Cheers to history: 100-year-old beer bottles unearthed at Royal Roads University

The Mann family lived in a coach house attached to the old stables – which once stood across from where the beer bottles were found – from about 1911 to the '30s. This historical photograph shows members of the Mann family passing around a beer bottle similar to the ones found recently. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)
This historical photograph shows members of the Mann family passing around a beer bottle similar to the ones found recently on Royal Roads University lands. The Mann family lived in a coach house attached to the old stables – which once stood across from where the beer bottles were found – from about 1911 to the ’30s. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)This historical photograph shows members of the Mann family passing around a beer bottle similar to the ones found recently on Royal Roads University lands. The Mann family lived in a coach house attached to the old stables – which once stood across from where the beer bottles were found – from about 1911 to the ’30s. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)
Silver Springs Brewery operated in Greater Victoria from 1902 to 1928 before joining a consortium of other breweries that eventually became Lucky Lager Brewing Company. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)Silver Springs Brewery operated in Greater Victoria from 1902 to 1928 before joining a consortium of other breweries that eventually became Lucky Lager Brewing Company. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)

Local beer lovers are about 100 years too late to taste the brews that once filled four glass bottles uncovered during construction at Royal Roads University.

Crews came across a collection of glass bottles and discarded items while digging to install sewer lines for the new Learning and Teaching Auditorium this summer, said Jenny Seeman, archives manager at Royal Roads University. Among the refuse were four brown, quart-sized beer bottles that date back to when the Dunsmuir family owned the property.

A collection of glass beer bottles dating back to the early 1900s were unearthed during a construction project at the Royal Roads University in Colwood. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)

The fully intact bottles are embossed with “Victoria Brewing Co.” and “Silver Springs Brewery” – labels that caught workers’ attention and prompted a call to the university archives because each company dates back more than 100 years. Victoria Brewing Co. opened in the late 1850s and Silver Springs Brewery operated from 1902 to 1928 before joining a consortium that eventually became Lucky Lager Brewing Company, Seeman said.

The brewery names helped place the bottles in a specific time period, Seeman said, adding that the bottles also show characteristics of machine-fabrication – specifically a seam that runs down one side and up the other. Silver Springs Brewery, in particular, began using an automated bottle-making machine in 1903.

The workers found the bottles about five feet down in front of the existing pool building. The site once housed a stable that was built in 1911 which is when Seeman expects the bottles were buried because garbage often got mixed in with construction infill.

All things considered, she has no doubt the collection is from the Dunsmuir era.

Long before the military school closed and the site became a university in 1995, the Dunsmuir family owned the property.

From 1908 to 1937 James and Laura Dunsmuir lived there and after they died, the land was put up for sale during the Great Depression. After three years of advertising all over the world, the Canadian government bought the property to train naval officers from 1940 to the mid-1990s, Seeman said.

A clay inkwell with a broken pen nib inside was also found with the glass beer bottles at a construction site at Royal Roads University in Colwood. (Photos courtesy Cindy MacDougall)

Alongside the beer bottles, workers also found a glass soda bottle made partially by hand, a teacup and a clay inkwell. While cleaning the inkwell, Seeman came across a broken pen nib inside and joked she could just picture someone getting frustrated when their nib broke off and deciding to throw the whole thing away. It’s “evidence of ordinary life” and “a tangible connection” to people in the past, she said.

The bottles and other items will be preserved in the campus museum along with the rest of the Dunsmuir collection, Seeman said. Visitors usually stop by the museum during summer site tours but it’s currently closed due to COVID-19. She’s hopeful it will reopen in 2021.


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