From Ginger Ale to Cream Soda: The Story of Ottawa’s Very Own Soft Drink Company

This post is brought to you by Jan Kurman, a University of Ottawa student volunteer at the Ottawa Jewish Archives.

The summers in Ottawa are known to be notoriously hot and humid. Ottawans usually take the time to cool down by taking a dip in the Ottawa river, staying indoors, or by opening a cool bottle of soda straight from the fridge. These days, most of the carbonated beverages we drink are from large foreign companies that create their products for mass consumption. However, not too long ago there existed a well-known soft drink company that was based and founded right here in the nation’s capital. Pure Spring Company Ltd. was an acclaimed distributor of soft drinks. From Ginger Ale to Minted Grape, the company had a multitude of different sodas that satisfied everyone’s taste buds. From its humble beginnings in Ottawa, the company sold their sodas internationally until it finally ceased operations in 1987.

Reverend Jacob Mirsky in his Cantorial Robes.
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In 1894, almost 100 years prior, a man by the name of Jacob Mirsky arrived in Ottawa after being invited by the capital’s small Jewish congregation – Adath Jeshurun. Originally from New York City, Jacob was chosen to become Ottawa’s first Rabbi as the Jewish community was struggling to establish itself without a proper religious figure. Jacob quickly entrenched himself within the Jewish where he held multiple jobs as cantor, shoichet (a ritual slaughterer) as well as moyel (to perform bris’s on baby boys). He had a son by the name of David whom he also brought to Ottawa. Little did Jacob know that his son possessed an immense entrepreneurial spirit that would soon drive a highly successful company.

While still a teenager, David worked as a newsie selling newspapers and magazines along the Gatineau Line of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In a short period of time, he worked his way up and became a freight agent for the train line. David also allegedly began returning glass bottles to Brading’s Brewery for some spare change as they were in short supply those days. Inquisitive and open-minded, David Mirsky noticed that soft drinks were very popular in the city at the time. There existed a small spring on Nanny Goat Hill that provided people with a fresh and clean water supply. Mirsky leapt on this opportunity and began bottling the water from this spring and selling it to thirsty customers.

The young man expanded his operations by striking a business deal with Brading’s Brewery which gave him the rights to the spring water and allowed him to build a small base of operations near the brewery on LeBreton Flats. David’s company was originally named “The Ottawa Bottle and Trading Co.” and it’s first products were large cans of water. Ginger ale began to be imported from England in the early 1920’s and the young businessman came up with another brilliant idea. He enticed new customers to buy his products by creating a new line of soft drinks for sale. In a quick succession David had invented new products to sell to potential customers while increasing his production capacity and market size. In those times the market for soft drinks was red hot and David knew he had hit a gold mine.

Wooden Pure Spring carrying case and paper cups (Ottawa Jewish Archives collection).

David Mirsky changed the name of his business in the mid 1920’s and the firm was incorporated in 1925 as “Pure Spring Company Ltd.”. Operations and hierarchical structure within the corporation were simple. Horses and sleds were originally used for product delivery and transport. Mirsky was the corporation’s president and his three sons worked on separate tasks individually; Norman focused on developing new products, Mervin was tasked with sales and merchandise, while John worked on promotion. As the company grew and profits soared, they began to use trucks for transport and more modern production equipment.

The three Mirsky sons gradually took over the business from their father. As WWII was raging in Europe, Mervin was called up to serve. Norman took over the company and became its president during those tumultuous years. John decided to pursue law rather than stay in the business and he soon became a highly-respected criminal lawyer. When Mervin came back from the war the corporation was able to carry out many innovative and profit-inducing ideas. A soda that was able to retain its carbonated state for about 24 hours was one feat. The Mirsky brothers were also the first ones to introduce twist caps and soda cans to North America from the United Kingdom.

A six pack Pure Spring carrying case with 6 empty green glass Gini bottles and an original glass bottle of Pure Spring Ginger Ale, sealed, with the original soda. (Ottawa Jewish Archives collection).

Pure Spring Company began to expand at an unprecedented rate and their soft drinks were found from the Maritimes all the way to Alberta. The corporation was sold to Crush International in the mid 1960’s but this event did not dampen its revenue streams. Plants were opened on Belfast Road and Aberdeen Street with annual sales hitting the $50 million range. International sales also materialized as Pure Spring sodas were found in the United States, Bermuda, and the Dominican Republic. Even though the company now belonged to Crush International, Mervin Mirsky continued to run the business until 1987.

Children at a celebration with Pure Spring bottles on the tables, 1995.
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The Mirsky family had great success in the fields of business, law, and soft drink manufacturing. However, their impact in Ottawa goes well beyond these industries. Jacob Mirsky helped build Ottawa’s Jewish community from the ground up with his wisdom. David Mirsky was a well-known philanthropist in Ottawa and he was very active in the Jewish community. Mervin Mirsky was also known to give a helping hand. He served as a chairman for the Ottawa Food Bank and co-chaired a campaign that helped raise $4 million for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It is clear to many that the Mirsky family had an extraordinarily valuable and lasting impact in Ottawa.

Pure Spring Ginger Ale commercial, 1985

Sources:

  1.  “Ottawa Citizen: 2010-07-02 – Pure Spring was … – PressReader.” 2 Jul. 2010, https://www.pressreader.com/canada/ottawa-citizen/20100702/284374080634777. Accessed 18 Apr. 2020.
  2. “Pure Spring (Canada) Ltd. fonds – The Canadian Jewish ….” https://www.cjhn.ca/en/permalink/cjhn80517. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.
  3. “Reverend Jacob Mirsky fonds – The Canadian Jewish ….” https://www.cjhn.ca/en/permalink/cjhn80438. Accessed 19 Apr. 2020.

One thought on “From Ginger Ale to Cream Soda: The Story of Ottawa’s Very Own Soft Drink Company

  1. There was nothing like a Pure Spring Ginger Ale when you were sick or thirsty. I swear it had medicinal properties. I still drink ginger ale to this day over any cola but it is not the same. For me, Pure Spring was magical and will be a fond memory of my childhood.

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