Ed McNally: A Tribute To A Life Lived To Its Fullest

Alberta lost one of its most accomplished citizens on Tuesday night when Edward McNally passed away during the night. As most of you already know, Ed was the founder of Big Rock Brewery and started the craft beer scene here in Alberta when he decided that there wasn’t enough choice in the beer fridges of our local liquor stores. While this achievement would be enough to secure someone’s legacy it was not the only one for Mr. McNally. Let’s take a look at a life of someone who lived it to the fullest.

Ed McNally

Here is a picture of Ed McNally courtesy of Big Rock Brewery.

Starting Out

Ed was born in Lethbridge during 1925. Having your childhood during one of history’s greatest depressions tends to instill certain values in you. Ed started working in the newspaper industry as a young man; first as a journalist then as an editor.

His career took another path once he graduated from the University of BC with a Law degree and began practicing in Calgary. While working as a lawyer, Ed,his wife Linda & their four children spent their weekends on a farm just south of the city. It was on this family farm that the satisfaction gained from growing his own food was realized. This pastime started out with a vegetable garden and grew to include barley fields and livestock.

big rock hay bales

The Big Rock hay bales can be seen on Alberta highways. This is a reminder of how tied to local agriculture Ed & Big Rock is. Courtesy of Albertaventure

It was this love of the land that led to positions on the board of directors of institutions like Western Barley Growers Association, Huntly Cattle Company Scotland & Alberta Barley Growers.

This passion for agriculture also played a part in the forming of Alberta’s 1st craft brewery. After all, craft beer is all about creating beer with the best ingredients and not taking any shortcuts.

Big Rock

“I want to make the beers that I want to drink, not what will be popular”. To me, this quote sums up the craft beer spirit. Brewing beers for the love of crafting something that you would like to share with others and not for the sole purpose of making a profit. Ed came up with his plan to create the 1st microbrewery in Alberta during 1984 when he was 60 years old. Trad was one of the original three beers in the Big Rock lineup and it is still a popular choice among beer drinkers with a thirst for an English Brown Ale that is true to style. Now how is that for having a dream and just going for it no matter what?

Big Rock Brewery, Calgary, Alberta

The gates to the Big Rock Brewery located in the south east end of Calgary.

It is this entrepreneurial spirit that has inspired other generations of brewers to follow their dreams. Graham Sherman of Tool Shed Brewery never had the chance to meet Ed but feels like he knew him. Graham told me that sharing the dream of brewing your own beer and stopping at nothing to see it become a reality has formed a bond between the two. There is even a photograph of Ed’s original brewing system in the Tool Shed where Graham & Jeff started homebrewing.

A Life Full of Achievements

Here are some of the many achievements that Mr. McNally accomplished during his 89 years of life:

• He was named to the Order of Canada in 2005.

• That same year he received the Alberta Centennial Medal.

• In 2009 he was inducted into the Calgary Business Hall of Fame.

• He was a philanthropist involved with many charitable institutions including the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, the United Way, the Calgary Women’s Shelter & Alberta Beef Producers Market Development Fund, to name a few.

• Founded The Big Rock Eddies which awards innovative marketing in the beer industry & raises money for charity.

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Big Rock and its founder Ed McNally are a source of local pride for many, including myself.

• He started the Alberta craft beer revolution in 1984 when he decided to found Big Rock Brewery. The brewery still holds true to his original vision of crafting all malt, unpasteurized beer without any preservatives. Their beer selection has expanded considerably to where they have a Signature Series, Alchemist Edition & Brewmaster’s Edition lineups.

Slàinte Ed

My usual signoff is cheers to local craft beer! I would like to thank Ed for giving me the opportunity to make that statement because without his vision & determination I might not have anything to toast.

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