Ministers Island Is Raising The Roof With Craft Beer

Are you familiar with Canada? Good. Now let me tell you a story about how all that came to happen. Canada is a beautiful and majestic land. It’s also very big. You wouldn’t want to Terry Fox your way across it with a satchel of grain on your back, which is exactly how the people of British Columbia explained it to Parliament, more or less, at their proposal of Confederation. And so, a promise was made to construct a railway that spanned the breadth of the land; a railway that would carry supplies and immigrants from east to west, unifying the country, and practically define the rim of America’s hat.

That’s not an easy promise to make good on, and when things didn’t progress as quickly as they’d hoped, the Canadian Pacific Railway hired William Cornelius Van Horne in 1882 to get the job done. It was completed in 1885, the longest railway in the world at the time, and five years ahead of schedule. Van Horne would go on to become President of CPR in 1888, and most importantly, built a summer home on Ministers Island in St. Andrews. Of course, ‘summer home’ is a bit of a misnomer for someone who worked on such a grand scale. He developed the island: it was a center of innovation for his agricultural interests, he built a bath house, windmills and barns, raised cattle that were shipped all over the world, and turned St. Andrews into one of Canada’s preeminent summer destinations.

Then five quarters of a century passed and all the wear and tear with it. The property was designated a National Historic Site in 1977, and because we can’t have nice things, the Province of New Brunswick then closed up shop. It sat dormant until 1998, when the island was re-opened, and in 2004 the Van Horne Estate was formed, a lease was signed, and the challenges of funding, restoring and maintaining an increasingly aged bunch of buildings began.

“I think the last time it was shingled was 1945,” says Brian Usher, the organisation’s co-chair, of the property’s barn, “they don’t tend to last longer than fifty years, but saying that they ‘lasted’ is a bit of a misstatement because we’ve got so many that have fallen off.”

While much of the property has benefited from a bit of regular loving, the barn has been a sticking point in the repairs. It suffered further damage when a storm blew the top off one silo this February. The cost to repair the silos alone is $261k, and $1.91m for the total barn, which would allow for re-shingling, structural repairs and proper drainage to be installed around the foundation. In the meantime the board is seeking $30k to make immediate emergency repairs to the silos to prevent further water damage. “The top having been blown off, that creates a construction issue. Fortunately, last year we documented all of the dimensions. We have it photographed. We know exactly what it looked like. So reconstructing it to its original state shouldn’t be too difficult. But everything is money.”

The weather vane and the damage done (Courtesy of Ministers Island)
The weather vane and the damage done (Courtesy of Ministers Island)

“You have to look at the size of the building. It’s enormous. If you were to try to reconstruct this building from scratch it would be upwards of $5 million.”

The Estate board has looked at a number of  ways to raise the necessary funding, including crowd sourcing, and applying for grants for restoration work from Parks Canada and ACOA. This Friday will see more support come from that perennial saviour of New Brunswick: craft beer. Railcar Brewing and Picaroons will be throwing an already sold out event at St Andrew’s Anderson House. The event will feature a beer brewed specifically for the barn raising cause.

“Minister’s Island is a treasure of another generation that should be an inspiration to this one,” says Sean Dunbar of Picaroons. “There are lots of lessons to be learned from New Brunswick’s history and I love telling those stories. So we jumped on board and suggested we not only brew a beer, but have a party as well. We brewed “Raisin da Roof” at our Melissa St. brewery on Tuesday. And yes, we used raisins in the beer. As with most of our experiments, I’ve never brewed with raisins before and have no idea what it’s going to turn out like. I expect it’ll be yummy.”

The beer will be available in growlers at Picaroon’s locations in Fredericton and Saint John, as well as at Railcar in Bristol. The Red Herring Pub in St. Andrews will also have a keg on tap and will donate 100% of those sales to the cause.

Usher explains that the future of the island will depend on more than simply fundraising, and the board is looking at ways the island can do more to become self-sufficient, and a big draw for the province, “What all of this is designed to do is to turn this into a community center; we can be running farmers markets, we can be having arts festivals.We’re seeing there’s a huge number of activities we could be running out of the barn once we can restore it. We could rebuild it, and do it in such a way that there are commercial benefits, and not just tourism, but agriculture activities, creating beer, using the grants, all of that could feed into making it more sustainable. ”

For more information on the island, the event, and the man you can thank for your country, visit