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A nickel-equipped brewery for Nickel Belt

In the 1940s the Northern Brewery building on Lorne St. was considered one of the "showplaces of the north." The brewery, which dates back 1903, was rebuilt and re-equipped for the Sudbury Brewery and Malting Company's 37th anniversary.
Brewmaster and plant superintendent John Clemens realized his dream of a brewery with vats and machinery constructed entirely of nickel, Monel metals, other nickel alloys and stainless steel.

In the 1940s the Northern Brewery building on Lorne St. was considered one of the "showplaces of the north." The brewery, which dates back 1903, was rebuilt and re-equipped for the Sudbury Brewery and Malting Company's 37th anniversary. It was equipped with nickel or nickel alloy equipment, which was considered revolutionary at the time.  As part of Northern Life's efforts to make citizens aware of heritage properties, the following article is reprinted in part with permission from the September/October 1940 edition of The Canadian Beverage  Review.

Celebrating its 37th anniversary this year, Sudbury Brewing and Malting Company Ltd.,  owes its inception and its progress to as staunch a band of pioneers and loyal believers in the great north country as one could hope to find anywhere.

J. J. Mackey, president of the company, was born in Pembroke in 1863 and has lived in the north country all his life. He was a member of the first survey party which located the Canadian Pacific Railway line east and west of North Bay in 1879, and was selected for this party on account of his unrivalled knowledge of and faith in the country through which the line must pass.  To "outsiders" a cold, rugged and stern country: to Mackey and many of his friends who have been born there, a country full of romance, a hard task-mistress, but a bounteous provider for those who had the "essential guts" to tackle her and to study her carefully in her many moods.

At the beginning of the "Gay Nineties," Mackey became interested in the brewing industry and joined hands with J. J. Doran to found the present company. Doran was one of the early residents of North Bay. He too, had - and has - unbound faith in the great future of the north country, and their names are written large in the pages of its history.

Besides the Sudbury Brewery plant, and later the Soo Falls Brewery at Sault Ste. Marie, the Kakabeka Falls Brewery at Fort William, and the Gold Belt Brewery at Timmins, these gentlemen have large interests in some of the most important mines of the north, in real estate, in hotels and in many other enterprises. But they are interested only in Northern Ontario. They have intense faith in its as yet untouched and immense resources.

Incidentally, Mackey is also president of the Sudbury and Copper Cliff Electric Railway and was one of the promoters of that important transportation link which has helped to open up the Copper Cliff district.

When the Sudbury brewery project was first mooted by Mackey and Doran, there was need for an enterprising and skillful master brewer, one who besides knowing beer and how to brew it to the liking of the public, must be also resourceful and enterprising in overcoming the many difficulties which surround production of an important food and beverage such as beer in the outskirts of civilization, where transportation of materials and machinery from larger centres was slow, skilled labour scarce and means of construction limited.

Their choice for the important job was John C. Clemens, who came from Detroit, Michigan, where he served his apprenticeship in the industry some 30 odd years ago. Much of the success of the company is due to his production of quality beers and his keen study of the needs of the district and the brewery.

Clemens too was a keen booster of the north and its products; he had for years studied metals, alloys and equipment. He dreamt of an ultra-modern brewing plant which should be equipped throughout with vats and machinery constructed entirely of nickel, Monel metal, other nickel alloys and stainless steel, according to the needs of the equipment. When the final decision to expand and re-build was made, the directors completely endorsed Clemens' plans and handed the project over to him. Clemens had also ardent support for his ideas and plans from the research and construction engineers of the International Nickel Co. Ltd.

So today there is yet another monument in Sudbury to the initiative and progressive policy of these pioneers of the north. And it is a particularly appropriate monument too.

It is fabricated almost entirely from the main metal produced from the ground of that district, its design and construction were aided by the knowledge of the men who have pioneered in discovering the uses and application of this important metal.

But while this is undoubtedly the pioneer plant in the widest actual use of nickel and nickel alloys throughout, the metal itself is well-known in all food and beverage industries, and has already been thoroughly proved in practice as one of the ideal metals of construction in such industrial plants.

Nickel and its alloys have been used to quite a large extent in breweries throughout the world, but this is probably the first and only instance in which it has been specified throughout the plant and adapted to so many uses. From pure nickel to nickel-clad steel, and finally in alloys as Monel metal and similar admixtures, it has served for the brew-kettle, the mash tun, the adjustable rakes and sparger, the Pfaff and Grant, the wort cooler, the pipes for the wort and beer, the pumps for the liquor and brews, the hop strainer, and so on.

A  visitor (to the brewery) sees a symphony in gleaming white metal, and although the plant has been completed but a comparatively few months, as it is situated on a main highway, and one much frequented by tourists in the summer, many hundreds of visitors have stopped to go through the plant and to admire its splendid, hospital-like cleanliness.

The exterior of the Sudbury Brewing Company's plant is very striking. The new main entrance and the tower above it are constructed almost entirely of glass bricks; large windows give a fine view of the gleaming nickel equipment inside. At night this picture is accentuated by the vari-coloured lighting showing through the glass building bricks and the neon-outlined "Silver Foam Beer" sign towering above the building.

Inside, a splendid job of re-construction has been accomplished. In the brew-house, above the main floor, there are no other floors, tiled galleries give access to different pieces of equipment at various levels, leaving the splendid proportions of the brewing plant to be admired in the capacious section reaching to the high roof.

Mention must also be made of the part played by the late R. A. Fee, who for so long ably occupied the position of manager at Sudbury. His death last year made the first break in the ranks of these pioneer businessmen.

A. J. Samson, who has occupied the position of chief accountant since 1908 is yet another long-service associate. Not only has he carried on the arduous duties of comptroller, but he has found time to give generously of his services to the community. Samson was mayor of Sudbury in 1926-7 and has been a keen supporter of sports organization as well as serving on various education, welfare and similar community boards.

The youngest executive represents the second generation of the Doran family to become industrial leaders in the north. He is W. J. Doran, son of  J. J. Doran, and he is responsible for the general supervision of all the plants.

Few people in "Old Ontario" realize the vast growth of the north country in the past few decades. To many brewers in southern Ontario, the fact there are these four thriving breweries in full production would probably come as a surprise. The additional fact that one of these represents probably the greatest innovation in brewing house equipment that has ever been made in the past 10 years will cause even greater surprise. Perhaps the truth is that the north country has been too modest in its demands for recognition, and those who have so splendidly pioneered and developed its resources have been too busy  to find time to talk or write about it.

Editor's note:  In 1960 Sudbury Brewing and Malting Company became part of Doran's Northern Ontario Breweries. In 1971, the company was purchased by Canadian Breweries. In 1977 employees purchased the company and it was renamed Northern Breweries Ltd. This was the first employee-owned brewery in North America. In 2004, the company was purchased by a group headed by William R. Sharpe.