Alex Thompson, a roofer, shows off one of two hand-painted metal signs, plus remnants of others, from a brewery that operated in downtown Nanaimo from 1891 to 1919. He and co-worker Brian Kuntz discover the signs while stripping the roof of a home that was built in the early 1900s. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Nanaimo roofers uncover old-time brewery signs

Hand-painted metal signs from Union Brewery used as roof flashing on century-old house

Two roofers shed light on pieces of Nanaimo’s past when they discovered metal signs from a brewery dating back at least 100 years.

Alex Thompson and Brian Kuntz were tearing off layers of old roofing on a small house at the corner of Selby and Albert streets on Monday when they found hand-painted metal signs from the Union Brewing Company, a brewery that operated in Nanaimo from 1891 to 1919, had been used as flashing for the roof valleys and chimney.

One of the signs had been cut in half, but the artwork, which had been placed face-down, is well-preserved. There is even remnants of soot or coal dust on the metal.

Thompson said the sign was under several layers of shingles.

“It was under five layers of roof,” Thompson said. “So, the last layer was [cedar] shakes and that’s what was covering the bottom shakes.”

Kuntz took home the other sign that was found, which had a slightly different colour scheme.

“My buddy took the other one … it was a lot more yellow and red. This one’s a lot more gold and red, but like, it’s old, man. It’s all hand-painted,” Thompson said.

No signature of the artist is visible on the sign.

The Union Brewery was located where Nanaimo’s city hall now stands, not far from the house which was likely built sometime between 1900 and 1912, according to Christine Meutzner, manager of Nanaimo Community Archives.

“That kind of house was only built from around 1900 to, tops, 1912,” Meutzner said. “It’s basically the successor to the early miners’ cottages. This becomes your standard workers’ housing; square with a hip roof. It’s really simple to build and everybody builds them if they have no money because it’s really basic, but there’s a point where they stop building that style and it’s around 1912.”

Chris Sholberg, city heritage planner, found a record of an “improvement” made to the property in 1908 where the house now stands, which could be the date of the building’s construction.

Thompson said he plans to have the sign framed and displayed in his home.

“You’ll never find something like this ever again, probably,” he said.



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Remnants of hand-painted metal sign were used as flashing around the chimney of a house built about 110 years ago. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

Brian Kuntz works atop a house on Albert Street where he and co-worker Alex Thompson discovered hand-painted metal signs from the Union Brewing Company that had been recycled into roof flashing on the house that, like the signs, dates back more than a century. CHRIS BUSH/The News Bulletin

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