Manitoba Opera

Nov 9, 2023


The world premiere of Manitoba Opera’s Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North (pronounced lee cur), the first full-scale Indigenous-led opera presented on a Canadian opera mainstage will kick off the 2023/24 Season with three performances at the Centennial Concert Hall (Winnipeg) Saturday, November 18 (7:30 pm), Wednesday, November 22 (7 pm), and Friday, November 24 (7:30 pm). Tickets are on sale now at or by calling 204-944-8824.

This cross-cultural collaboration is a celebration of Métis women, language, and culture, conceptualized by Métis poet and librettist Dr. Suzanne M. Steele, and is co-composed by Métis composer/fiddler Alex Kusturok and composer Neil Weisensel. Weisensel will also conduct.

This full-scale production features 11 vocal soloists, spoken roles, both adult and children’s choruses made up primarily of Indigenous community members, fiddlers, dancers, a guitarist, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.


Spoken & Sung in Five Languages

Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North will be spoken and sung in five languages: Southern-Michif, French-Michif, Anishinaabemowin, French, and English, with English translations projected above the stage.

The opera’s text was developed with Indigenous language keepers who have continued to be involved with the project. Li Keur brings these languages, which have survived decades of attempted erasure, back to the centre stage of the continent.


Story Concept/Background

This opera re-places the Michif peoples and the kinship webs of the founding nationals at the central continent, to the centre of the big stage while simultaneously redefining operatic form through an Indigenous world view of story.

In this historical, mystic opera, 21st century Joséphine-Marie, through a grandmother’s story, is transported to 1870s Montana where she encounters an ancestor, the sharpshooter Josette who is a runaway travelling with Riel and the last buffalo brigades. Josette falls in love with the young, passionate, Louis Riel, in disguise and on the run from assassins.

The pair confront jealousy, destiny, deprivation, and torment wrought by shape-shifting Black Geese of Fate, but are comforted by ghost choruses of ancestors, the bison brigades, and the women of their peoples, as they try to salvage a nation and save themselves from total destruction in the burning heart of the continent of the 1870s.


Métis Culture on the Mainstage

Li Keur places Métis culture, a founding culture of our province, on Manitoba Opera’s mainstage. The Red River jig, which features prominently in the score, along with other traditional and contemporary Métis music by Kusturok, is for the Métis peoples, not only a national anthem, it is a prayer, a celebration, and a compass with which the Michif find their way home. Red River music, born of a specific place and rooted in a specific culture, continue to thrive and with Li Keur this music is celebrated through the power of Métis fiddle, dance, language, and through the operatic voice.


The Creative Team


Dr. Suzanne M. Steele    Librettist/Storyteller

Suzanne Steele is an award-winning poet, installation artist, scholar, editor, and writer. She is a librettist (opera architect) and co-founder, with Drs. Monique Giroux and Michelle Porter, of the Red River Jig Network project (

Dr. Steele has a PhD from Exeter University (UK), an MLIS from UWO, and a BMus (voice) from UBC. Her war requiem (with composer Jeff Ryan), Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation, will be released commercially in 2023. This work is based on her experience as a Canadian war artist with the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2008-10) Afghanistan.


Alex Kusturok    Co-Composer/Fiddler

Métis composer and writer, Alex Kusturok, has composed, recorded, and performed widely. A third- generation fiddler, he is the son of the three-time Grand Masters Fiddle Championship, Patti Kusturok, and is known for his fiery, dynamic style of fiddling and footwork.


Neil Weisensel    Co-Composer/Conductor

Neil Weisensel is a veteran opera composer; his background is white settler with French/German ancestry. His eight acclaimed operas have been performed over 240 times across Canada and the United States. In 2014, Vancouver Opera premiered his anti-bullying opera Stickboy. Weisensel has won grants and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, Opera America, and the Canada Council. He holds degrees in composition and performance from the University of Manitoba and University of British Columbia.


Simon Miron    Director

The production will be led by Winnipeg multi-disciplinary artist Simon Miron, a Francophone Métis who will be making his Manitoba Opera debut as director. Simon has worked on 80 productions across Canada and the UK including dozens of new works.


