AGAINST THE GRAIN
THE LEGACY OF SICK BREWERY
Fritz Sick probably isn’t a household name, even among today’s serious beer connoisseurs. But his legacy to the brewing industry and the city of Lethbridge, where he founded his empire, lives on today.
Sick opened the Alberta Brewery (later renamed the Lethbridge Brewing Company) in 1901. But it wasn’t a direct path from his home in Freiburg, Germany, where he was born in 1860. After immigrating to North America, he learned the brewing trade in Ohio, California and Washington, and tried establishing some breweries in British Columbia before moving to Lethbridge in 1900.
When he launched the business he was really a one-man show, backed only by about $8,000 in savings, his own two hands and his skill. He was once quoted as saying, “I built my own cooperage. I was my own brewer, my own maltster, my own salesman and office force. I had one helper in the brewery and one fellow on the outside, who drove a mule team I used for carting deliveries to our customers.”
His hard work and perseverance paid off as sales and production at the Lethbridge plant boomed during the first 10 years, growing from 3,000 barrels of beer a year to 100,000 barrels by 1912. The first beer Sick brewed was a lager called Alberta’s Pride, marketed as a “concentrated liquid food” to help maintain strong digestive organs and encourage appetite. Probably the most famous product produced by the Lethbridge Brewing Company was Lethbridge Pilsner, also known as Old Style Pilsner, developed in 1926, which is still brewed by Molson Coors today.
Sick’s son Emil joined him in 1923 and together they expanded the company—then known as Lethbridge Breweries Limited—picking up breweries in Regina, Prince Albert and Edmonton as well as some U.S. operations. Over their 50-year involvement in the brewing industry, the Sick family operated nine breweries and two hop farms, with five plants in Western Canada and four in the northwest U.S.
During Prohibition, Sick switched production to produce a low-alcohol (1.2 per cent) “near beer.” The plant even produced a soft drink line, which was eventually sold to 7Up.
Sick retired in 1930 and Emil continued to operate the main business until it was sold to Molson in 1989. The brewery was closed and demolished in 1991, 90 years after it was built.
The legacy of the Sick family lives on in Lethbridge. In 1943, Fritz Sick donated $100,000 to the city of Lethbridge to build a community centre and pool, and the Fritz Sick Memorial Swimming Pool continues to operate today. As well, in 1949, with the help of Dr. W.H. Fairfield of the Dominion Experimental Farm, the brewery established a flower and tree garden on the grounds of Brewery Hill.
Fritz Sick died in Vancouver in 1945 at the age of 85.