These pioneers were real jerks – soda jerks, that is

Nanaimo is highly collectible these days. Old Nanaimo, that is, in the form of its pioneer bottles. Louis Lawrence, W.E. Rumming, John Mitchell and Union Brewery have become much sought-after since the bottle collecting craze arrived on the Island in the 1960s.

Although the hobby has lost some popularity since then, among the die-hards and a new generation of collectors, these old stalwarts have maintained their appeal and have appreciated in value at antique sales and flea markets.

It was back in May 1886 that the Free Press mentioned John Mitchell of Bastion Street and his Pioneer Soda Works Manufactory. He’d just imported “direct from England a new and improved set of machines for the manufacture and bottling of Soda Water”. Today, we’re more inclined to think of soda, which consists of carbonated water with flavouring, as a mixer with our hard drinks; back then it was pop.

Probably better for the health and teeth, too, than today’s so-called soft drinks with their chemical sweeteners.

The Press predicted that Mitchell’s new machines, fitted with all modern improvements,

would place him in the “foremost rank of business, and enable him not only to supply soda water in any quantity, but of a very superior quality. It is to be hoped that this spirit of enterprise will be appreciated.”

For the discerning taste Mitchell offered a fairly wide selection of flavours and products. In their 1970s book Western Canadian Bottle Collecting, George Watson, Robert Skrill and Jim Heidt noted lemon, raspberry, rose, pineapple and orgeat (made from the extract of barley water and sugar flavoured almonds, orange flowers, etc.).

Mitchell also offered gum syrups, lemon and gingerade, ginger beer, soda water, tonic water, sarsaparilla, nectar and cider.

Business prospered, Mitchell moved into larger quarters at the corner of Wentworth and Wallace streets and, in 1896, installed a state-of-the-art filling machine from England. Henceforth the company’s bottles bore not only the legend, John Mitchell, Nanaimo, B.C., but ‘Riley’s Patent. The Riley Mnfg. Co., London, S.W.”

Ten years before Mitchell began operations, Victoria businessman Alex Phillips’ Pioneer Soda Water and Syrup Manufactory had established near the Bastion Street bridge. Little is known of this enterprise, unfortunately. By 1888, Mitchell had competiton in the form of Adams Lawrence’s Eureka Soda Water Works, “wholesale dealers in bottled beer, ale, Porter, soda water, sarsaparilla, cider, ginger ale, syrupts, etc.” Louis Lawrence became sole proprietor just two years later when he bought out partners David and Louis Adams, and moved the business to Wallace Street. But, within a year or so, he’d vanished from the scene.

Mitchell was no longer working alone by this time, having taken Edward Rumming, a professional soda water bottler from the Old Country, as partner. The Mitchell name was replaced with Rumming Mitchell, then just W.E. Rumming, Nanaimo, B.C., after he assumed control of the firm which went under the name of Rummings Bottling Works.

The Riley patent mark continued but, best of all, Rumming added a logo. It’s become as ‘Nanaimo’ as the Bastion: a crossed pick and shovel. This company logo has made the Rumming bottles among the most popular with collectors.

Over the next half-century and more, Rumming had plants in Nanaimo and Ladysmith and absorbed Courtenay’s Gold Star Bottling Works. As bottles were modernized to take crown caps and to have logos ‘painted on’ rather than embossed in the glass, even the later Rumming bottles lost much of their apeal. But the old ones, aqua green and dark green, are in their modest ways joys to behold. They often turn up at flea markets and antique sales. Digging them up is quite another story.

The Louis Lawrence bottles are much rarer because of the company’s short career and because most of the bottles were of the so-called ‘marble’ variety. You’d break the seal with a stick (often provided) to drink or pour, with the marble acting as a valve in the bottle’s restricted neck.

That’s what ‘done-’em-in,’ most bottles having been broken by boys wanting the precious marble!

Just Posted

Mariah Segee (centre) was named 2021 Lady of the Lake last Saturday, with Megan Rowbottom (left) as first princess, and Macey Anderson (right) as second princess. (Submitted)
Lady of the Lake returns to Lake Cowichan

Mariah Segee takes the crown in first pageant since 2018

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Bay man’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

Threads N Tails owner Lee-Ann Burke’s pet clothing has been featured on the cover of the June/July issue of Pet Connection Magazine. (Submitted)
Lake Cowichan business featured on magazine cover

Lee-Ann Burke hopes the extra publicity will increase sales

North Cowichan’s senior environment specialist Dr. Dave Preikshot (pictured) said there’s a wide spectrum of views on carbon credits. (File photo)
Carbon credits expected to be part of discussions around forest reserve

North Cowichan acknowledges wide range of views on issue

Blue Moon Marquee from Duncan will be featured at the 2021 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 28. (Submitted)
Blue Moon Marquee to play Vancouver Jazz Festival

What’s coming up in the A&E scene

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Most Read