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OLAND, GEORGE WOODHOUSE CULVERWELL, brewing magnate; b. 31 Aug. 1856 at Grayshott Farm, near the Hampshire–Surrey border, England, youngest child of John James Dunn Oland and Susannah Woodhouse Culverwell; m. 24 June 1884 Ella Young Bauld in Halifax, and they had 12 children; d. there 25 Jan. 1933.

George W. C. Oland, who was named for his maternal grandfather, was nine years old when the family emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1865. He was brought up in the brewing business founded by his father two years later in Dartmouth and managed after Oland Sr’s death in 1870 by George’s elder brother John Culverwell. When their mother died in 1885, she bequeathed to George and his sister Huldah Sarah her one-quarter share in the brewery, located in the north end of the town. John encouraged and perhaps assisted George to acquire Huldah’s interest, and together they eventually bought out the other partners and took over the business, which since 1877 had been called S. Oland, Sons, and Company.

George had married in 1884. His bride, Ella, was the daughter of Halifax merchant John H. Bauld. A Presbyterian turned Roman Catholic, she wedded Oland, an Anglican, in a shotgun ceremony in the Church of England. Their children would all be raised Catholics, according to the canon-law provision binding on members of the faith who married outside the church. Directly after their wedding George and Ella went for a year to St John’s in Newfoundland, where he was to manage Edward W. Bennett’s brewery; the couple’s first child, George Bauld, was born there four months later.

After returning to Dartmouth, George Sr worked once again with John in the Oland brewery. The brothers, together with George’s father-in-law, incorporated the business by legislative charter in 1893 as the Maritime Brewing and Malting Company Limited, and George was made vice-president and managing director. Two years later an English-based syndicate, Halifax Breweries Limited, consolidated four of the five breweries in Nova Scotia (all situated in metropolitan Halifax) and one in Charlottetown; the Olands sold out to the new company. In return, the brothers became shareholders, and George was made superintendent of operations. Apparently frustrated in his unaccustomed subordinate role, he left in 1899 to become a commercial traveller. But two years later he moved to Prince Edward Island to run the Halifax Breweries plant there, and by 1904 he was back in Halifax as general manager for the firm.

The final break came in 1909, when George went into business for himself, purchasing as a going concern the state-of-the-art Highland Spring brewery on Agricola Street in north-end Halifax. Founded a decade earlier, it operated in direct competition with his long-time employer, Halifax Breweries. After an absence of 14 years, the Olands were once again independent brewery proprietors. In 1914 George reincorporated Highland Spring as Oland and Son Limited, the son being his second eldest, Sidney Culverwell, who, in a departure from the tradition of being trained on the job, had graduated from the United States Brewers’ Academy in New York in 1908; George’s brother John joined the business as manager and master brewer in 1915. After the company’s facilities were destroyed in the Halifax explosion of 6 Dec. 1917, which also killed his brother Conrad George at a Halifax Breweries plant and left John badly injured, George Oland used compensation moneys and the insurance payout, not to rebuild immediately, but to acquire the Red Ball Brewery in Saint John, owned by Simeon Jones Limited and at that time in receivership. A born entrepreneur, he was a strong believer in strategic investment and economies of scale. The success of the Saint John operation encouraged him to re-erect the Halifax brewery, but this effort left Oland and Son insolvent. The firm was also struggling with the effects of Prohibition and the recession that followed World War I. By 1925, however, it had emerged from bankruptcy, reorganized, and recovered to the extent that, two years later, it was able to purchase the historic Halifax brewery founded by Alexander Keith*, now its only significant local competitor. Around the same time the Olands bought James Ready Beverages Limited in Saint John, then the largest brewery in New Brunswick, which would introduce the Moosehead label in 1931.

Like other makers of alcoholic beverages in the Maritimes, the Olands used various strategies to survive Prohibition, which had become law in Nova Scotia in 1916 and in New Brunswick the following year. The Red Ball Brewery reportedly continued to produce full-strength beer, which it sold to local stores, helping to cover any fines that the retailers faced. Sales in the British West Indies, which had long been a major outlet, remained good. As well, the family plants may have expanded into the manufacture of soft drinks. The end of Prohibition in New Brunswick in 1927 and in Nova Scotia three years later was a spur to growth, and the Oland companies swiftly came to dominate the Maritime market.

