Royal and the Langham were still the only hostelries west of Tenth Street excluding the Cecil (which replaced the Brunswick) which stood on the west side of this street near the CPR station. Both the Royal and the Langham tried to appeal to a higher class of resident. The Langham (“First Class in Every Respect”) even offered a “Free Bus” to meet its clients from “All Trains,” perhaps “oneupmanship” over the hotels (such as the Imperial and the Palace) that only had their porters meet the trains. [31] This spatial circumstance almost certainly reflected the growth and development of social areas in Brandon.

The western sector of the city had become, probably by the turn of the century, the highest social status area peopled by the middle class. [32] The eastern sector, despite some early “mansion-building”, had become (or was becoming) an area characterised by the working class. This trend was emphasised after 1903 when the CPR yards were relocated east of First Street. The area to the north of the CPR tracks, although mostly working class “British” in its initial years, was increasingly “invaded” by “unskilled” Eastern European migrants after the turn of the century. This local area, characterised as a “ghetto” by a local newspaper reporter, [33] never developed its own bars, with the mostly CPR-worker population crossing the tracks (literally until the Eighth Street Bridge was built) to watering holes such as the Grandview on Pacific Avenue. The area to the south of the CBD became more working class over time, and particularly after the Canadian Northern came into town from the south in 1906—despite the opposition to this “progress” by the remaining middle class residents of this part of the City. These changes helped to reinforce the growth of the western middle-class wedge, and to prevent the entry of more hotels into this local area.

In 1912, eleven hotels were featured in an issue of the Brandon Sun newspaper. [34] The selection process (from perhaps fifteen then in existence) is unclear. It may have included just the larger ones that had the money to use the newspaper to promote themselves (Table 3). Unfortunately equivalent data are not given for all eleven hostelries, but the overall picture is quite clear (Table 4). The average hotel had just under fifty rooms, dining areas of a similar capacity, and a variety of associated services, such as barber shops, news stands, “parlours”, and pool (billiard) rooms. They had something for everybody: one-stop shopping for the travelling male. It cost between $1.50 and $2.50 for a night’s lodging. All eleven appear to have served alcoholic beverages. In fact, several highlight their “well-stocked” bar as their major feature.

Table 3.
Hotels and Alcohol in Brandon, 1912. Source: Brandon Sun, 7 November 1912.




“a bar is maintained where all kinds of malt spirits and refreshments may be obtained. Skilled men in this department give service in plain or fancy concoctions, and an orderly and desirable trade is catered to”


“a bar that is stocked with all kinds of beer, wines and liquors, is conducted and attention is given to patrons of this department, sufficient to attract a most desirable and high class trade”


“the Brunswick is an establishment that a gentleman may patronize and which [sic] he is willing his son shall patronize also”


“the bar is one of the well-stocked ones in this neighbourhood and a variety of malt and fermented liquors are carried so as to meet the demands of a local trade and of the people who come in from different parts of this country and other countries outside of Canada”

King Edward

“the bar is adjacent to the office, but a desirable and most orderly class of customers are patrons here, so that people who are seeking refreshment may enter and be served without annoyance from any one; and those who only desire food and lodgings are not disturbed by the partakers of the liquid refreshments”


“a pool and billiard room is conducted on the ground floor and the bar is neatly fitted and is supplied with all kinds of wines, beers, and liquors”


“a large and well-stocked bar is entered from the side”


“on the ground floor there is a spacious lobby and office, a large and well suppled bar, a dining room, and a well-equipped kitchen”

Royal George

“cigars and tobaccos are kept on sale, and the bar is stocked with the beers and malt and fermented liquors that give satisfaction to the orderly trade that is catered to here”


“a well stocked bar is conducted”

Thus by the outbreak of World War I all of Brandon’s hotels (and bars) were on or east of Tenth Street except the Royal and the Langham, neither of which was to maintain this economic function for much longer. To the south, Princess Avenue, which was about the edge of the commercial district, was also the boundary for hotels. This is not surprising as the source of customers was still overwhelmingly the CPR and the physical slope up from the station along Tenth Street, coupled with the social slope up to the west, meant that the path of least resistance—and thus of greatest growth, was likely to be towards the east. The Canadian Northern terminated on Princess (at Ninth) but built its own fine hotel, the Prince Edward, at this location to accommodate its better customers, and other visitors to Brandon. Even the development of Brandon’s ill-fated and money-losing streetcar system that opened in 1913 failed to alter this basic pattern.

