Bennett Brewing’s ‘Newfoundland Songs’

During the period that followed the Second World War, beer advertising became big business. Across North America, brewers jockeyed for the beer dollars of the rapidly growing cohort of baby boomers by illustrating how their beers were part of a healthy image of domesticity or a youthful and active product. In Newfoundland, however, one of the most successful kinds of advertising was the songbook. Newfoundland Songs, published in ten editions between 1950 and 1977, showcased the songs of Newfoundland to sell cases of Dominion Ale. Found within cases of Bennett Brewing and later (after 1962) Carling O’Keefe products, the songbook played with nostalgia write the Bennett brand deeper into Newfoundland’s history.

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition).

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition).

A match book from the Bennett Brewing Company (1960s)

A match book from the Bennett Brewing Company (1960s) showing their short-lived Rainbow Beer.

In their 1978 article in the journal Culture and Tradition, folklorists Paul Mercer and Mac Swackhammer provide a good cultural history of the songbook. They argue, not unlike today’s nostalgia macros, songbooks were the continuation of a long process of appealing to “the present ‘modern’ generation to participate with pride in these aspects of the good-old-days” (36). Songbooks have long been a useful way for marketers to make their advertisements last longer. Publish an advertisement in a paper and you’ll likely be seen for a day, make your advertisement a part of a culture of singing and ensure your book is valuable and circulated around rural outports, and you’ll be seen for generations. Ask around a well-kept outport home where music was a part of their tradition and you’ll likely find a well worn Dominion or Bennett Songbook.

Mercer and Swackhammer outline a long history of these songbooks, where advertisements were even included as songs, however, since they have well covered the evolution of this art in Newfoundland, I’ll leave that aspect for them. We’ll pick up the story with Gerald S. Doyle. Doyle was a travelling salesman who circulated almanacs and songbooks advertising for the A. W. Chase medicine company. But Doyle was also a collector of Newfoundland songs who published his collection in free books found at his drug outlets throughout the island.

An older (pre-1962) label for Bennett Haig Ale. At the time of the songbooks, it would have been switched to the iconic blue label.

An older (pre-1962) label for Bennett Haig Ale. At the time of the songbooks, it would have been switched to the iconic blue label.

The Bennett Brewing Company aimed to emulate Doyle’s success and “began to publish its own books, modelled on and copied from Doyle’s” (39). Bennett Brewing extended upon Doyle’s advertising rhetoric by making their beer more deeply implicated within the traditional material they were transmitting. They also played upon their history within the province as “The oldest manufacturing industry in Newfoundland” by putting their own history as the frontispiece or centrepiece of the songbook. Adorned with lines like “A Newfoundland Tradition, HAIG ALE” and “A rainbow at night… A sailor’s Delight, Not only at night, Rainbow Beer is always a delight,” Mercer and Swackhammer argue that Bennett carefully aligned the good times and singing offered by the songs in the book with the product they were selling.

Interestingly, they note that when Bennett Brewing was purchased by Carling O’Keefe in 1962 there was a change in the style of the songbooks. After the purchase, they argue, the songbooks “no longer reflected a Newfoundland self-consciousness, but a mainland conception of Newfie-ism designed to sell beer.” The songbooks I have from 1974 and 1977 (an partially aimed at tourists visiting Newfoundland for the 1977 Canadian Summer Games), show some of the characters and distinctions Mercer and Swackhammer point out, but I think they are perhaps a little too strong in their “mainland conception” argument, as we will now see.

Cover of the Eighth Edition of Newfoundland Songs

Cover of the Eighth Edition of Newfoundland Songs

The Eighth Edition from the early 1970s sticks more to the “wrapper ads” style, with advertisements for Domion Ale, “A great Newfoundland tradition,” O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock (an O’Keefe brand that lasted in Newfoundland until the 2000s), Old Vienna (another O’Keefe brand no longer found in Newfoundland), and Black Horse (yet another O’Keefe brand which made no allusions to being from Newfoundland). The Domion Ale ad is particularly interesting:

Dominion Ad from Newfoundland Songs (8th Edition)

Dominion Ad from Newfoundland Songs (8th Edition)

The copy reads:

There’s something really different about the first time you sit down to enjoy a Dominion. One look at it tells you to get ready for a satisfying, ‘all male’ taste.

