Brew-haha in the North

By Jeff Labine
Timmins Daily Press

TIMMINS – Nowadays, beer drinkers have a wide range of brews to choose from: there are stouts from Ireland, American-style lagers and suds from Nova Scotia.

But Bill Cochrane remembers a time when residents could wet their whistle with a truly local brew.

Back in 1919, the Doran’s Brewery was constructed in Timmins. The company also had breweries in Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and in Thunder Bay and was the only one to offer draft beer in the region.

In 1960, the various breweries were consolidated and became known as Doran’s Northern Breweries. Soon everyone in the North got a chance to drink a Northern Ale, including Bill Cochrane.

In fact, he got to see the beer from start to finish as he worked at the brewery for 34 years.

In those days, he was a soft drink supervisor at the Doran’s building, which acted as both a bottling plant and a brewery. The layout of the building meant the bottling took place on the bottom levels while the brewery took up the main floor.

Cochrane remembers the old brewery being busy with the production of both soft drinks and beer, all flying off the shelves. At the time, Doran’s was the only draft brew available for the mining community.

Cochrane commented that if someone were to walk into a hotel, all they would see was draft beer. Back then, bottled beer was a rare commodity.

“We had a good business; we had a good soft drink business and we were one of the highest per capita in Canada in terms of soft drink sales,” he said. “We had a hospitality room. Naturally that was for visitors and for people when they introduced a new product.

“Then there was the employees room. After hours, the fellas would all go up and have a few beers before they went home. They had a little extra. It was more like a family, everyone knew each other.”

There were roughly 45 employees who worked at the brewery, which included drivers and bottling.

Cochrane said the Doran’s company was a good community partner, as they often made donations and were well-liked amongst the general population.

Things took a turn for the worse for the company, which eventually went bankrupt, and the building became vacant. After a few years, the city sold the old brewery site to Northern Cove Investments in order to build a hotel.

Since Timmins lost its local brewery, however, the beer market has changed and microbreweries are starting to pop up across the province and country.

These small craft breweries have grown in popularity so much that they are threatening the monopoly of the larger companies that own Ontario’s Beer Store. The Toronto Sun reported earlier this month that the Beer Store will open its doors to all Ontario-based breweries, giving drinkers a chance to buy at a single store.

Cochrane believes Timmins is ready to have another local brewery.

“If someone came up here and was interested, I think there would be a market for it,” he said.

Coun. Michael Doody agrees.

He said when he first came to Timmins back in 1959, Doran’s was a big major part of the community. Doody explained he believes another local brewery would do well in the North.

“I really believe the younger generation are willing to try different beer,” he said. “People have a wider range of tastes and are willing to take a chance on another brew when you go out with your friends. I think Timmins is just on the cusp of maybe somebody coming up with some Northern type of brew that could become popular.

“I think it is a strong possibility. If Doran’s Brewery could do it 50 or 60 years ago, why not somebody now with a nice homemade brew?”

That’s exactly what Ron Clancy intends to do in North Bay.

Clancy, along with partners Dan Delorme and Mike Harrison, started up New Ontario Brewing Company about a year ago and are close to opening their doors. He said they joked that they would be open within a couple of months, but then they discovered various challenges of the task, including financial constraints, getting the right equipment and finding the right location. Clancy said the plan is have everything made on-site.

The new craft brewing company plans to offer all-grain natural craft beer with the first brew on the list being ales.

Clancy, who is the business manager and director, said things have started coming together in the last couple of months.

Clancy argued the North is in a better position to start up a brewery because there’s help from Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, which doesn’t exist in southern Ontario. Another advantage the North has is its access to agency stores, such as the ones in gas stations, which are rarer in southern Ontario.

“When we were first going into the planning process, we took a look at the map of Ontario and where the craft breweries were and there was a big gap around North Bay,” he said. “We’re bracketed by Highlander in the south, Stack to the west and a couple of guys in Pembroke to the east and then there’s nothing North.

“We’re looking to sell out of brewery then go into the bars and restaurants because those are the guys who push your product to people who may never have heard of you. But Timmins will definitely be part of the expansion plan.”

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