Table 4.
Hotels in Brandon, 1912. Source: Brandon Sun, 7 November 1912.


No. Rooms (Cost)

Dining Capacity

Bar With Alcohol



48 ($1.50)



barbershop, baths


50 ($2-$2.50)



parlours, writing rooms







? ($2.50)



rotunda, cigars, news stand


50 ($2.00)



barbershop, parlour

King Edward

34 (?)





42 ($1.50)



pool/billiards, parlours


54 ($1.50)



none listed


40 ($1.50)



none listed

Royal George

52 ($1.50)








none listed

The Great War was a watershed for Brandon in many ways. Brandon’s population had climbed to just over 15,000 by 1916 but was virtually unchanged in 1921 (Table 2). Although the “wets” outvoted the “drys” in 1914—causing many nervous bar owners to hastily replenish their bar room supplies, [35] the forces of temperance were not to be denied. Thus for Brandon’s bars, like those elsewhere in the west, this time of economic and political stress was further reinforced (in 1916) by prohibition. [36] Several hotels, including the Langham and the Royal, soon went out of business, and by 1919, nine remained in the catering business and as hostelries, but bereft of alcohol (Table 2). The landscape of bars had changed and would never return to its old form. It is interesting to note that the spatial growth of Brandon’s bars up to 1914 was followed by a spatial decline thereafter, which left the pattern in the 1960s very similar in number and distribution to that of 1903. Of course, some of the bars that existed at the end of our study period were also in existence in Brandon’s early days.

Almost certainly the social structural changes in Brandon also negatively affected the pubs. Families were becoming ever more characteristic of the population, and single young males less dominant partly because of the effects of the war. Prohibition ended in 1922, but there was no way back for many of the old hotels, and those that remained were in the eastern and southern sections of the core area, east of the Cecil and north of the CN terminus (Figure 1). [37] Some of the older structures were burned (see above), demolished (e.g., in 1936 the Edie House/Merchants Hotel/King Edward), or had already been converted into other uses (the Reno Apartments in the Reno, once Royal, Hotel [38]). In fact, rather than rebound, the bar-scene continued to decline with the King Edward and the New Pacific closing around 1920.

The Langham Hotel on Twelfth Street, with William L. Capell as proprietor, had one of the western-most beverage rooms in Brandon, circa 1901.

The Langham Hotel on Twelfth Street, with William L. Capell as proprietor, had one of the western-most beverage rooms in Brandon, circa 1901.
Source: Brandon Illustrated Souvenir, William A. Martel, Publisher, p. 144.

The difficult economic conditions of the 1920s were followed by the Great Depression and in 1937 another era ended with the closing of the Empire Hotel—which had in 1917 let Woolworth’s become its ground-floor tenant as a way of staving off the negative financial effects of prohibition! [39] Further, a proposal to turn the Empire into apartments in 1941 was turned down, and ironically it was replaced by an “ultra-modern F. W. Woolworth and Company departmental store” in 1957. [40] The population of the city had reached about 16,500 by 1936 (Table 2). Six bars were maintained for the next thirty years, but by then the aforementioned forces of suburbanisation had started to take their toll. One famous bar-restaurant that to some extent signalled the coming change was called the “Suburban” and was located at Twenty-Sixth and Victoria (then the Trans Canada Highway through town). By 1966, while the population of Brandon was 29,981, they were about to be serviced by institutions that would increasingly set up shop away from the CBD. In terms of bars, this turning point is symbolised by the opening in 1964 of Brandon’s first Motor Hotel, the Canadian Inn—ironically in the CBD at the corner of Fifth and Princess. But its central location could not disguise its more modern outward-looking functions, which now include a small bar (“Mario’s Bar”), a huge poorer-youthoriented barn-like dance club most recently called “CODE” (currently closed), a restaurant, conference facilities, and an indoor swimming pool. Once again, something for everybody: one stop shopping. In a sense, forward to the past was the watchword of the new hostelry. This was followed in 1968 by a name change at the Prince Edward Hotel in favour of the Prince Edward Motor Hotel. These two establishment changes, both reflecting the dominance of the automobile, mark the end of the downtown hotel era for Brandon.

Assiniboine lager was brewed by Alberta’s Big Rock Brewery in commemoration of Brandon’s 125th anniversary in 2007.

Assiniboine lager was brewed by Alberta’s Big Rock Brewery in commemoration of Brandon’s 125th anniversary in 2007.


