Collector seeks stories behind prairie bottles

A Saskatoon man is relying on farmers’ collective memory to help him piece together the history of prairie pop bottling companies.

Wayne Westcott launched the Prairie Bottlers Project after realizing there was little information about the embossed and stamped pop bottles he had collected.

“I’m attempting to document the history of local pop bottlers in Western Canada,” Westcott wrote on his pop bottling blog, www.prairiebottlers.blog.com.

“I have a small collection of pop bottles that came from companies in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and can’t find any information about them.”

The dozen bottles in his collection aren’t old Coke or Pepsi bottles.

Instead, they are stamped with names of long forgotten prairie bottling companies such as Drewrys of Winnipeg, Starlight of Saskatoon, Pachal’s Beverages of Yorkton, H.P.’s

(Standard Mineral Water Works) of North Battleford, Laing’s Beverages of Weyburn, Pioneer Brand of the Prince Albert Mineral Water Co. and Jackson Bottling Co. of Moose Jaw.

When Westcott went looking for more information about these companies and struck out he realized there was probably a story to be told.

“That’s a sad lack of history,” said Westcott, a Saskatoon teacher.

Westcott is hoping to tap into prairie residents’ knowledge with stories, memories and photos about local bottling facilities.

“I would like to have some history about them.”

Many prairie towns had their own pop bottle depots in the last century. They would fill bottles and deliver them to corner stores for sale. Westcott remembers paying 10 cents for the pop and two cents for the deposit. He always returned his bottle for the two cents deposit.

“There were an awful lot of little confectioners in neighbourhoods. That’s where, as kids, we used to get our penny candy.”

He would like to turn the initial research over to a university student to complete the work and then send the pop bottles and stories to prairie museums for a travelling road show.

“I’m interested in assembling history.”

Westcott bought many of the bottles when he and his wife owned a wine making shop. They became interested in the unusual bottles and brought them home when they closed the shop.

“Like a dang fool I decided I needed a new hobby.”

Westcott has found information on the Silverwood Springs Bottling Company contained in an archaeological investigation by Stantec Consulting in 1998.

William Silverwood was a livestock dealer who arrived in the Saskatoon area about 1907 and sold bottled water from a spring on his farm. Saskatoon did not have a supply of clean drinking water and every summer it was common to have deaths from typhoid.

Silverwood sold 120,000 gallons of bottled spring water a year for two to three years.

The Silverwood Springs bottling works eventually collapsed when Saskatoon developed a water purification system.

More importantly, the runoff from Silverwood’s large stock barn on the hill above the springs contaminated his water supply.

Westcott said stories like these need to be saved.

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