Dominion’s brewed high on the hops to give you a true, distinctive, ‘for men only’ flavour. It’s the proud product of over 140 years brewing skill. A great Newfoundland tradition.

That’s why the men who know beer best consider Dominion an old friend. It you haven’t uncapped a Dominion in a while, why not make a new friend out of an old friend?

Enjoy a Dominion Ale. You’ll know you’re having one.

Besides being overtly masculine, “You’ll know you’re having one” has to be the worst tag line in any beer advertisement ever. Though perhaps it’s better than some modern beers where you almost don’t know if you’re having one. The foreword and acknowledgement outline a little more of what was outlined above. It reads:

Foreword
The colourful history and tradition of Newfoundland are perpetuated in the songs of her people. In this collection of favourites we glimpse the daily lives of the hardy, happy folk who tackled heavy seas and rocky soil with a rich sense of humour.
Today their songs are sung with pride by Newfoundlanders who delight in fond recollection of the days gone by and by others simply for fun and amusement.
The Bennett Brewing Company takes great pleasure in presenting this eighth edition of our little songbook. Like our products, it is purely for your pleasure.

Acknowledgement
We gratefully thank Gerald S. Doyle Limited for the use of their publication “The Gerald S. Doyle Song Book” from which we obtained the words to the songs in this book.
In doing so, we salute the memory of that great Newfoundlander, Gerald S. Doyle, who devoted so much of his time to collecting and perpetuating the songs of his beloved island home.

The songs featured included:

Table of Contents, Newfoundland Songbook (8th Edition)

Table of Contents, Newfoundland Songbook (8th Edition)

The illustrations in the eighth edition are minimal. Directly in the middle of the book there is an account of the history of the Bennett Brewing Company which I plan to transcribe elsewhere. The following edition, the ninth edition from 1974, was printed on heavy stock paper and remembered with nostalgia Newfoundland’s entry into confederation 25 years earlier.

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition).

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

George Tilley, the provincial general manager of Bennett Brewing (then a subsidiary of Carling-O’Keefe) welcomed readers:

Introduction to Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

Introduction to Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

The song-list had indeed been updated to reflect the new songs by Dick Nolan. The contents now included:

Contents of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

Contents of Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

The “Dominion Coaster Offer” discusses the set of coasters I talk about elsewhere. Surprisingly, the book itself has little to do with selling beer and there is little brand-tie-in, even in Dick Nolan’s “Liquor Book” where only screech is mentioned by name. I find that Mercer’s and Swackhammer’s accusations of these being overtly mainland interpretations of Newfoundland in this edition to be a little strong. The only proper beer advertisement in the book is the below one for Black Horse (perhaps because it was a national brand, so the book could be sold on the mainland), but there is little about the ad which references Newfoundland. Even the cartoon, one of the many done by Ted Michener for Carling-O’Keefe at this time, is more Canadian than Newfoundland-focused.

Black Horse Ad in Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

Black Horse Ad in Newfoundland Songs (9th Edition)

The 1977 tenth edition of Newfoundland Songs was the last and is also one of the more common examples to still find around Newfoundland today. They, like the ninth edition, can sometimes still be found at used book stores for somewhere under $15.

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

While in a slightly slimmer format than the previous editions, it was still found in cases of beer and featured some of the most detailed illustrations of any version of the songbook.

Illustrations from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Illustrations from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

 

Back cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Back cover of Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

It’s hard to choose just a few of these pages to reproduce here, since they all have at least some kind of illustration. (If you are interested in higher quality images, I have copies of the original songbooks.) There is very little to do with beer advertising in this final version. Except for the “A bit of our past to put under your glass” coaster advertisement, there was almost nothing else to show the products of Carling O’Keefe as responsible for the songbook. The final page included a simple ad for “Dominion Ale: A Newfoundland Tradition” and the final pages included, as always, a little historical snippet of the history of the Bennett Brewery.

