Labatt virtual tour shares ‘interwoven story of Labatt and Canada’

Early Labatt advertisements feature engravings of the London Brewery. Labatt Brewery

As Labatt Brewery celebrates its 170th anniversary, it’s sharing its history with Londoners like never before.

The brewer donated its archive to Western University and Museum London in 2011 and now the University is opening a virtual exhibit to share the content.

There are more than 400 pictures as well as radio and TV ads.

“It shows the interwoven stories of Labatt and Canada over the 170 years,” said Sharon MacKay, director of corporate and brand communications for Labatt.

“When you look at the evolution of the company, it grew up with Canada. I think the archival collection clearly demonstrates that story, and how we had to evolve with the changes in the country, you know, culturally, politically, historically.”

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The virtual exhibit includes:

  •  Prohibition-era Canada, when Labatt brewed low-alcohol “temperance beer”;
  • the Franklin search for the Northwest Passage, an expedition under way when Labatt was founded;
  • Labatt’s donation in 1859 of 1,000 pounds of flour to destitute Londoners;
  • the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, at about the time Labatt sent bottled care packages to Canadian soldiers in the Korean War; and
  • TV ads and radio jingles that evoke past and current musical tastes.

The exhibit has 400 images from the Labatt collection, plus 100 images of London/Canadian life. The exhibit also includes 47 audio-visual elements, including interviews, radio and TV ads.

Asked what her favourite part of the exhibit is, MacKay said she likes the section about Labatt’s operations during prohibition.

“When you see how the company was able to sustain itself during those times, [it’s very interesting]. The other part of it is the relationships that were established over those years and those values, the importance of those values that were established by the founder, still continue today,” said MacKay.
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In 2011, Labatt donated its corporate archives to Western University to support researcher access to the collection, including this digitization project.

Matt Bellamy, a Carleton University historian specializing in Canadian corporate and consumer history, who has studied the Labatt archives extensively, said in a release that beer is a “cultural force” in Canada.

“Trends in Canada parallel those at Labatt. When you examine the cultural, sports and marketing history of Labatt, you’re also gaining key insights into what defines Canada. This collection beautifully captures time in a bottle,” he said.

The complete Labatt archive, which includes the Labatt Material Culture Collection at Museum London, is considered one of the top three collections in the world. It’s valued at $8.3 million.

You can experience the virtual tour here.

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