Ella Oland had turned out to be something of a libertine whose behaviour embarrassed her utterly conventional husband. Theirs was a long, unhappy marriage, which culminated in George’s inauguration of divorce proceedings against her in 1917. The suit was dropped, perhaps on account of the explosion that devastated the Halifax area that year, and George and Ella continued leading more or less separate lives until his death 15 years later; she would survive until 1947. Their remains lie in different cemeteries, his in the Oland family plot in the Church of England burying ground in Dartmouth, hers in a Roman Catholic graveyard in Halifax.

Like many successful entrepreneurs who, with no substantial capital of their own, have had to borrow money to finance their activities, George W. C. Oland died with more assets than hard cash. Nearly all of his half-million-dollar estate consisted of securities. He left to his wife his Cadillac luxury car and permitted her to stay in his Barrington Street mansion for the rest of her life. Settlement of the estate was complicated by his owning or controlling four separate brewing companies, two in Halifax and two in Saint John, in all of which he was president. Fearful of the implications for brand identification, such as loss of consumer confidence and reduced market share, Oland seems never to have given serious thought to consolidating the companies into one entity. Yet an unequal division of the breweries among those three of his sons directly involved in the family business – George Jr, Sidney, and Geoffrey Charles – was not rational planning. A bitter struggle for supremacy between George Jr in Saint John and Sidney in Halifax, which had begun in his lifetime, ended with their dividing the empire between them, George taking New Brunswick and Sidney taking Nova Scotia. The ramifications of their father’s well-intentioned but ill-conceived attempt to avoid a war of succession would persist until 1971, when the Halifax Olands sold out to the Ontario-based company that had risen to prominence earlier in the century under John Labatt*.

Barry Cahill

A few of George Woodhouse Culverwell Oland’s personal papers survive in DUA in the Oland Family fonds (MS-2-135), George Woodhouse Culverwell Oland ser. Records of Oland and Son Limited, A. Keith and Son Limited, and Oland’s Brewery Limited are held by DUA in individual ser. of the Oland and Son and Affiliated Companies fonds (MS-4-135); those of New Brunswick Breweries Limited are in Moosehead Breweries Limited Corporate Arch. in Saint John.

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.13095. NSA, RG 39, B, 9, 110 (bankruptcy case files, 1923, Re Oland and Son Limited); D, 16, C21 (divorce case files, 1917, Oland v. Oland). Acadian Recorder (Halifax), 1877–1930. Dartmouth Patriot (Dartmouth, N.S.), 1901–33. Halifax Herald, 1877–1933. Lyndon Watkins, “Family feuding and beer: a success story,” Globe and Mail, 24 Feb. 1967: B5. M. J. Bellamy, “The Canadian brewing industry’s response to Prohibition, 1874–1920,” Brewery Hist. (Longfield, Eng.), 132 (2009): 2–17. Can., Royal commission on the liquor traffic in Can., Minutes of evidence (6v., Ottawa, 1893–95), 1–5. Ian Coutts, Brew north: how Canadians made beer & beer made Canada (Vancouver, 2010). Jan Forster, “The Maritime Olands,” Chatelaine (Toronto), 47 (1974), no.5: 40–41, 52–54, 56, 58; no.6: 30–31, 48–50, 52–53; no.7: 28–29, 48–51. G. B. Haliburton, What’s brewing: Oland, 1867–1971, a history (Tantallon, N.S., 1994). K. L. Johnston, “The Halifax drink trade, 1870–1895” (ba thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1977). Moosehead Breweries Ltd., Fifty years: 1928–1978 (n.p., 1978). Harvey Sawler, Last Canadian beer: the Moosehead story (Halifax, 2008). A. W. Sneath, Brewed in Canada: the untold story of Canada’s 350-year-old brewing industry (Toronto, 2001). R. L. Sweet, Directory of Canadian breweries (past and present) (2nd ed., Saskatoon, 1996).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Barry Cahill, “OLAND, GEORGE WOODHOUSE CULVERWELL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 26, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/oland_george_woodhouse_culverwell_16E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/oland_george_woodhouse_culverwell_16E.html
Author of Article:   Barry Cahill
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2017
Year of revision:   2017
Access Date:   March 26, 2023