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  • Linda Garson

Open that Bottle...with Linda McNally


“I've always loved food,” says Linda McNally. “My father was crown prosecutor of Hanna, Craigmyle, and Delia, and he was delighted with the job because he loved to hunt upland game, and that area was stocked with prairie chicken, Hungarian partridge and pheasant.”


“I came at the great age of four to Calgary, and I was away at school quite a bit and didn't think I'd ever settle here. When I came back, there was so much interesting going on that it really wasn't the same kind of place that I'd known,” she adds.


She first went to an American college, Mills in Oakland, before studying psychology, history and philosophy at U of A, and later English Literature in Toronto. She met Ed McNally at a dinner party when she was 21, in the fall of 1954. “I can remember lining up to fill my plate and Ed was behind me. I was going out to study in Toronto, and he sent me a cooked pheasant in the mail. It was too funny for words,” she laughs.


McNally was working as a lawyer at Gulf Oil and invited her to their Christmas party. “I had fun and a very nice time with him, and then he gave me a pair of lederhosen - I was absolutely stunned! I wore them out hiking because I love to walk.” She returned to U of T for her master's course, but McNally had just turned 30 and wanted them to marry.


“I thought, well, for sure, so we got married. He thought I would be bored with nothing to do though, so he and a friend decided their wives should start an importing shop of Scandinavian and German glassware and Scandinavian furniture, partly because when I was going to get married and we were looking for things, I couldn't find anything nice.”


McNally retired from law in 1970, and at age 55 went into the exotic cattle business. Shorthorn, Hereford, and Angus were small, so for hybrid vigour they brought the bigger Simmental and Maine-Anjou cattle to Canada. He was always on the board of the Barley Growers and took up grain farming after cattle, but he'd grown up in Lethbridge, and great pals with the Sick family of Lethbridge Brewery, the one business that thrived during the Depression. At 60 years old, McNally changed careers again and started Big Rock Brewery.


Otto Leverkus, one of the main forces with the brewery had said, ‘You know, the only thing wrong with Alberta is it doesn't have decent beer and good cheese,’ so they went to Seattle to look at Red Hook, a new small craft brewery. “They were really intrigued,” Mrs. McNally says. “The fellow who'd started Red Hook was just delighted to think there was somebody else going to do the same thing.”


They bought the first brewery in 1985, an aluminum siding company on Barlow Trail that had gone “belly up.” It expanded to them buying the adjacent building, and then the building on the other side, and in 1995 hoped to expand to the corner building, but it wasn’t for sale, so they built the current brewery.


“There was such a feeling of camaraderie, the brew master felt it was very important. And every day Ed would walk the floor. He was always there by eight o'clock, if not earlier. He was running Big Rock and enjoyed it so much. We were just terribly fortunate that the Olympics were in Calgary in ’88, because people were quite hesitant and hadn't tasted craft beer. The endorsement that gave the brewery was huge.”


McNally retired in 2012, a couple of years before his passing, and while Mrs. McNally is still a large shareholder, and daughter, Kathleen, Vice Chair of the board and very involved, she stepped back from day-to-day participation: “Because I felt it was very important for whoever was in charge to put their own stamp on things.”


What bottle is Mrs. McNally saving that she hasn’t opened?


“In the cellar there is a three-litre bottle of Traditional. Traditional is a British Brown Ale and as I am a lover of Grasshopper, whatever is inside the giant bottle is all the memories it brings forward not the brew itself.”


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