Today, the bar and alcohol scene in Brandon is very different from a century ago. There is one government liquor store at Tenth and Victoria, and another in the suburban “Shoppers Mall.” The last brewery closed its doors many years back. Most bars are now outside of the city centre and like so many urban functions cater to a more youthful, mobile, automobileoriented, population. This is hardly surprising. Perhaps more interesting is what remains in the CBD. There are several licensed restaurants, and some “new” bars. One of the latter, as mentioned above, is associated with the Canadian Inn, recently acquired by Travelodge. The third, the “Double Decker” is a pseudo-British pub fairly typical of an ilk quite common throughout contemporary Canada. The fourth, Clancy’s, is a recently opened pseudo-Irish pub.

There are also four “historic” beer parlours still extant. The Beaubier, continuing the family name but now owned by a local “real estate entrepreneur” remains financially viable by renting rooms to a marginalised section of Brandon’s population. It was once a “fine-dining” establishment and may have only become a pub in the 1920s. [41] Today it is at best a shadow of its former self, and although opening at 9 a.m. (for shift workers) it was purchased by the owner of the City Centre in order to eliminate competition rather than to be a big money maker. The Crystal, on the site of the original “Grand View” hotel caters to an older crowd. It once served the incoming train passengers and was a favourite haunt of many East European immigrants from north of the CPR tracks. The City Centre (also owned by the Beaubier proprietor) is located on the site once occupied by the old Grand Union Hotel, although it actually replaced the “Wheat City” pub. It caters to a younger “rock and roll” cohort. As late as the mid-1980s it had the “second highest consumption per chair” in Brandon, but times have changed. [42] The fourth, the Brandon Inn closed its doors in the late 1990s, its demise reflecting in part the changing conditions of bar-use in the City, although it had been having trouble making it for some time. Only strippers, Brandon’s equivalents of biker gangs, and marginalised people living close to downtown had kept it going. It reopened in 2005 under new ownership, but its future is not secure.

The advent of the new Maple Leaf “hogprocessing” plant in Brandon has recently increased trade in downtown drinking establishments, but all four remaining central area beer parlours are probably threatened by the (no) smoking legislation that was passed by City Council in 2002 (50% of the City Centre’s patrons are said to be smokers [43]). They would be more severely threatened if video lottery terminals (VLTs) were to be removed. A fifth hotel, the famous Cecil, burned down in 1981 and was never rebuilt. It is likely that the immediate future will show little change. One of the older bars may close in the near future. An oft-touted “brew pub” may become a fact, although the current bar owners doubt the viability of such an enterprise. If it did come, such a pub would undoubtedly hasten the demise, or at least cause a significant change in, the contemporary watering holes. The landscape is likely to continue to change, but it is very unlikely to ever reach its early twentieth century heights. A diminishing call for “time gentlemen and ladies please!” is a more likely scenario.

The Breweries of Brandon

Imagine a booming frontier town like Brandon in the 1880s—men and beer are sure to be part of the picture. Winnipeg collector of brewery paraphernalia Dave Craig compiled these notes on the breweries that quenched the thirsts of early Brandonites.

Brandon Brewing Company: 1885 to 1891

Built at the foot of First Street by the Assiniboine River in late 1885, the Brandon Brewing Company had a capacity of 100 gallons per day. Partners William Ferguson, S. H. Munroe, A. J. Boisseau, and W. J. James hired Albert Jones of Milwaukee, Wisconsin as their brewmaster. In 1887, the plant’s water supply failed so it was sold to Joseph Neumeyer, an experienced manufacturer, and J. F. Woodley. They renamed it The Spring Brewery. The new owners soon took on another partner, William Pares. Using up to 100 bushels of barley a week (leftover grain was consumed by hogs kept on site), the partners brewed eight barrels a day of India Pale Ale, Imperial Stout, and Porter in casks and bottles, which they sold at “rock bottom prices.” In the fall of 1888, Woodley left the firm to join The Crown Brewery. The next year, the remaining partners changed the name to The Brandon Brewery. The Neumeyer and Pares partnership ended in 1891 by mutual consent.

