Most times when I think of Ed McNally, I think of him warmly, although I did curse him last spring when the pandemic hit and all the bookstores closed and we had not even completed our first year of commercial operations at Sutherland House. Ed is a big reason why we exist.
One of the great things about a career in journalism is that it allows, even forces a wide acquaintance. You get to know the people you work with, the people you report on, and the people who populate the various scenes into which you stray in search of stories. Ed was one of the latter.
I met him while I was writing about the Reform Party in the mid-eighties. I showed up at every Reform meeting because it was my job. Ed showed up at every meeting because he was enthusiastic about the cause and helping to fund the party. He was friendly and funny and extremely sharp in an aw-shucks kind of way. I sat with him whenever I had the chance.
I learned that Ed, born in Lethbridge, had started life as a journalist before heading to law school. He’d done a lot of legal work in the oil-and-gas field. He’d also grown barley at his farm and imported exotic cattle from Scotland and taken over management of a business his wife started, importing Scandinavian furniture. Ed was interested in pretty much everything.
One day over lunch he started complaining about Molson, Labatt, and Carling O’Keefe, and how they operated an insidious oligopoly that dominated the Canadian beer business. It turned out Ed had just launched his own brewery and he couldn’t get his beer into Calgary bars because all of them had cut deals with the big breweries, trading exclusivity for breaks on price.