Kits Was Built-On Beer!
The long history of brewing in Kitsilano parallels the growth of the neighbourhood itself. So much so you could say Kits was built on beer!
• 1909 Vancouver Breweries built it’s new headquarters in Kitsilano at 11th & Vine. It was acquired by Carling O’Keefe in 1957 & sold to Molson’s in 1990. In 1995 it was redeveloped and the neighbourhood of Arbutus Walk now sits on that site.
• Sicks Capilano Brewery (Molson’s) opened on Burrard St. in 1953. Molson’s took it over in 1958. They sold to a developer in 2016 for $158 million. It is slated for development. ( At the height of production 2.2 million hectolitres of beer was made
each year; Kits Beach Beer’s 1st batch of beer…40 hectolitres!!)
• 1984 Granville Island Brewery opens. Sold in 2009 to Molson/Coors who operates it today.
• 2021 Kits Beach Beer begins a new generation of beer making in Kitsilano.
When the first workers came to Vancouver Breweries in 1910, the site bordered by Yew, Vine, 11th and 12th Avenues in Kitsilano was a muddy outpost, home to a handful of sawmills, a dairy and many empty lots. It was connected to downtown Vancouver only by train. The Burrard Bridge wasn’t even built until 1932.
Sample bottles of Vancouver Breweries Limited products, including a cream stout, ~1932. Note that UBC Bohemian was a product of the Union Brewing Company. Photographer Stuart Thomson. Detail from Reference code AM1535-: CVA 99-2683.2
As brewery operations grew through the 20s & 30s so did the neighbourhood. A self sufficient company town of sorts, new businesses opened along Broadway & W. 4th Ave. to serve the workers and their families. The swamp beside the Brewery was transformed into Connaught Park, a popular place for picnics. The local hotspot then, as now, was Kits Beach.
It is the beach that makes Kitsilano such a unique neighbourhood, situated as it is in the heart of one of the world's most liveable cities. Many of us came from different places, and the moment we set foot in Kits, we knew we were home. Kits embodies small-town values with big-city qualities. But Kits isn't just any beach town; it's the home of hippies, counterculture, environmentalism, the new age movement, yoga culture, yuppies, and hipsters. Kits is a culture set in nature, based around lifestyle, and breeds creativity. We at Kits Beach Beer want to contribute and help grow the community just as the beer pioneers before us did.
The red brick tower at Arbutus Walk is a re-construction from the Carling O’Keefe Brewery that sat on the same site from 1909-1980. Through the archway is a plaque to remind us of Kitsilano’s rich beer history and is a tribute to the Brewmasters and Workers who helped build Kitsilano. We pay homage to their legacy with Kits Beach Beer.
Two modern day trailblazers, Gary Reilly and Fred Wilson opened The Sunset Grill Neighbourhood Pub at York & Yew on May 20th 1989. The Sunset Grill served its last pint in 2017 but for 28 years it served, supported and promoted local craft beer. In 1989 the craft
beer scene in Vancouver was in its infancy but the Sunset had a tap dedicated to a small local brewery, Shaftesbury Brewing.They continue their support today at 15th & Main with Brewery Creek Cold Beer & Wine Store where the main focus now, as it was back then, is beer with over a thousand choices and a hyper focus on craft micro brews. Check them out on Instagram @brewerycreek.
Gary and Fred were kind enough to take us back in time to the early days of craft beer in Kits. Their full letter to us is here. Not just a beer story also a great bit of Kits history too!
“From talking to Andrew, he and his partners at Kits Beach Beer Company want to keep the party rolling and give the Kits Beach community its own beer that they can enjoy with their friends and family with an eye to the past, enjoying the present, while looking to the future. We applaud them for this and wish them good luck in their venture. As a good friend of ours Big Al once said “Boys you had me at beer”!
One last bit of Kits beer history for you….The landmark/sign at the corner of Cornwall and Burrard, the 16 foot cedar log ‘Welcome to Kitsilano’ sits on boulders excavated and donated from the old Carling O'Keefe Brewery site at 12th & Arbutus.