Crown Brewery: 1888 to 1931

J. F. Woodley initially managed the Crown Brewery, located on the north side of the First Street Bridge along the Assiniboine River. He became its owner in 1890. Soon afterwards, the brewery closed then re-opened with new partners in November 1890. They were Charles Munroe and two Brandon city aldermen, John McKelvie and Charles Pilling. Brewmaster Arthur Brain turned out a Pale Ale and a Porter. Joseph Neumeyer purchased the brewery in 1891 after his partnership with Pares ended. Three years later, Neumeyer took on Wolfgang Kohler as a partner until 1895 when the brewery closed. (Kohler ran the Lion Brewery on Dennis Street from 1895 to 1898.) The plant sat unused for four years until Isaac Alvin Robinson, a local real estate developer, purchased it and changed the name to The Empire Brewing Company. Robinson decided the brewing equipment was inadequate so he replaced it with a modern vacuum plant, cooler, and malt plant. Two boilers produced steam to run a pasteurization plant. This doubled the brewing capacity, with the flagship brand called Empire Ale. They also handled local distribution for Winnipeg brewer Edward L. Drewry. Located on Rosser Avenue, the brewery employed 35 people. In 1903, a new plant was built at the corner of Pacific Avenue and First Street. New partners replaced Robinson. They included Peter Payne (owner of the Beaubier Hotel and president of the Brandon Summer Fair), miller Andrew Kelly, and lumber manufacturer John Hanbury, along with judge David Marr Walker. In the early 1920s, Coca-Cola was bottled there. In late 1928, the brewery was purchased by The Canadian Brewing Corporation. When it closed in September 1931, employees were offered a deal. For every keg they purchased, they would get a second keg free.

Brandon Brewing Company: 1902 to 1925

Located on Fourth Avenue North, near the Assiniboine River, this brewery was run by Alexander Ferguson, Henry F. Maley, and Edward M. Maley. Construction started in 1902 and brewing commenced in early 1903, with William Schwartz as brewmaster. With a fifty-barrel brew house and annual capacity of 5,000 barrels of ale, porter and lager, the facility was considered state of the art. However, a disastrous fire on Christmas Day 1905 completely destroyed it. A new, larger brewery was constructed on the south side of the river, on Assiniboine Avenue. It used spring water piped over a mile and a half from the old site. The brewery operated until a referendum in March 1916 came down in favor of Prohibition. From 1916 to 1919, a loophole in the Prohibition Act allowed full strength beer to be sold and shipped out of Manitoba. Subsequently, the brewery was charged with selling beer to a customer in Moosomin, Saskatchewan who immediately shipped it back to an address in Brandon just a block from the brewery. After Prohibition was repealed, the company was purchased by a Winnipeg syndicate and re-organized with new owners Andrew Kelly, John Stoddart, George Montagu Black (father of disgraced millionaire Conrad Black), Elbert W. Kneeland, G. H. Balfour, J. Thordarson, Arthur Sullivan, and A. Strang. In 1925, the name was changed to The Premier Brewing Company. In 1928, Black formed Western Breweries as a holding company for the assets of Drewrys, Premier Brewing, Moose Jaw Brewing, and Hub City Brewing of Saskatoon. This marked the beginning of the end for many small breweries in the West. Western Breweries eventually became Carling Breweries.


1. T. A. Hartshorn, Interpreting the City: An Urban Geography. Second Edition Wiley: New York, 1992, p. 14.

2. C. O. Sauer, written in 1925 “The Morphology of Landscape”, pp. 90 -120 In F. E. Dohrs and L. M. Somers Introduction to Geography: Selected Readings. Thomas Crowell: New York, 1967, p. 97.

3. Ibid., p. 120.

4. The terms bars, beer parlours, saloons and pubs will be used more-or-less interchangeably in this article. Although the terminology does have different meanings, as times these are subtle, and at times it is impossible to know which is the appropriate one for a particular place at a particular time in Brandon. “Bar” is perhaps the most all encompassing of the terms; “saloon” is a more dated term, and is probably best used for the earliest establishments only; “beer parlour” generally refers to the post-prohibition establishments that basically served beers, but is also the vernacular for the large contemporary establishments that now provide a wider variety of functions and products; “pub” is widely used to cover many different kinds of drinking places. The latter has a British origin (“public house”) and often connotes a smaller place, but at least one of Brandon’s beer parlours bills itself as a pub.

5. James H. Gray, Red Lights on the Prairies: The Bonanza Years When the Wide-open Frontier was a Hooker’s Happy Hunting Ground. Scarborough, Ontario: New American Library of Canada Limited, 1971, p. x.

6. B. Graham, G. J. Ashworth and J. E. Tunbridge, A Geography of Heritage. Power, Culture, and Economy. London: Arnold, 2000.

