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Castle Brewery

Updated: Jan 29

Having studied one brewery in Nelson’s Fairview neighbourhood that was planned but never built, here’s the story of another that was built but almost no one has ever heard of.

Its obscurity is not surprising since it was small, short-lived, and there are no pictures of it. It never advertised in local newspapers and I’m not aware of any surviving artifacts.

The Castle Brewery was first mentioned in the Nelson Miner of Nov. 20, 1897:

Wm. Gosnel [sic] and August Stadler have established a brewing business in the Hume addition. It is known as the Castle brewery and a first class ale and beer is being manufactured by them.

August Stadler was co-founder of the Milwaukee Brewery in the Gulch in Trail. William Gosnell, meanwhile, was a Beauport, Que. native who had briefly been a building contractor in South Africa before coming to Rossland and then Nelson.

We know exactly where the Castle Brewery was located thanks to the July 1899 fire insurance map of Nelson: on Block 1, Lots 7 and 8 of Chatham Street in the Hume Addition (just a few doors down from the Jiszkowicz store, built around 1901). Hume Creek flowed beneath it, which is presumably why the location was chosen.

The map, seen below, also gives us our only sense of the brewery — a complex of one to three storey buildings, including an ice house. That the buildings were shaded in gray means the fire adjusters deemed them to be sheds or barns.

The Nelson Miner of Jan. 1, 1898 indicated that the brewery cost $400 to build (around $17,600 today), but the following week the proprietors corrected the newspaper to say it was actually $1,400 ($61,700 today).

The Glenbow Archives has (or had) two letters from the brewery, mailed to the Calgary Brewing and Malting Co. in 1898 and 1900, both to do with ordering malt. Unfortunately, the originals can no longer be found, but Stan Sherstobitoff kindly sent me photocopies. (I sure wish we had the original with the logo in colour.) The first letter is not easy to read.

The second letter is more legible.

The partnership between William Gosnell and August Stadler only lasted a few months. A notice of dissolution appeared in the Miner on June 2, 1898.

From then on, the business was known interchangeably as the Castle Brewery and the Gosnell Brewery.

The Tribune of July 22, 1899 provided virtually everything that is known about the brewery’s output and distribution:

The Castle brewery which is conducted by William Gosnell has been running for close upon two years. The capacity of this brewery is eight barrels per day and the demand for the company’s product is such that it keeps the brewery going at its fullest capacity furnishing employment to five men. Castle brewery beer makes its way to all points along the Crow’s Nest and the Nelson and Fort Sheppard railway as well as Boundary Creek.

The Manhattan Saloon in Nelson advertised that it carried Gosnell brand beer, along with varieties from other breweries in Nelson, Calgary, Milwaukee, and St. Louis.

We know the names of four brewery employees:

John Robert Riesterer was the nephew of pioneer Nelson brewer Robert Riesterer. He worked for his uncle for a while, then built his own brewery in 1899 on Hall Mines Road. He went to work at the Castle Brewery in 1902. • H.A. Hayward was bookkeeper. He was baffled one day to read in the Daily News that he had gone to Washington on an extended visit. He hadn’t. The newspaper chalked it up to “some irresponsible idiot” who phoned them with that item. • John Meyers was the driver. He was killed in 1905 after falling off a cliff near South Slocan.

Oscar Hartman (or Hartmann) was listed in the 1905 civic directory as the brewer although it appears he actually departed the company in late 1902 and worked in Fernie before acquiring the Silver Spring Brewery at Anaconda, near Greenwood around 1905. He was still brewing there as of 1910.

Hartman’s great granddaughter Anita Vorndran sent me the letter of reference Gosnell gave him! It says “Hartmann has been my brewer for 14 months, I have found him honest and attentive to his duties, his been has given satisfaction to my customers. Mr. Hartmann leaves me only on account of being offered higher wages elsewhere.”

The Castle Brewery received its own write-up in the Nelson Mercantile Review of May 14, 1901, a supplement to the Daily Miner. But it’s remarkable how it said nothing useful at all.

Later that year the Castle Brewery and Rossland’s much bigger and better-known Lion Brewery ran into conflict over the ownership of $42 worth of kegs. The dispute ended up in court, where the Lion Brewery obtained an injunction against the Castle, preventing them from using certain kegs in their possession and others held by customers. However, when the matter came before Justice Paulus Irving in Vancouver to continue the injunction pending a trial, he quashed it and awarded costs to the Castle.

The case came to trial a few months later in Rossland, where William Gosnell said he purchased the kegs in good faith. I haven’t been able to determine the outcome, but the legal costs easily exceeded the value of the kegs.

