This is a story about people and community. And like many good stories, this one starts over a beer or two.
Located 90 minutes north-east of Toronto, Fenelon Falls Brewing Company runs parallel to Lock 34 on the Trent Sever Waterway—the gateway between Cameron Lake to the west and Sturgeon Lake to the east.
Often referred to as the Jewel of the Kawarthas, Fenelon Falls is a popular and bustling destination for boaters, cottagers, shoppers, foodies, and day trippers alike.
Originally a livery stable built as part of the McArthur House Hotel in the 1880s, the landmark building would become a blacksmith shop in the 1950s and 60s, before being reimagined decades later as a regional destination brewery that offers a spacious and scenic space wrapped around 50-feet of windows overlooking Lock 34 and Cameron Lake.
The vision for the brewery was years in the making with two things remaining consistent throughout the process: a love for the surrounding environment and a desire to give back to the local community.
“The Fenelon Falls Brewing Co. is home to one of the most picturesque locations in the Kawarthas,” explained Head Brewer Russell Gibson. “Sitting upstairs, looking out the windows at Lock 34, at the boats, the water, the people, it was imperative to us from the beginning to create a business and experience that people would love and enjoy, but also to respect the environment and the community it calls home.”
During the design and construction of the Fenelon Falls Brewing Co., in 2019, the brewery brought in Econse to utilize its BrüClean system to treat wastewater onsite and reduce the burden on the community.
“Onsite wastewater treatment helps us to manage our processes responsibly in an environmentally friendly way, allowing us to continuously grow our brewery without negatively impacting our local environment,” said Gibson.
It was a chance meeting in the fall of 2019 with then Fenelon Falls Brewing Co., General Manager Mathew Renda and Kawartha Conservation Marketing and Communications Specialist John Chambers that led to a partnership to take the brewery’s support for the environment one step further.
Established in 1979, Kawartha Conservation is a partnership of watershed municipalities that balance environmental capacity and human need.
The Kawartha Conservation watershed is 2,563 square kilometers in size and has a unique landscape that holds wetlands, and long meandering rivers that flow to and from lakes along the Trent Severn Waterway. Agriculture thrives on rich soils and clean water, picturesque rural communities dot the landscape, and conservation and natural areas protect significant natural heritage.
By managing natural resource features that are essential for sustaining water quality and quantity through watershed planning, stewardship, environmental monitoring, and research, as well as management of conservation and natural areas, Kawartha Conservation works to protect and conserve the watershed environment.
During numerous discussions during the fall and early winter of 2019 between Kawartha Conservation and Fenelon Falls Brewing Co., the shared beliefs and synergies between the two groups was obvious.
“During the design and construction phase, we implemented a number of state-of-the-art environmental measures into the design of the Fenelon Falls Brewing Co.,” noted Gibson. “The principles of design parallel our path to support the community which includes protecting the very environment and communities that makes the local craft brewery so special.”
The result of those discussions was the Kawartha Summer Ale, a beer brewed in collaboration with Kawartha Conservation in support of the Kawartha watershed environment.
Celebrated as the ‘official’ unofficial beer of summer in the Kawarthas, the partnership launched in April of 2020 and ran until Thanksgiving weekend to coincide with the Trent Severn Waterway season.
Originally intended as a one-time limited release with proceeds going to support environmental projects within the Kawartha watershed, the beer launch was an overwhelming success. It sold out twice long before the anticipated wrap up at Thanksgiving.
“Renewing the partnership for 2021 was an easy choice,” said Kawartha Conservation CAO Mark Majchrowski. “The public response to the Kawartha Summer Ale was tremendous and the cans, proudly displaying our logo and the intent of the collaboration on the labels, put our work and focus front and centre for a huge new audience.
“What we realized and what became quickly apparent is that supporting business and the environment are not mutually exclusive,” said Majchrowski. “In many respects we both want the same things.”
“Supporting the environment through both greater financial investment and awareness was a natural win for Kawartha Conservation, while developing a new, branded beer and having increased marketing through non-traditional means supported Fenelon Falls Brewing Co.,” he added.
In May 2021, Fenelon Falls Brewing Co., re-released the Kawartha Summer Ale, brewing double the volume from the previous summer, again selling out in record time.
The partnership has resulted in a big win for the environment said Kristie Virgoe, director of stewardship and conservation lands at Kawartha Conservation.
“This partnership has allowed us to plant more than 1,300 trees across the watershed, nearly 7 percent of our annual tree planting goal,” said Virgoe. “That is a significant help in being able to add to our urban canopy, support rural plantings, and increase our forestry cover regionally. We have also been able to focus on planting a number of species at risk trees including Butternut trees.”
The positive impacts were not lost on Kawartha Lakes mayor, and chair of the Kawartha Conservation Board of Directors, Andy Letham.
“The idea behind this partnership has always been about supporting people, supporting our businesses, and supporting our communities,” explained Letham. “We can do that by supporting the environment. We’re the City of Kawartha Lakes, we have more than 250 lakes and rivers which contribute a whole lot to our economic base. We know how important protecting these assets are, not only for residents and cottagers, but to the businesses that rely on seasonal and tourism traffic as well.”
Letham said pro-active partnerships that support both the business and environmental needs of the broader watershed community are what drive success for everyone.
“This partnership has helped to strengthen our communities and helped to support our environment,” said Letham. “This is a really important story that demonstrates we aren’t operating in silos, though it might seem like it sometimes. The work we’re all doing and trying to do is connected. When people visit our communities, our businesses are successful. When we protect and support our lakes and rivers and conservation areas, we make them destinations for people.
“Business supporting the environment, and environmental and conservation organizations supporting business just makes good sense for everyone,” Letham added.
Majchrowski echoes those sentiments.
“Our lakes and rivers are so important to the environmental, societal, and economic success of Kawartha Lakes,” he said. “Working with the Fenelon Falls Brewing Co. on this exciting partnership has already had tremendous benefits for the long-term health of our environment and our communities, and we are thrilled to be able to continue to partner with them to further the great work we’ve already accomplished together.”
For the brewery, seeing the success of its business and the positive impact it has already had on the community is both rewarding and motivating.
“I think when we started this partnership with the Fenelon Falls Brewing Company, we honestly felt it was going to be for one year and we would evaluate at the end,” Gibson said. “I don’t know that any of us imagined how successful it would become.”
“The Kawartha Summer Ale resonated with the community and visitors and seeing first-hand the positive impact it is having our environment and conservation efforts locally through tree planting makes this a win-win for everyone,” added Majchrowski.
Plans are already underway to further expand and grow the partnership in 2022.
“I am excited for the potential of what we can accomplish with Kawartha Conservation,” said Gibson. “We’re looking at a lot of different ideas and opportunities for this year, but what I do know is that working together we can definitely do a lot of good for our environment, for our communities and for our business community, and I think that’s really exciting for everyone.”
John Chambers is the marketing and communications specialist at Kawartha Conservation