by Bruce Cherney
Great-grandson and Winnipeg city councillor Donald Benham said Edward Lancaster (E.L.) Drewry’s first visit to Winnipeg was in 1875, when he travelled to the then two-year-old city via canoe, paddling down the Red River from St. Paul, Minnesota.
He apparently liked what he saw, since two years later he brought his family from St. Paul to settle in the city at The Forks of the Red and Assiniboine, taking over the Redwood Brewery at the corner of Main and Redwood.
Drewry, who was recently inducted in the Winnipeg Real Estate Board-established Citizens Hall of Fame in the historical category (prior to 1950. See front page), was born in 1851 in London, England. He moved with his parents to St. Paul in 1860.
As the owner of the newly-named Drewry Ltd, he set out to expand the brewing facility.
“Mr. Drewry purchased the property and immediately commenced the erection of a substantial malt house 44 by 84 feet four and one-half storeys in height, and stone basement ten feet,” reported The Emigrant on July 21, 1886.
“The capacity is about 4,000 bushels malt per month. Lately he has erected one of T.W. Wolk’s patent perfection double kiln floors increasing storage capacity for 10,000 bushels malt ... Lately it became evident that the popular beverage here as elsewhere would ... be lager beer, of which large quantities were already being imported. Mr. Drewry came to the conclusion that it was against the true interests of the country to send money away which there was every probability might be kept at home, and with his usual energy and enterprise decided that a good wholesome lager beer must be produced in Manitoba.”
Benham said the brewery became
famous across Western Canada for its ales and lagers.
“He always bought locally if he could, and always allowed a 10 per cent
margin,” said Benham, adding that this was a result of his great-grandfather’s
desire to be known as a Manitoba and
An example of this “buy locally” attitude is that bottles for his brewery were made by the Manitoba Glass Factory in Beausejour.
It was this boosterism which led to the city’s rapid growth and the promotion of its future by a growing segment of entrepreneurs such as Drewry or James Ashdown or William Gomez Fonseca (another inductee in the Citizens Hall of Fame), who hailed from America, Ontario or England, and truly believed the sky was the limit in their emerging city.
To them, Winnipeg was an unstoppable behemoth, poised to rival, if nor surpass, the much older and storied cities of the East. To prove their point, they continually reminded outsiders through pamphlets and newspaper articles how far Winnipeg had come in a relatively short period of time.
Many of these publications were circulated by the Winnipeg Board of Trade of which Drewry was president in 1899.
“The history of Winnipeg, with its wonderful growth and marvelous progress, reads like a chapter from some work of romance,” said a booster tract called The City of Winnipeg, The Capital of Manitoba, and the Commercial, Railway & Financial Metropolis of the Northwest: Past Development and Future Prospects, written by W.T. Thompson and E.E. Boyer in 1886. “... It is indeed one of the marvels of the age — a growth unprecedented, a progress unsurpassed in the history of the world. Nowhere on either hemisphere has there been a parallel case. Winnipeg stands alone in her onward march of
Drewry was an integral part of the business community, which also believed the accumulation of wealth could be put to good work for the benefit of the community. Actually, the prevailing opinion was that it was an obligation as long as the goods works promoted the community and its entrepreneurial spirit.
“He was part of the community,” said the Bishop of Rupertsland, M.T.M. Harding of Drewry. “No philanthropy, no educational institution, no cause that benefitted the people of Winnipeg ever lacked his support.”
For example, Drewry served as a member of the Winnipeg General
Hospital board for 40 years and was its honourary president at his death.
Part of the civic responsibility of the entrepreneurial caste was to serve in a public capacity, and Drewry was a city councillor from 1883 to 1884. In addition, he was the MLA for Winnipeg North from 1886 to 1889.
As chair of the Winnipeg public parks board from 1894 to 1899, he looked to benefit residents by advocating a large central park which in 1903 became a reality with the creation of Assiniboine Park. He also came to be noted as the man who planted elms throughout the city.
While on city council, he championed the first public street lighting and block pavement on city streets.
Adjoining St. John’s Park on Main Street, where a plaque now can be seen honouring Drewry, he lived in a the house first built by William Inkster in 1857. Known as Redwood House for its red roof, it was a neat little log cabin adjacent to the brewery he had acquired in 1877. A second Redwood House was built in1880 and over the years additions were made.
Redwood House was the first home in Winnipeg to be wired for electric lights. “When I went into the drawing room and turned the switch for the first time, releasing the miracle of lights, I could not believe it! Drewry told Lillian Gibbon, a reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune, in 1935. “I’d look at it in wonder, and go back again in ten minutes and try the switch again!”
His next modern convenience was a telephone. “Our number, I remember was 20A and the one in the office 20B,” he told Gibbon. “When one rang, the other did.”
Gibbon said Drewry’s “acquisition of a ‘horseless carriage’ was the culminating venture in modernization. The first electric car in Winnipeg looked light, but caused some surprise to a buggy driver outside the McIntyre Block who once attempted to lift ‘the toy’ into curb-position. ‘There were five hundred and fifty pounds of batteries in it,’ laughed Mr. Drewry.”
When telling his story about his great-grandfather, Benham also used humour. He related that his grandfather was the first to extend horse-drawn streetcar service to North Kildonan. “That made him an early advocate of rapid transit,” explained Benham with a laugh.
Of Course, Benham has also been an advocate of rapid transit on city council, but with less success than Drewry.
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz delayed any decision on rapid transit and said money that had been allocated under former Mayor Glen Murray was to be used for improvements to community and recreation centres.
E.L. Drewry died in 1940.