Librettist & Composers’ Comments 


Suzanne Steele

“With Li Keur, I am trying to reconnect so much of that which was lost to my Gaudry, Fayant, Morin, DuCharmes, David, Beauchamps, and Desjardins families, and for so many other Michif families, and that is, each other,” explains Dr. Steele. “Sometime around the 1870s, our vibrant, intact, and prosperous families and communities were cast, scattered like windflowers across the prairies into a century and a half of hard times. And so, in a way through this work, I try to emulate the Anishinaabe keeper of the medicines, Marie Serpente (named in part for an ancestor of mine), who in this opera — as all our women for centuries and millennia — sews together the violence of men not once, but twice – that is, the violence of the historic. But importantly, I am also trying, as all Indigenous women continue to, sew together our cultures, our webs of family, and from the sometimes ugly in this world, make something beautiful. In this, through words and story, I have tried to bead some of our world for us to share and enjoy together once again and to shine a light on who we are.”


Alex Kusturok

“It’s such an honour to be a part of something so powerful,” commented Alex Kusturok, composer and Métis fiddler. “Something like this hasn’t been done before for the Métis culture, and I’m humbled to have a small part in it. I look forward to seeing what comes from this, and I’m beyond excited to be working with a group of amazing people.”


Neil Weisensel

“Working on Li Keur, Riel’s Heart of the North has been nothing short of a transformational project for me since I started work on it in 2017,” said composer Neil Weisensel. “Researching and composing this piece has changed how I work, how I teach, and how I see the world. Inspired by Suzanne Steele’s powerful and poetic libretto and blessed to be able to collaborate with fellow composer Alex Kusturok, I feel like we have succeeded in creating a unique and entertaining story for Manitoba Opera’s mainstage.”

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Oct 30, 2023

ART EXHIBITION – 21st Century Métis: Art, Identity & Innovation Launches November 24

An art exhibit -:21st Century Métis: Art, Identity & Innovation opens on Friday, November 24 on the Piano Nobile. Manitoba Opera is proud to have this exhibit coincide with the world premiere of Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North. Curated by Liz Barron, the exhibit will be featured until Thursday, November 30.

“Curated to be a part of the heart of Manitoba where the echoes of history reverberate, we are thrilled to present an extraordinary gathering of Métis artists at the Piano Nobile Gallery,” commented Liz Barron.

For over 20 years, Liz has curated media art exhibitions, programmed documentary and experimental film festivals, and provided support to individual artists through career development, grant writing and mentorship.

“As we step into the 21st century, this exhibition featuring the remarkable works of Jason Baerg, David Garneau, Amanda Smart, and Claire Johnston invites us to explore the vibrant and ever-evolving Métis identity. This visionary assembly of artists transcends boundaries, delving deep into the contemporary Métis experience. With their powerful narratives and innovative expressions, they illuminate the complex interplay between heritage, culture, and the path forward.

This exhibition is not just a reflection; it’s a testament to the resilience and creativity of Métis artists, past and present, and a glimpse into the promising future of contemporary art,” Liz added.

Patrons are invited to take a journey through these artistic landscapes, where the past informs the present, and the Métis spirit thrives in the modern age.


Featured Artists

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Aug 29, 2023


Mezzo-soprano Ashley Schneberger is the newest addition to the company’s administrative team, joining the Development Department last month in the position of Development & Grant Assistant.



She will be assisting Tania Douglas, Director of Development, and Ashley Boychuk, Grants & Corporate Giving Manager, with prospect research, donor profiles, the endowment campaign and the Gail Asper Award Gala Reception, as well as delving into grant research and writing. 

Ashley grew up in Cochrane, Alberta (small town outside of Calgary), and got her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Lethbridge. She moved to Winnipeg in 2020 and just completed her Master of Music in Vocal Performance at the University of Manitoba this April.  

She is the recipient of the 2023 Winnipeg Music Festival’s Rosebowl Trophy and accompanying George H. Price memorial scholarship, as well as the Herbert and Audrey Belyea Trophy and scholarship.  

