The brewmaster housewife: How one woman started a beer empire in her backyard

The brewery in the aftermath of the Halifax explosion. Photo: Nova Scotia Archives


Susannah Oland started what’s now known as Moosehead Brewery Ltd.— Canada’s oldest independent brewery— in a time when women weren’t often in business, let alone managing their own. She overcame many setbacks to see her brewery succeed, including having to mask the fact that she, the founder, was a woman. She came from England to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with her husband, John, in 1865. He worked for the new Intercolonial Railway and she stayed home to take care of the kids. Beer was commonly brewed by women in households at this time and was drunk with meals. Recipes were often passed down generations. Susannah’s friends and family raved about her brown October Ale, which she brewed in her backyard. She opened The Army and Navy Brewery in 1867— named after her best customers— in what’s now Burnside.

Photo: Moosehead Beer Academy
Photo: Moosehead Beer Academy


John died in a riding accident in 1870 and a few years later, Susannah renamed the brewery S. Oland, Sons and Co. to hide the fact that a woman was running the show. She tweaked the recipe over time to create a sparkling amber ale, a stout and a darker ale. In Susannah’s lifetime, the brewery survived two fires. After her death in 1886, her three sons John Jr., Conrad and George took over the brewery, renaming it Maritime Malting and Brewing Co. The brewery survived the Halifax Explosion, the world wars and prohibition, and is now in its sixth generation of family ownership. After the success of their Moosehead Pale Ale, the company was renamed Moosehead Brewery Ltd. in 1947.


The brewery is now located in Saint John, New Brunswick and Susannah’s original brown October ale is still being brewed today.





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