Coaster offer in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Coaster offer in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition). These coasters now cost much more!

 

Last pages and Bennett History in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Last pages and Bennett History in Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Of the songbooks, I think this final tenth edition is the one with the most character. It contains most of the songs found in previous editions (including the Dick Nolan ones introduced in the ninth edition), but because of its pocket size and really wonderful illustrations, it’s really something special. Some of the songs even include music notion, which was not found in many of the older editions.

Some songs featured musical notion in the 10th Edition of Newfoundland Songs.

Some songs featured musical notion in the 10th Edition of Newfoundland Songs. Nice bell-bottoms!

Mercer’s and Swackhammer’s article was published in 1978 which is almost as far away from us today (almost 40 years) as Doyle’s first songbooks were from them. Their work, as folklorists, aimed to unmask the “simplistic view of the past” as presented in these songbooks, to uncover how “a living tradition has been made iconic, reduced to jargon, and put to work for commercial purposes” (45). 1977 was the last year the Bennett Songbook was published and it is worth reflecting now on what has been lost in the absence of even this “potentially harmful symbolization of folklore.” The songbooks, while their content and presentation may have been invented, are an important part of the folklore of beer in Newfoundland. The traditions they carry as material culture being passed around and as items representing breweries now gone (both Bennett, Carling O’Keefe, and the physical Sudbury Street brewery), has real meaning beyond their “symbol and jargon.” These songbooks, beyond their value as trinkets or artifacts of a commercial culture, are important documents in Newfoundland’s Beer History.

Image from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

Image from Newfoundland Songs (10th Edition)

References: Paul Mercer and Mac Swackhammer, “’The singing of old Newfoundland Ballads and a cool glass of good beer go hand in hand': Folklore and ‘tradition’ in Newfoundland Advertising,” Culture & Tradition 3 (1978) 36-45.

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The Rooms Showcases Newfoundland Beer

I was flicking through the latest issues of Occasions Magazine from the NLC and noticed that The Rooms, a Newfoundland cultural centre which combines art and museum displays, was featuring a collection of Newfoundland consumer and popular items. The collection, “Here, We Made a Home,” is currently running in the Elinor Gill Rarcliffe Gallery on the fourth level and features a small collection of Newfoundland Breweriana.

Here is quick photo of the main exhibit’s feature of Newfoundland beer bottles, “An Honest Uncomplicated Brew.”

Taken at The Rooms, 2013.

Taken at The Rooms, 2013.

Readers of this blog will likely get the reference made by the title of the collection, which refers to a Jockey Club label from the 1970s/80s. It’s a subtle reference, but a nice one.

Jockey Club, circa late 1960s

Jockey Club, circa late 1960s

The collection features both a recent bottle of Quidi Vidi Light and Yellowbelly Pale Ale (I joke that both could have come from the NLC location visible from The Rooms upper floors) and two old India Beer Bottles, as well as a Dominion Ale bottle. They date both the larger bottles to early-1900s and the stubby to mid-1900s.

Advertisement for The Rooms, Occasions Magazine, Fall 2013.

Advertisement for The Rooms, Occasions Magazine, Fall 2013.

Not to be outdone, when I got home I decided to stage up a few bottles of my own in the same ordering. Can you spot the differences?

NLBeerHistory Colleciton

NLBeerHistory Collection

A few differences are obvious, the big one being I don’t have a India Beer stubby though I think the Blue Star is a nice substitute. The India Beer bottle featured here in our photo is a new one from the collection of Capt. Don Winsor which was donated by Matthew Beverley. I’ll have a longer post on a few others he donated soon!

The is clearly much more Newfoundland history on display in the “Here, We Made a Home,” collection which is very much worth discussing and viewing. If you’re in town, it’s very much worth checking out!