A musician through-and-through, Ashley’s goal is to eventually perform with companies like Manitoba Opera. She’s loved to sing and tell stories since she was young and can’t imagine doing anything else.  

“Getting to be on stage and connect to a story is such a privilege, and I would love to continue to share those stories with audiences in the future,” Ashley explains. “I’ll be doing little gigs and shows around Winnipeg this upcoming year, so I’m very excited to get started and to keep growing as an artist.” 

Last season, Ashley was a student ambassador and also worked on the company’s social media in the spring as a result of the Association of Opera in Canada’s federally funded Opera Artist Resiliency Program (OAR).  

“I loved getting to see the inner workings of an opera company,” she says. “I think it is important to diversify your skills as an artist, and when I saw this opportunity, I thought it was the perfect chance to dip my toes into arts administration. I had so much fun working with the MO team last season, and the idea of being even more involved with the team, and helping to create beautiful, powerful, and meaningful art in the community was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”  

Reading is a passion of the young artist and she’s set a goal this year to read 50 books. “I’m about 20 books in, so I’ve got some catching-up to do!” 

A big hockey fan, Ashley has played Canada’s game since she was five and continued until she was 18.  

“I’m a big Calgary Flames fan (sorry Jets fans) and I love to go to games with my family.” 

Ashley also loves to bake and has been told she makes some of the best brownies EVER. Her colleagues are looking forward to getting a chance to judge that for themselves! 

View Press Release

Jul 27, 2023



In this historical, mystic opera, 21st century Joséphine-Marie, through a grandmother’s story, is transported to 1870s Montana where she encounters an ancestor, the sharpshooter Josette, a runaway travelling with Riel and the last buffalo brigades. There she falls in love with the young, passionate, Louis Riel, in disguise, on the run from assassins.  

The pair confront jealousy, destiny, deprivation, and torment wrought by four shape-shifting Black Geese of Fate, but are comforted by ghost choruses of ancestors, the bison brigades, and the women of their peoples, as they try to salvage a nation and save themselves from total destruction in the burning heart of the continent of the 1870s.



“This opera re-places the Michif peoples and the kinship webs of the founding nationals, at the central continent, to the centre of the big stage while simultaneously redefining operatic form through an Indigenous world view of story,” explains Li Keur’s Suzanne Steele, librettist and storyteller.  

“Themes critical to the survival of the Métis/Michif peoples (and their kin) of the 19th century that will resonate with contemporary audiences include identity, environmental degradation, celebration, innovation, refugeehood, diaspora, and the consequences of love and idealism. While knowingly engaging with many of the tropes of opera, Li Keur, offers a fresh take on an old European artform, a take that, interestingly, may well represent opera’s earlier iterations of it being an artform of the people.” 



Li Keur (pronounced Lee Cur) is translated to “the heart” in Michif, the language of the Métis peoples. The inspiration for “The Heart of the North” came from the diaries of Louis Riel.   

L’Esprit de Dieu m’a fait voir un quart plein de marchandises. Sur le fond du Quart étaient écrites les paroles suivantes: “Les entrailles du Nord.” O mon Dieu! Accordez-moi, la grâce de conquérir le Nord et de Maîtriser tout ce qu’il a: donnez-moi les entrailles du nord. 

(The spirit of God revealed to me a crate full of merchandise. On the crate the following words were written: The heart [the guts /interior] of the North.
O my God! Give me the grace to conquer the north and master all within: give me the heart of the north.)

From the diaries of Louis Riel, translated by Dr. S.M. Steele      


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Jul 27, 2023


The company announced at its 2022/23 Annual General Meeting (AGM), held both in person at the Centennial Concert Hall and livestreamed on Tuesday, July 11, that the year ending May 31, 2023 – the 50th season anniversary – was one of celebration, thanks, and a welcome return to two fully staged productions and a concert event with live audiences in attendance.  

“The 2022/23 season was a milestone season for Manitoba Opera, marking 50 years of making opera in our community,” said Larry Desrochers, General Director & CEO. “We used our anniversary season to celebrate the past, acknowledging the many wonderful productions and people in our history; to look to the future, marking the advancements of the art form; and to thank the community by acknowledging those who have gone above and beyond to turn a fledging enterprise into one of Canada’s most important regional opera companies.  

