The Labatt Virtual Exhibit

Published on November 03, 2017

Celebrating Culture and Collaboration

Labatt Brewing Company Collection Virtual Exhibit

With the launch of a new virtual exhibit, researchers, students, and beer aficionados from around the globe can now view and interact with the Labatt Brewing Company Collection. This initiative is the largest virtual exhibit project Western Libraries has ever undertaken and is the crowning jewel in a productive collaboration between Western Libraries and Labatt. The exhibit was unveiled in October, 2017 as Labatt celebrated its 170th birthday.

Canadian national identity is intrinsically tied to beer, and the prosperity of the Canadian economy throughout its history is thanks in part to its breweries. Labatt Breweries of Canada is one of Canada's oldest businesses and its leading brewer. It was founded in 1847 on the banks of the Thames River in London, Ontario and has grown into a brewer of international reputation. Labatt's founder, John Kinder Labatt, was a man who believed that his role as a community leader obliged him to give back to the people and communities that supported his brewery. Following this spirit, in 2011, Labatt generously donated its significant collections of historic corporate archives and art to Western and to Museum London respectively, which were collectively appraised at $8.3 million.

Such a donation furnishes scholars with a tangible link to the past and allows them to examine Labatt as an active participant in Canada's cultural and economic history.

All images are from Labatt Brewing Company Collection, Western Archives

"The Labatt Brewing Company Collection is a rich collection that provides insight into the company's history and the development of Canadian society," says Amanda Oliver, Archivist responsible for the collection and coordinator of the virtual exhibit project. "Western has a long-standing relationship with Labatt, beginning with financial donations to the university in the late nineteenth century. Western Archives is honoured to continue to foster this relationship by preserving and providing access to these invaluable records."

The new virtual exhibit provides widespread access to this historically and culturally significant donation from Labatt. The exhibit is presented as an interactive website. It is visually engaging and makes many of the most significant aspects of Labatt's history available online for everyone to view and explore.

The exhibit features over five hundred digitized items spanning Labatt's 170 year history including bottle labels, advertisements, photographs, and drawings. It tells Labatt's story as it grows alongside Canada from its humble beginnings, through the challenges and opportunities of prohibition and two World Wars, and its participation in the lives of its Canadian employees and communities. The exhibit also features a series of short essays by Carleton history professor Matt Bellamy, an expert on the history of brewing in Canada, who parallels the exhibit's visual presentation with a closer look at historical details.

The exhibit's timely completion is due in thanks to the dozens of individuals who collaborated on this large project including staff at Western Libraries, Labatt, Museum London, Matt Bellamy, and students from Western's Library and Information Science and Public History graduate programs. Students from the Master of Arts in Public History program identified the entries that provide the Canadian history sub-text to the exhibit while a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) student contributed to the content development and digitized images through an 8-month co-op position at Western Archives.

About the Labatt Brewing Company Collection

  • Spans a period between 1832 and 2009
  • Contained in over 2600 boxes
  • Stretches 450 linear metres
  • More than 45,000 photographs and illustrations
  • Almost 15,000 audio-visual items
  • 400 computer data storage items
  • Combined collections valued at $8.3 million

"It truly takes a village to complete a project of this size. Western Archives' developed relationships with partners on and off campus to create the virtual exhibit and we benefited from working with people from different areas of expertise," says Oliver. "We are always looking for partners to highlight our collections and support research."

"Doing outreach of this kind was a terrific real-world supplement to classroom lessons on archives management," adds Ariella Elema, MLIS candidate. "The different collaborators each had so much to offer to the project."

Since receiving the collection in 2011, Western Libraries has dedicated considerable resources into making the Labatt Brewing Company Collection accessible to researchers. The collection's contents and organization are being arranged and described into a finding aid that will guide future use of the collection. Through a significant cash donation to augment their in-kind archival gift, Labatt Breweries of Canada is making access to their collection a reality for generations of students and scholars.