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Notes on Some Beermats

Beermats are an under appreciated art form. So under appreciated, in fact, that I had almost forgotten I had been working on collecting together a few Newfoundland Beermats. Sitting down last night with Nicholas Pashley’s Notes on a Beermat finally jogged my memory and, well, here we are. Apologies to Mr. Pashley for the title.

In this post I have two sets of Beermats to share. One is a great set of Black Horse mats produced for the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s “discovery” of Newfoundland in 1997 shared with me by Steve Shorlin and the other is an older set from Bennett Brewing which I purchased last summer. Both sets partake in something that is quite common in beer advertising, but worth noting again here. They both try to build themselves into Newfoundland’s history and sense of place.

The historians E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger have called this kind of marketing (for the lack of a better work) move as an “invented tradition.” A tradition is invented, they argue, when something seeks to come off as very old – something that tries to write itself into the past – without actually being very old at all. They cite the kilt as a primary example, which, they argue, was built into Scottish culture in the 1800s by English fabric merchants. That’s their argument, not mine! For a less controversial point, let’s look at some Black Horse Coasters.

Photo from Steve Shorlin, newfoundlandsteve on Flickr, 2013.

“The Unofficial Brew of Cabot’s Crew” series of coasters snuck the iconic Black Horse into various Newfoundland scenes like (above) in Bonavista and (below) on top of Cabot Tower on Signal Hill.

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

The Black Horse, it seems, has been everywhere in Newfoundland! From an iceberg in Twillingate to playing coxswain in the St. John’s Regatta.

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

Steve Shorlin, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This series was accompanied with a slogan “500 Years of Horsin’ Around” where Black Horse did its part to provide Newfoundland pub trivia and language lessons.

Steve Shorlin, 2013

Steve Shorlin, 2013.

Steve has more of these over on his Flickr, so if you like them you can find a few more there. Now, back to what I was saying about “invented traditions.” As readers of this blog know, Black Horse was a major mainland brand for many years, so having a brand so associated with Newfoundland’s past strikes me as inventing the tradition of Newfoundland Black Horse. Black Horse was, as these beermats attempt to prove, not just another brand: it was a Newfoundland brand, through and through. (The Thoroughbred!)

These pictures were also on Black Horse bottles. Steve Shorlin, 2013.

The idea of an “invented tradition” works better when we get to the Bennett Brewing coasters. I’m just going to post all 6 coasters now and we’ll get back to talking about them after.

Coaster_Cover

This is the image on the back of each beermat. Chris Conway, 2013.

Coaster_5

For more, see here.

Coaster_4

For more see here.

Coaster_3

I maintain he was out there geocaching.

Coaster_6 Coaster_2 Coaster_1

With all the talk of “Newfoundland tradition” in the coasters, and the line “Bennett relives Newfoundland’s past,” it’s a little easier to see what I’m trying to get at with the “invented tradition” thing. I doubt many of the stories actually ended with a Bennett Beer or that Bennet Beer was that widely available at the time. Most of the stories seem to be based off the ones found in the The Treasury of Newfoundland Stories, which itself was produced by Maple Leaf Mills Limited (now just Maple Leaf). The coasters were sold in a pack of 6, as we can see from the advertisement below from the Dominion Ale Songbook (of which I have more to say on in another post).

Coasters (10)

If I ever make an NL Beer History beermat, it will steal that line: “A bit of our past to put under your glass.”

“A real collector’s item” indeed! I picked my set up, still in their plastic wrap, in St. John’s last summer. I sadly had to open the pack to scan them, which I guess is for the greater good. It seems, since we don’t have the stories listed in the advertisement, that there is another set, or at least another few, coasters out there which I’d love to track down. Either way, the stories and the images (by cartoonist Ted Michener) are pretty fantastic.

