Labatt virtual exhibit highlights work of public history students

October 24, 2017

Labatt virtual exhibit highlights work of public history students

Students in the Department of History played a major role in a new project highlighting the 170-year history of one of London’s biggest companies.

A new virtual exhibit, the Labatt Brewing Company Collection, includes hundreds of digitized images, audio interviews, and radio and TV ads, telling the history of Labatt, and the events that shaped Canada.

Five students in History 3813: Public History worked with Amanda Oliver, Archivist at Western Libraries, to help develop the interactive website. The students were each given a portion of the 170-years, were asked to identify significant events in Canadian history, and select items from the archive to represent those events.

The resulting project provides an interactive and interesting overview of the history of Labatt, the city of London, and Canada.

Mike Dove, acting director of the Master’s program in Public History at Western, taught the undergraduate course. He said the collection and project highlights many aspects of history, including labour, economic, environmental and social and cultural history.

“This project helps to bring everyone’s attention to a rich treasure-trove of materials,” said Dove. “It will hopefully draw in other researchers. Canada does not have a lot of collections like the Labatt collection.”

The history, Dove said, points to Labatt’s continuing connection to London, and to Western. John Labatt was a major contributor to the university in its early days, and his descendants continued to donate to Western, including the donation of the corporate archives in 2011.

Corporate histories “have the possibility of not being objective,” Dove said, but access to the Labatt archives provides insight to show how business decisions are more in historic context, and allows researchers to go in and make their own decisions.

The archives provides opportunity for many more “research questions that can be asked of the collections,” said Dove.

MacKenzie Brash was one of the students who worked on the project. Brash said the class discussed issues of corporate history, and how the companies often want to be portrayed in the best light, with some companies working to remove their history.

“Labatt avoided doing this,” said Brash. “They have been a pillar of the community for so long, and are proud of their past.”
Dove felt the opportunity was great for students, giving them a chance to work with an extensive archival collection available at Western. It also gave them an opportunity to give consideration on how they would reach the public, while providing a practical and tangible result for their work.

Brash said she was excited to work with the Labatt collection, and found the work to be more difficult than she had originally anticipated. She is now completing her MA in Public History at Western.

“It was great that an undergraduate course introduced us to public partners and gave us hands on experience,” Brash said. “It’s not something you get out of every undergraduate course. And It’s cool to say I worked on a Labatt project.”

The five students who worked on the project were MacKenzie Brash, Matthew Espey, Marie Frise, Leigha King, and Andrew Pacheco.
The virtual exhibit can be found at