Peter McAuslan: the patron saint of Montreal’s Indie fests

Bram
Bram Eisenthal
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Beer baron talks business, festivals and why the Empress Theatre debacle still leaves him baffled

Festival season in Montreal, the motto of which must truly be “Festivus for the Rest of Us” (A memorable Seinfeld-ism if there ever was one), would not be possible if the various sponsors involved chose to spend their hard-earned cash elsewhere.

 

Fortunately, despite the Harper government’s best efforts to negate the importance of the arts in Canada, there are still committed sponsors willing to pitch in and keep the arts alive. Without them, Montreal’s summer season would be a bleak one indeed. And for one Westmount resident in particular, his struggles to succeed in the corporate world have resounded deep inside the performance halls of indie festivals that are always cash-strapped, yet manage to soldier on with the commitment of individuals like him.

Peter McAuslan was born in Lachine, graduated from Sir George Williams University with a general arts degree, as an actual witness to the infamous computer riots of the late 1960s that would brand the school with a “radical” tag to this very day... and went on to found one of this country’s most exciting and creative and deliciously-sudsy, medium-sized two-decade-old breweries: McAuslan Brewery. The rationale behind his support?

“The arts is a toughed-up business, it gives everyone a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction and doesn’t cost a great deal of money to support. If I can help, there are a lot of people out there in business who are as capable as I am.” A perennial lover of music who “collects alternative music... it ties in to the type of beer we make” (check out hip hoppers Hollarado, he invites) and “a voracious reader,” McAuslan supports the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, the Ste. Ambroise Fringe Festival (taking place until June 20), the Folk Festival on the Canal (held on the McAuslan terrace fronting the Lachine canal June 19-20), the POP Montreal Music Festival and others.

McAuslan is a doer. He isn’t a complainer, but rather the proactive sort who will pursue his dreams. Indie festivals continue to survive thanks to him and just walk around to the back of his brewery and see the lovely terrace where you can while away your summer days sipping ice-cold beers such as Moosehead, Ste. Ambroise Apricot or seasonally-limited Raspberry beers, while munching on barbecued burgers and hot dogs. With McAuslan at the helm, ideas are realized.

Instead of the CDN/NDG city council having to continue sinking money into this project, the people of NDG are going to have to find ways to make it happen. If something is really important to the community and its leadership, they are going to have to stop relying on government funding to bail them out all the time. It’s time for the people to stand up and be counted. Peter McAuslan

One endeavour that frustrates him, however, mainly because even he can’t seem to come up with answers, is NDG’s Empress Theatre debacle. The former Cinema V building is still in search of a permanent tenant a decade after the group of supposed saviours McAuslan presides over was handed the keys for 60 years and asked to ‘make it work.’ He admits that even he may not have done the best job on behalf of the historic structure and locals hoping for a deal to come through.

And now, even McAuslan’s calm demeanour appears to be wilting. “Instead of the CDN/NDG city council having to continue sinking money into this project, the people of NDG are going to have to find ways to make it happen. If something is really important to the community and its leadership, they are going to have to stop relying on government funding to bail them out all the time. It’s time for the people to stand up and be counted.

“Quit whining to the municipal government for money and just make it happen!”  He then reminded residents that there is a large, viable park across the street from the Express (bordering Girouard) that would be ideal for a community fundraiser.  “You could easily generate $25,000 from an event there, that could support the Empress,” he said. “I’d like to see some REAL community action.” Westmount, (where he resides) he added, is a citizen-driven community that also happens to have a proactive, supportive government.

So while sipping a cool McAuslan brew, try to come up with a solution, people... it’s as good a time as any! 

Organizations: Empress Theatre, Sir George Williams University, CDN/NDG city council

Geographic location: Montreal, Westmount, Lachine Canada Moosehead

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