Beer seems to be one of those things that always wants to make itself more familiar to its drinker. Breweries strive to make their beer one that has a sense of place even if it’s owned by Carling O’Keefe (as Dominion was in the 1970s) or Molson (as Black Horse was in the late 1990s). Where Dominion’s advertisements seemed aimed at regaining local confidence and their Newfoundland identity after their takeover by a multi-national, Black Horse’s seem to represent a beer trying to become the icon of Newfoundland. Both worked to etch themselves into the culture of Newfoundland through carefully purveying history alongside with their beer. Of course, the result of tradition-inventing are brands which did take on real meaning – and which already had real meaning – to many drinkers. For me, a big part of the fun of history is finding out how these meanings came into being.

 

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Stealing Fire(Water): The BeerThief and Newfoundland Beer

Admittedly a historical view on beer in Newfoundland is not the place to talk about beer news or contemporary beer events. For something like that, well, see the excellent Atlantic Canada Beer Blog. This one development, however, merits a little note. The creation of a specialty order beer club in Newfoundland, called Beer Thief, is something pretty special. While most readers of this blog have likely read the number of news reports about the club, here I’d like to point to the beer community which the club has fostered.

Black Horse Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

In short, the Beer Thief club was founded by Mike Buhler, a Newfoundland-based level-2 Cicerone, and Tom Beckett, an important figure in the better drinking world in Newfoundland. They work to connect breweries to Newfoundlanders who normally cannot access things outside the NLC’s limited selection. Thus far they have facilitated private orders from breweries like Dupont, Dieu Di Ciel, Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Propeller, bringing styles like IPAs, Saisons, Imperial Stouts, Kellerbier, and Triples into the province for the first time – maybe ever – without a suitcase. As a fan of Newfoundland beer, this is pretty amazing stuff.

Blue Star Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

One of the key developments has also been the community which has developed around the club on their forum, where Newfoundlanders meet to discuss better beer, homebrewing, and ways to improve the province’s beer scene. All I want to do here is point you, dear reader, towards them. If you are reading this, you likely care something for beer in Newfoundland or are planning a trip to Newfoundland. The BeerThief forums are perhaps your best resource to ask questions about where to drink or what to do related to beer. Plus, now that Muskoka Brewing has started distributing to NL, it’s a great time to be a beer enthusiast in Newfoundland. So get involved!

Dominion Ale Can, Steve Shorlin 2013.

As you’ve been reading you’ve likely noticed some of these really wonderful images of classic Newfoundland cans, which have never been featured on this blog before. In fact, I have rarely ever seen a picture of a beer can from Newfoundland on the Internet before I was introduced to these ones. They are a set of photos and artifacts owned by Steve Shorlin, who you can check out here on Flickr (they’ve been used here with his permission). He’s one of the many great people over on the BeerThief forums. In some upcoming posts you’ll likely see a few more images from his amazing collection that he’s been nice enough to share with me. He’s recently sent along a few pictures of some great Newfoundland beer coasters, so maybe it’s time for a little post on Newfoundland beer mats…

Newfoundland Beer Cans, Steve Shorlin 2013.

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Filed under Black Horse, Blue Star, Contemporary Beer, Dominion Ale, Material Culture

German Brewmasters and “British Traditions” in Newfoundland Brewing

If you’ve been to Newfoundland you’ve likely taken note of a fairly strong connection to British and Irish traditions within the province’s music, culture, and perhaps even in its beer. Popular places to grab a pint are regularly decked out in Irish garb – places like Bridie Molloys, The Republic, or Christians to name a few – or, like the famous Duke of Duckworth, more grounded in the British pub experience. But what about Newfoundland beer? In this post, a reappraisal of Webb and Beaumont’s classification of Newfoundland as having weak “British Traditions” in the light of the history of German-Newfoundland brewmasters.

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Filed under Bavarian Brewing, Bennett Brewing, Blue Star, Culture, History, Newfoundland Brewery, Other Brewers

CSI: NL, Blue Star Labels

Blue Star is perhaps the most iconic of all Newfoundland beers. Still atop the top selling beer list at the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation (at least as of this writing), Blue Star is rivalled only by Black Horse as the nostalgia macro most recognized by Newfoundlanders as their very own. Blue Star has had not shortage of coverage on this blog either. My evolution of Blue Star is one of the most popular posts and brings us through its many changes since the 1960s.

