I bet it wasn’t a Pure Spring Ginger Ale bottle Jaan Kolk— and with that I could taste a smack of a bubbly after taste of a Ginger Ale no longer around. Suddenly Jaan sent me down the historic rabbit hole again. Linda Seccaspina
In 1912 the same year that Moses Loeb bought his candy store, David Mirsky, who had been selling food and magazines at the station across the street, went into business for himself. That business was Pure Spring. Like many immigrant children of the period, David Mirsky, a rabbi’s son, went to work at age 14. Beginning as a fruit, pop and magazine the three Mirsky brothers eventually set an amazing record of success in the soft drink industry. The firm founded by their father, David Mirsky, who came to Canada from Russia in 1890. In 1909, when he was 27, he made a living selling five-gallon bottles of water to the people of Ottawa.
The entrepreneurial instincts were strong and Mirsky was soon in business alongside Col. Plunkett Taylor (E.P. Taylor’s father) at the Bradings Brewery, Ottawa’s oldest beer-making establishment. Tapping the spring that flowed down the Branson Avenue escarpment, Mirsky bottled first a water and later the most popular ginger ale in the area. Ottawa: (The Capital of Canada by Shirley E. Woods Jr. (Doubleday)
E. P. Taylor began forming Canadian Breweries Limited (CBL) in 1930, beginning with Brading Brewery of Ottawa and Kuntz Brewery of Kitchener. Years later and at a time when there were about 35 different soft drink bottlers in the city, Dave Mirsky began adding flavor to his pure spring water and putting it into pop bottles–and he called it, naturally, “Pure Spring Ginger Ale.”
Norman, and the twins, Mervin and John, became the principals of Pure Spring (Canada) Ltd. in Ottawa following their father’s footsteps. Until 1949, Pure Spring products were little known outside of the Ottawa-Hull district. Then they sold as far away as the Arctic, the British West Indies and Bermuda.
It wasn’t just plain tap water but pure water from a spring on the cliff behind the old O’Keefe brewery. With a formula, developed by David Mirsky it became a vital weapon in the arsenal that kept Mirsky’s plant atop the city’s soft drink market.
Mervin and John were identical twins and while both were trained as lawyers, only John made that his chosen vocation. David, their father was president and Norman was vice-president, responsible for product development and quality control. Mervin, was the firm’s secretary, looked after sales and merchandising; and lawyer John was an active director.
As boys, the Mirsky brothers helped their father on the trucks and in the plant. “We worked on the trucks and we knew every one of our customers”, the brothers said proudly. The Mirsky brothers flare for ingenuity got its first real test during the Second World War. While Lt.-Col. Mervin Mirsky was trouble-shooting Army Ordnance headaches in Europe, brother Norman was solving stringent sugar rationing problems for Pure Spring.
He imported unrestricted candy from Cuba at 40 cents a pound, while sugar then cost about 5.5 cents a pound. By reducing the candy to sugar, he managed to keep the soft drink company going. Back in Ottawa after the war, with an OBE for his outstanding services, Mervin began to turn some of his army-learned lessons to boosting Pure Spring sales. The little-league firm was going to compete with the industry’s giants, so they might as well act like a giant.
Packaging and bottling first came under Mervin’s review. Before long he lad made Pure Spring bottle caps stand out above others in coolers, by simply using taller, slenderer bottles. Then he found that 30-ounce bottles of their soft drinks moved slowly because, once opened, they went flat too quickly. “We spent an extravagant sum of money to develop a formula that retained the carbonation for at least 24 hours.” said brother Norman.
Unlike other major bottling firms, Pure Spring was not tied to one set formula, and Mervin’s overseas scouting trips brought Canada two unique beverages: Brio Chin-otto and Gini, which was bottled by Pure Spring.
Mirskys also pioneered canned soft drinks in Canada. The Mirsky brothers’ Ottawa enterprise has two main operations: making and selling soft drinks in Ottawa and within a radius of about 40 miles, and making its own concentrates and syrups to supply licensed bottlers of Pure Spring in Canada and abroad.
So where was that spring? The Pure Spring Ginger Ale can depicts water over an embankment, by the National Capital Commission in 1938. By 1905, David had found a way to start bottling and selling the spring water that ran off the limestone escarpment near a place called Nanny Goat Hill (what is Booth Street and Albert Street today). In 2015 Andrew King from the Citizen wrote “that fire insurance plan maps from the early 20th century show the brewery, once called the Union Brewery. Outlining the area of Brading, the old brewery was pinpointed along with where Mirsky s spring would have been”.
King’s results revealed that it was near an area now called “Garden of the Provinces” in Ottawa–at the corner of Bay and Wellington, bordered by a limestone embankment known as Nanny Goat Hill.
With the old Brading Breweries building located, King visited the site and followed the limestone escarpment said to contain the spring that Brading allowed Mirsky to use. The area is heavily overgrown and fenced off now, but directly across from what would have been the old brewery, a curious structure emerged from the foliage at the base of the 10- to 15-metre escarpment. Behind some shrubs, an old stone and mortar structure rising from the base of the cliff, about five metres up its face, was visible, accompanied by the sound of rushing water. Sometime in history, someone built a stone enclosure around the base of this cliff containing what sounds to be a water source underneath a concrete hatch on its top surface.
Nearby there is a City of Ottawa water-management building with hatches to whatever lies underneath this stone column against the cliff. Above this stone column, a plot of land remains vacant beside the new Cathedral Hill condos, unusually undeveloped, but logical if there is an underground spring below it. A fence prevented any further inspection.
In 1962, Mervin’s father and brother John both died within a short interval and when Toronto-based Crush came up with the right price, it seemed an appropriate time to sell. Mirsky stayed on as Pure Spring vice-president and now runs the plant with a loose rein from Crush headquarters. The famous spring today remains hidden, and I feel there should be some sort of historical plaque there– if it still exists. It’s what made Pure Spring.
The most interesting thing I found was about an iconic restaurant family had some pretty bad beginnings with ginger ale.
In Ottawa, James Buchanan was selling ginger ale imported from Belfast in 1866. Ginger ale can be found advertised in Ireland and Scotland in the early 19th century. Here’s a Citizen ad from July 5, 1866:
Jaan Kolk Ads for ginger ale can be found in the Aberdeen Journal and General Advisor for Northern Scotland as early as 1818. Here is an ad placed in the Belfast New-Letter, June 27, 1834, by the Belfast Mineral Water Company. Ginger ale is classed with soda water and seltzer, which should put to rest any suspicion that the term referred to something different from what we know as ginger ale:
Linda Seccaspina I wish we had the good old ginger ale… nothing like it.
The hand-painted wooden sign is a remnant of Ottawa’s old independent soft drink maker, Pure Spring Ginger Ale, a soda company that used to have a plant close by near Ottawa’s Italian community. It was later sold to Crush Beverages
Jeff Porteous There was nothing like the taste of a cold Pure Spring Ginger ale!!
No 22 Aberdeen Street is now a parking lot. No 869 Belfast Road, to which Pure Spring moved in the early 1970s, is now a (ugh!) Pepsi plant.
My late brother worked for the Mirsky’s when they owned Pure Spring. Remember all the different drinks and flavours? It was dismaying when they sold out to Pepsi!
They did not sell to Pepsi. It has been sold many times over…Orange crush to Eastcan Beveridge then 7up then Pepsi….May have forgotten one. Combined yrs of service with husband family well over 100 yrs.
No but somebody bring back Pure Spring! It would definitely be a seller !
My favourites were Honee Orange and Gini.