“We are deeply grateful to the opera community and all our supporters for their loyalty to Manitoba Opera as we recover from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and continue our journey telling stories through music and song in the 21st century,” commented Judith Chambers, Chair, Board of Trustees. “This past season has indeed been one of celebration but has also provided us with an opportunity to mark the milestones we have made and look forward to the new milestones to come. Manitoba Opera is recognized as a pillar of the Winnipeg arts community and the opera community nationally and that reputation is one on which we want to build as we enter this next phase.”   

The 2023/24 Board of Trustees was also announced at the AGM. Members re-elected include Daniela Ignat, Maria Mitousis, Charlene Ord, Grant Suderman, and Lori Yorke. Returning trustees in mid-terms are Chair Judith Chambers, Flavia Fernandez Fabio, Dr. David Folk, Ray Karasevich, Lana Maidment, Terence Sakohianisaks Douglas, and Keith Sinclair. Nominated for the first year of a first two-year term were Sandy Chahal, Nupur Kumari, and John Pacak (see below for bios). 

After completing four full terms, Alex Robinson retired from the Board of Trustees. This was Robinson’s second round as a trustee, having previously served from 1998 to 2006. As well, Paul Bruch-Wiens stepped down; he joined the board in 2019. 

Bethany Bunko, Communications Coordinator, was also recognized with a five-years of service plaque.   

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Jun 28, 2023

Musician Anna Schwartz Joins Admin Team

Recent Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) graduate, Anna Schwartz, has joined the administrative team as Executive Assistant. She started her position started earlier this month, replacing tenor Kyle Briscoe who will be continuing his voice studies at McGill University this fall.

Anna will be providing direct assistance to the General Director & CEO and the Director of Operations, as well as working with the entire staff team, assisting where needed. Her tasks will include taking meeting minutes, organizing the calling for the telemarketing campaigns, and coordinating the Student Ambassador Program. 

“I’m so excited to be able to continue to be part of a team that creates such fantastic art for our province,” said Anna. “I enjoyed working with the team this past season so much that I didn’t want to stop!” 

Anna was a participant in the MO Student Ambassador Program in 2022/23 and also received a mentorship placement with the company from January to March through the Opera Artists Resilience Program. She researched local company sponsorship opportunities and contributed to both grant applications and reporting.   

“I’ve always loved organization (I was one of those kids who colour-coded her closet), and so I’m excited to see what every department does and learn how all those pieces fit together. I’m also looking forward to getting to know the amazing people who attend our events!” 

This young artist grew up in Northwestern Ontario on a small farm (cats, dogs, and horses) and just graduated from Canadian Mennonite University this year with a Bachelor’s Degree in Comprehensive Music. Anna was also the Valedictorian for her graduating class and received a President’s Medal.  

“My two passions since I was in Grade 7 or so have been music and health care,” explained Anna. “When I started my university degree at CMU, I was convinced I was going to do a degree in music with a minor in biochemistry and then apply to medical school. How paths can change! My current career aspirations tend to fluctuate about once a day.  

I love the arts and want to continue making an impact in that world, but I also have a passion for helping others. My dad is a pharmacist, and his work has always inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare. Currently, I’ve been researching the possibility of completing a Masters in Physiotherapy and opening a practice where I specialize in small-muscle injuries (the injuries musicians tend to get most frequently).  

I did a project in February 2022 with the WSO and local artist/musician Shirley Elias about music and the brain, and it was one of the most fascinating projects I’ve ever been a part of.  If I can find a way to combine music and medicine in my career, that would be my dream.” (Click here for more information on this project: 

In her spare time, when there is any, Anna enjoys kayaking, rock climbing, and downhill skiing (side effects of growing up in the Canadian Shield).  She loves being outside and is looking forward to exploring some of the hiking/biking trails in Manitoba this summer. Books and above all, cats, also make her “favourites” list. Growing up, Anna had two cats – Fuzzy and Sally – who were her best friends and instilled in her a lifelong love of felines. 

Welcome to the staff team, Anna! 