Writing a blog about history is a tricky thing because you are really tied to your sources. Sometimes you find a bunch, sometimes months go by without anything coming up. Well, recently I repatriated, to Canada at least, a bunch of Blue Star labels from a collection over in Hull, England. So, in this post: six more Blue Star labels and my best attempts at putting them in correct order.

Blue Star, over 4%

Blue Star, over 4%

I’ll start with the label I think is the oldest. It has to be newer than 1974, when Labatt took over the Bison Brewery in Stephenville, and older than 1981. If you have a Blue Star label which lists both locations it’s likely from somewhere inside that window of time. I think this might be the oldest because it lists “Over 4% alcohol by volume,” which was the norm until the 1970s. I would estimate this one is from around 1975.

Blue Star, 5%

Blue Star, 5%

The only differences between this one and the last is the text color and, as noted above, the change in how the alc/vol is listed.

Blue Star, A.

Blue Star, A.

Blue Star, B.

Blue Star, B.

Spot the differences! In the 1970s the slogan “The Star of Newfoundland” replaced “The Premium Quality Newfoundland Beer” line. The only difference I can spot between these to examples is the reverse of the text on the sides.

Blue Star, "The Sportsman's Friend."

Blue Star, “The Sportsman’s Friend.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that the slogan “The Sportsman’s Friend” came after “The Star of Newfoundland.” Why? Well, in the above label Stephenville has been dropped from the brewery’s locations. Everything else though, seems to remain the same.

Blue Star Brewing Company

Blue Star Brewing Company

Ok, I want to finish up with a tough one. First, here is the second part of the label, the tie:

Blue Star, tie.

Blue Star, tie.

Both of these have the slogan “Newfoundland’s Premium” which I think was used in the 1980s. Stephenville is not listed, so it’s outside of the 1974-1981 window. Since it’s listed as 5%, it’s likely past 1981. In order to have a tie around its neck, it needed to have a neck, so this was also post-stubbie. Here’s the odd thing. It lists “Blue Star Brewing Company” as the brewery. Now, checking the trademark database shows that Labatt has owned the trademark “Blue Star” since 1967, so this company was clearly Labatt trying to distance its name from the brand (see the trademark database here). Why they might do this, I don’t know. It might be a move predating Rickards, Shocktop, Blue Moon, Alexander Keiths, and other “crafty” beers brewed by big brewers without much reference to their main brand. Why they’d do it in 1980s Newfoundland is unknown.

It’s my guess that this was the label used until the label change to the very-1980s labels I have in scruffy condition below.

Blue Star, 1980s - group

1980s Blue Star

Note that it’s listed as a “Bavarian Lager” again on these labels. So, a few more steps along the way of Blue Star evolution have been found and documented! 

Photo by Curtis Wiest, 2013.

Photo by Curtis Wiest, 2013.

On another note, reader Curtis Wiest recently send me in this picture of a few stubbies he has tracked down. He’s trying to put together enough to recreate Sean Hammond’s famous “Newfoundland Stubbies” painting (see the painting here) and he’s a few short. He contacted me to let me know he found an O’Keefes Extra Old Stock one already, but he’s still short a Jockey and a India Beer. Can anyone help him out? Come to think of it, since I’ve never seen an India or a Jockey stubby, if you have one could you send along a picture?

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Classic Newfoundland Beer Bottles

Just a little update post to let you folks know that I’ve post a set of Classic Newfoundland Beer Bottle pictures over on the Newfoundland Beer History facebook page. They’re pretty grainy in quality, so I’m not intending to host all of them here. Most of the bottles are ones that I have posted elsewhere on this blog, but there are a few new ones which will be featured in upcoming posts.

Familia

Familia

Can you honestly say that if you had 1960-80s bottles and contemporary ones you wouldn’t snap a quick pic with your phone camera?

The Old and The New

The Old and The New

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