Sasquatch in front of the Columbia Brewery (Photo credit Lorne Eckersley)

Sasquatch in front of the Columbia Brewery (Photo credit Lorne Eckersley)

Columbia Brewery bottling line to close

Creston’s Columbia Brewery is undergoing changes this fall

Creston’s Columbia Brewery is undergoing changes this fall that will see an end to its long history of supplying bottled beer to customers across Western Canada.

“With our recent capital investment in Labatt Edmonton we are consolidating the bottling of beer produced in Western Canada,” said Warren Chandler from his Calgary office on Thursday afternoon. Chandler is with the Labatt Calgary government/corporate affairs department.

“Columbia Brewery will continue to ship in cans and kegs,” he said, adding that a $20-million investment in the Creston canning line was made within the last decade.

While the canning line could possibly be expanded to a larger capacity, no changes are set at this point, he said.

Chandler said that the net impact on jobs has yet to be determined, with employees affected having only been notified. Six full-time positions and one salaried position will be cut, but early retirement, buyouts or transfers could ease the overall impact, he said. He said it was too early to estimate the impact on the brewery’s transportation network, which includes employees and contractors.

Craig Wood, president of IBW, the union that represents workers at Columbia Brewery, characterized Chandler’s information as “lies”.

“I’m meeting with the company today to discuss details and real job loss numbers,” he said in an email on Friday. “The union will release a statement after we get all the facts.”

No further information was offered by press deadline on Tuesday.

The brewing tradition in the Kootenays dates back to 1898, when the Fort Steele Brewery was established. 1957 was a year of change for the Kootenays’ four small breweries—Cranbrook, Fernie, Nelson and Trail. They amalgamated to form the Interior Brewing Company.

Following the amalgamation the company made the decision to have one brewery in a central location and Creston, with its easy access to cool, clear, fresh water, was chosen. The new Interior Brewing Company was built in 1959.

A name change to Columbia Brewery was made in 1972.

While the name Columbia Brewery is synonymous with Kokanee beer, it also produces other brands, including Alexander Keith’s, Brava, Budweiser, Busch, Kootenay Ale, Labatt, Lucky Lager, Wildcat and Winchester.

Columbia Brewery today is part of Labatt Breweries of Canada, which is owned by the global Anheuser-Busch InBev corporation, which produces the equivalent of 350 million bottles annually for Canadian customers.