7. For instance there is no significant mention of bars in Welsted, John, John Everitt and Christoph Stadel eds., Brandon: Geographical Perspectives on the Wheat City. Regina: CPRC, 1988, in John Hudson, Plains Country Towns. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, nor in John W. Bennett, and Seena B. Kohl, Settling the Canadian-American West, 1890 - 1915: Pioneer Adaptation and Community Building. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 199#). Exceptions to this general rule are: Everitt, John and Ian Bowler “Bitter-Sweet Conversions: Changing Times for the British Pub,” Journal of Popular Culture 30, 1996, Fall, no. 2, pp. 101 - 122, and Ian Bowler and John Everitt “Production and Consumption in Rural Service Provision: The Case of the English Village Pub” in Nigel Walford, John Everitt and Darrell Napton eds. Reshaping the Countryside: Perceptions and Processes of Rural Change. Wallingford, Oxon: CABI Publishing, 1999, pp. 147 - 156.

8. T. Radenbaugh, “Booze and Snooze: a Persistent Prairie Icon?” A paper presented to the annual meeting of the Prairie Division of the Canadian Association of Geographers, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, September 2001.

9. J. C. Everitt and R. D. Ramsey, “Reviving central Brandon in the early twenty-first century.” The Canadian Geographer 2002, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 266 - 274.

10. J. Everitt and C. Stadel, “Spatial Growth of Brandon.” In John Welsted, John Everitt and Christoph Stadel, eds., Brandon: Geographical Perspectives on the Wheat City. Regina: CPRC, 1988, p. 62.

11. John C. Hudson, Plains Country Towns. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, p. 89 - 90; C. Stadel, “The Non-Metropolitan Settlements of Southern Manitoba” In J. Welsted, J. Everitt and C. Stadel eds. The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1996, p.153.

12. Elizabeth B. Mitchell, In Western Canada Before the War: Impressions of Early Twentieth Century Prairie Communities. Saskatoon: Western Producer Prairie Books, 1981, p. 94. Bennett and Kohl, 1995, p. 176 state that the first businesses (in new prairie towns) were “bars for the railroad workers.”

13. Gray, Red Lights on the Prairies, p. x.

14. Ibid., p. 15.

15. Radenbaugh, “Booze and Snooze: a Persistent Prairie Icon?”

16. Mitchell, In Western Canada Before the War: Impressions of Early Twentieth Century Prairie Communities.

17. Ibid., p. 94.

18. Radenbaugh, “Booze and Snooze: A Persistent Prairie Icon?”

19. Brandon Sun, “Beer parlours in cities take afternoon breaks.” 26 September 2002, p. B5.

20. Brandon Sun “Merchants battle proposed butt ban.” 14 May 2002, p. A2.

21. G. F. Barker, Brandon: City, 1881 - 1961. D.W. Friesen Printers: Altona, 1977, pp. a-d between pp. 4 and 5.

22. Everitt. and Stadel, “Spatial Growth of Brandon”, p. 64.

23. Ibid., p. 65. The number of rooms in hotels is only sporadically available, but the largest have perhaps fifty. Thus six hotels would have had at most 300 rooms -- and would have likely accommodated at most 500 people.

24. Barker, Brandon: City, 1881 - 1961, p. 5.

25. Ibid., p. 169.

26. See Ibid,. p. 87, where a variety of ownership changes is documented for 1904.

27. Everitt. and Stadel, “Spatial Growth of Brandon”, p. 67.

28. Barker, Brandon: City, 1881 - 1961, p. 44.

29. Ibid., p. 66.

30. Ibid.

31. Brandon Directory, 1903: 52.

32. Marian Westenberger, Christoph Stadel and John Everitt, “The Development of Brandon’s Social Areas 1881 - 1914.” The Albertan Geographer, 1985, no. 21, pp. 79 - 95.

33. Brandon Weekly Sun, “Brandon’s Ghetto: Life Among the Lowly. The Homes of Some of Brandon’s Poor Visited by a Brandon Sun Representative,” 5 June 1902, p. 3.

34. Brandon Sun, 7 November 1912, passim.

35. Barker, Brandon: City, 1881 - 1961, p. 159.

36. Gray, Red Lights on the Prairies.

37. Government-owned liquor stores were introduced in the 1920s, indicating that although prohibition may have ended, there was to be no return to the “open” years of early Brandon. K. Coates and F. McGuinness, Manitoba: The Province, The People. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1987, p. 101.

38. Similarly the Kelly House on Sixth Street became the Victoria Hotel before being converted to the Royal George Apartments. Barker, Brandon: City, 1881 - 1961, p. 297.

39. Ibid., p. 178.

40. Ibid., pp. 313 and 388.

41. Interview with the proprietor, July 2002.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

Page revised: 26 November 2022