According to a story in the Nelson Daily News of Feb. 24, 1928, Anthony Maurin had a grocery store near the brewery, and he and Gosnell’s brewer “vied with each other as to who could make the strongest brew.” Anthony used raisins while the brewer used malt and hops with water from Hume Creek.

The Nelson Daily News of Oct. 16, 1904 announced a local syndicate of local hotel men, represented by J.J. Malone and Gus Thomas, had formed the Nelson Brewing Co. and acquired both the Riesterer brewery on Latimer Street for $35,000 ($1.4 million today) and the Castle for $14,000 ($573,000 today).

While one report said the company planned to operate both breweries, another said they would close the smaller one. The latter appears to have been correct, although Gosnell stayed on as manager of the new company.

The next mention of the Castle in the Nelson Daily Canadian of April 2, 1907 suggested the building had been abandoned for some time:

Small boys nearly started a conflagration in Fairview this morning. The old Castle Brewery building is overgrown with vines. A match applied by one of the boys set the whole mass in flames. Men rushed to the spot with buckets of water and saved the building which suffered only a scorching …

William Gosnell was a member of the local Eagles lodge. On Nov. 9, 1921 he was about to be installed for a third term as president of the local aerie when he suffered a stroke. Despite three doctors being present in the lodge room, he died in Kootenay Lake hospital shortly afterward of a brain hemorrhage, age 65.

At the time of his death, he was living in the New Grand Hotel and was still manager of what was now the Nelson and Princeton Brewing Co. He was also involved in various mining and lumber companies, was a key figure in the new Nelson Golf and Country Club, and served on the provincial Conservative party executive. He ran unsuccessfully for Nelson city council.

He left no survivors, his wife Caroline having predeceased him. He was buried in the Eagles section of the Nelson cemetery.

Gosnell’s estate fell to the government to dispose of. An ad in the Daily News of Aug. 2, 1922 revealed he owned a lot of property in and around Nelson, including the Grove Hotel in Fairview, a house opposite the brewery on Latimer Street, and acreage in Blewett. But for our purposes the most interesting part of the inventory was:

HUME ADDITION: Lots 4-8, Block 1, with buildings thereon, known as the Castle Brewery.

I am surprised the brewery was still standing, considering that it had not been mentioned since 1909. It is also surprising that Lots 4-6 were part of the brewery since the 1899 fire map only shows it on Lots 7-8. I can find nothing about it expanding.

I don’t know who bought the property, but in the same month that the ad appeared, the building “in some unknown manner became ignited.” Although the fire department put it out, that spelled its demise.

The Daily News of Aug. 26 reported that workmen “are now pulling the remainder of the old brewery down and in a few days the spot will be bare. The removal of the building will be a help to that part of Fairview as it has been an eyesore and fire trap for some years.”

A 1923 fire insurance map with periodic updates shows Lot 4 as vacant, a house under construction on Lot 5 as of 1940, Lot 6 vacant, a house on Lot 7, and Lot 8 vacant.

W. Porter was issued a plumbing permit for the new house on Lot 5 on Aug. 22, 1940. Yet BC Assessment gives a construction date for this home at 111 Chatham of 1901 (which is usually code for “we don’t know when it was built”). John Gorkoff was granted plumbing permits on June 14, 1948 and April 20, 1949 for a new home on Lots 6 and 7. The house that now stands there is numbered 115 Chatham.

On Lot 8 there is now a one-storey home numbered 121 Chatham. There is no record of a plumbing permit for it that I can find, but to my surprise, BC Assessment also indicates a construction date of 1901. Nothing in its appearance suggests it is that old. If the date is correct, however, was it part of the brewery complex? The fire insurance map indicates the building on this lot was a mix of one, two, and three storey sections. So I don’t know.

The Castle Brewery is briefly mentioned in Brewed in Canada: The Untold Story of Canada’s 350-Year-old Brewing Industry (2001) by Allen Winn Sneath; included in Beer Barons of BC (2011) by Bill Wilson, who enumerated the province’s many breweries; and discussed in the Jan/Mar 2007 issue of The Big Chief Brewerianist, the newsletter of the Canadian Brewerianist Society.

— With thanks to Ed Mannings, Stan Sherstobitoff, and Anita Vorndran

Updated on June 10, 2020 to add the Glenbow letters, more details about William Gosnell, and the involvement of Oscar Hartman. Updated on June 17, 2020 to add details about Gosnell’s estate and the fact the brewery was still standing in 1922. Updated on April 18, 2022 to add details about the brewery’s final fate. Updated on Jan. 27, 2024 to add the letter of reference to Oscar Hartman.

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