Alexander Keith - a brief history

Alexander Keith was born on October 5, 1795 in Scotland. When Alexander Keith was 17, his father sent him to live with his uncle in northern England to learn the brewing business. Five years later, when Keith migrated to Halifax, he became sole brewer and business manager for Charles Boggs, and he bought out Boggs’ brewery in 1820.

The end of slavery in the British and French Caribbean reduced the availability of sugar for rum-making, and other beverages grew in popularity.  Beverages brewed by Keith included spruce beer, porter, ginger wine, and strong ale.

In 1822 Keith moved his brewery and premises to larger facilities on Lower Water Street and in 1836 he again expanded, building a new brewery on Hollis Street. A “jewel in the crown” of Halifax, Alexander Keith’s Nova Scotia Brewery first opened its doors to great fanfare.  One of the oldest working breweries in North America, the brewery is dedicated to crafting small batch brews, inspired by local Nova Scotian culture and Keith’s heritage. The brewery is now part of Anheuser-Busch InBev.

From 1837, he served in senior management of various companies, including as the president of the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Halifax Fire Insurance Company, Colonial Life Assurance Company, the Halifax Gas, Light, and Water Company, the Provincial Permanent Building, and Investment Society.  Keith was a busy man, also founding the Halifax Marine Insurance Association, helping incorporate the Halifax Water Company, as well as becoming provincial grand master for the Maritimes of the Freemasons.  Alexander Keith was perhaps best known to the Halifax public as the 4th Mayor of Halifax, a member of the Nova Scotia Legislature and the president at one point and declining a seat in the Canadian Senate.  

In 1863 he began construction of Keith Hall which was connected by a tunnel to his brewery. Keith Hall, now occupied by Oland’s Brewery, is in the Renaissance palazzo style, with baroque adornments, pillars of no particular style, and a mansard roof. This peculiar combination of styles resulted from the fact that the designs were probably derived from books with plans of buildings in Great Britain and the United States.

As a supporter of confederation and president of the Legislative Council, Keith was helped by the fact that before 1 July 1867 Sir Charles Tupper had filled several seats in the upper house with known confederates.

He died in Halifax on December 14, 1873 and is buried at Camp Hill Cemetery. His estate at death was evaluated at $251,000. following his death, Keith's funeral was the biggest Halifax has ever seen.  The city truly shut down for this funeral. The crowd started at his house on Hollis St. and meandered through the city to his final resting place. His grave marker, being the tallest in the cemetery, is easily found in the middle next to the main pathway.  The bill for his grave marker was $4,000 back then, which is equivalent to $90,000 in today's dollars. Cans and bottles of Alexander Keith's beer are often found at the grave site.

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