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Apr 14, 2023


Manitoba Opera announced today at an event held at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg that the company’s 51st season will open November 18, 22, and 24 with Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North (pronounced lee cur), the first full-scale Indigenous-led opera presented on a Canadian opera mainstage.

This world premiere will be paired with the return of one of the most popular operas of all time, Carmen, which was cancelled in March 2020 owing to the pandemic. Carmen will take to the stage on April 13, 17, and 19, 2024. Both productions will be presented at the Centennial Concert Hall.

“The 2023/24 season – our 51st – will feature the vibrant music, dance, and languages of the Métis people on our stage in Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North, as well as the dramatic characters, vivid rhythms, and the themes of jealousy, fate, and freedom of Carmen. It is a rich tapestry bursting at the seams with music, song, celebration, and drama,” stated Larry Desrochers, General Director & CEO.

“We are very proud to present an exciting new world premiere that celebrates the Métis people and one of opera’s most treasured works in our 2023/24 season,” commented Judith Chambers, Chair, Board of Trustees. “Li Keur: Riel’s Heart of the North and Carmen will both showcase the art form’s ability to move us by telling stories through music and song.”

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Feb 27, 2023

First Inductees to Chorus Hall of Fame

Congratulations to our first 10 inductees to the Manitoba Opera Chorus Hall of Fame! 

These passionate and dedicated choristers have each performed in 50 or more operas.  

Inductees were acknowledged at the concert on Saturday and received a framed photograph of their 50th production at the post-concert reception.   

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Feb 27, 2023

Honour Roll Recipients Celebrated at Concert

This season Manitoba Opera is recognizing people and organizations whose involvement with the company over the past five decades has been instrumental in our success.  

This includes contributions in the areas of service, artistic, advocacy and ambassadorship, and financial support.  

Honour Roll members were feted at a pre-show reception at the 50th Season Anniversary Concert on Saturday. They were presented with a Certificate of Achievement and had their photograph take with Judith Chambers, Chair, Board of Trustees and Larry Desrochers, General Director & CEO. 

Bravo to all the Honour Roll inductees!  Your support has enabled Manitoba Opera to serve our community for 50 seasons. Thank You.   


Manitoba Opera Honour Roll 

(◊ Deceased)


Joann Alexander Smith ◊ 

Gail Asper, O.C., O.M., LL.D. 

Tadeusz A. Biernacki 

Michael Blais 


Carolyn Boyes 

Canada Life 

Michael D. Cavanagh 

Tracy Dahl, C.M. 

Cary Denby 

Rosalind Dick 

Jeanie M. Dubberley 

Phil and Ilse Ens 

Phillip Ens 

Hedie L. Epp 

Judith D. Forst, O.C., O.B.C. 

Peter George 

Dr. Irving Guttman, C.M., O.B.C. ◊ 

Elba Haid 

Leona Herzog 

Lori Houston 

Audrey Hubbard 

I.A.T.S.E. Local 63 

IG Wealth Management 

Sheldon Johnson 

Koren Kaminski 

Tusia Kozub 

Bruce Lang ◊ 

Bill and Shirley ◊ Loewen  

Manitoba Arts Council 

Manitoba Opera Chorus 

Craig McIntosh and Lorraine Beck 

Leo ◊ and Margareth Mol ◊ 

Michael Nesbitt 

Tyrone Paterson 

Donna Plant 

Drs. William Pope and Elizabeth Tippett Pope 

Andre Prevost 

Richardson Foundation 

Hartley, LVO, O.C., O.M., LL.D. and Heather Richardson 

Tannis M. Richardson, C.M., LL.D. 

Alex Robinson 

Darlene Ronald 

Family Members of Darlene Ronald  

Stewart, Derrick, and Ryan Heaton, Beverly Laurin 

Karl Schaible 

Eleanor Siddall ◊ 

Al Simmons 

Dr. Lawrence Soloway ◊ 

Stano Spina ◊ 

John Standing ◊ 

Bill Stewart 

Jane Stewart 

Stewart Thomson ◊ 

Dr. Robert H. ◊ Thorlakson, Q.C. and Deborah Thorlakson 

The Honourable A. Kerr Twaddle ◊ 

Robert Vineberg 

Ruth Waters ◊ 

David Watson 

Lois Watson-Lyons 

Alice Wiebe 

Bill Williams 

Winnipeg Arts Council 

The Winnipeg Foundation 

Winnipeg Free Press 

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra 

Karin Woods 

Lori Yorke 

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Feb 14, 2023


Manitoba Opera is celebrating its 50th Season anniversary with a special concert Saturday, February 25, beginning at 7:30 pm at the Centennial Concert Hall. The concert will pay tribute to the company’s first performance in 1972, a concert performance of Verdi’s Il trovatore, with excerpts from this powerful melodrama. It will also feature a selection of other well-known opera favourites including works from Turandot, Madama Butterfly, and Roméo et Juliette.

The talented roster of internationally acclaimed artists who will be joining the Manitoba Opera Chorus and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tyrone Paterson, includes sopranos Andriana Chuchman, Lara Ciekiewicz, and Hiromi Omura; mezzo-soprano Nadia Krasteva; tenor David Pomeroy; and baritone Gregory Dahl.

Tickets, starting at just $24 ($14 for youth 17 and under), are on sale now at or by calling 204-944-8824.

The evening will also include the unveiling of the 50th Anniversary Honour Roll. This initiative recognizes dozens of people and organizations whose involvement over the past five decades has been instrumental to the company’s success. The Manitoba Opera Chorus Hall of Fame will also be launched at the concert and will recognize the first inductees: 10 choristers who have performed in 50 or more productions. Chorus master Tadeusz Biernacki will also be acknowledged as he celebrates his 40th season with the company.

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Feb 3, 2023


Manitoba Opera is pleased to announce that local craft brewery Sookram’s Brewing Company has developed a beer to celebrate the company’s 50th season anniversary. The limited release “Aria” is an Italian Pilsner.

Aria launches Friday, February 3. It is available at Sookram’s (479 Warsaw Avenue) and will be rolling out in select Manitoba Liquor Marts and vendors next week. It will also be available at the Centennial Concert Hall this season for Manitoba Opera performances.

Aria Italian Pilsner is pale and crisp with a smooth bitterness from generous use of traditional Hallertau Mittelfruh and Spalter Select hops which feature an enhanced floral aroma from a dry hop addition.

“We are delighted to be partnering with the team at Sookram’s in the creation of a beer in honour of our 50th anniversary,” commented Larry Desrochers, General Director & CEO. “Beer and opera have both been enjoyed for hundreds of years and having an ‘opera beer’ is a wonderful way to salute our anniversary.”



This style was created by brewers in Italy, which is a take on a classic German pilsner with a dry hop addition from classic Noble hops. The dry hop addition is not normally done with a traditional pilsner and this additional step adds another layer of complexity to the flavours and aromatics in the beer.



  • Sookram’s Brewery: On tap and by the can
  • Manitoba Liquor Marts: Grant Park, St. Vital, Kenaston, Eastwinds, Portage & Burnell, River & Osborne, Southdale, and many more. For stores, check online at
  • Vendors: Quality Inn Beer Store, Econo Lodge Beer Store, Beer Boutique, Charleswood Beer Market, Oui Got Beer, Riverside Beer Store
  • Centennial Concert Hall: 50th Season Anniversary Concert, February 25, and all performances of Così fan tutte (April 22, 23, 25)



Learn about craft beer making and sample a variety of ales.


  • Guided tour of the brewery
  • Beer flight (4 samples)
  • A can of Aria to take home
  • Personal snack packs
  • Entertainment

Tickets: $28 plus GST (Advance purchase only)

Call 204-944-8824    Online



Sookram’s serves Winnipeggers modern craft beer at a family-friendly taproom and brewery located at 479 Warsaw Avenue (two blocks south of Confusion Corner).

Founder Andrew Sookram decided to pursue his passion and open his own brewery after years of homebrewing – and winning multiple awards – fulfilling a dream of creating a socially conscious, family- owned business, and most importantly: brewing beer everyone will love. 

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