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Abandoned Stephens and Yeaton garage in Windsor to be revived as craft distillery

Michael Oxner, owner of the soon-to-be revived James Roué Beverage Company, stands with two of his most prized possessions - one of the original bottles dating back to the company's founding days, and the Bluenose Soda launched by the founder's son, W.J. Roué.
Michael Oxner, owner of the soon-to-be revived James Roué Beverage Company, stands with two of his most prized possessions - one of the original bottles dating back to the company's founding days, and the Bluenose Soda launched by the founder's son, W.J. Roué. - Colin Chisholm

Owner creating a 'legacy brand for Nova Scotia'

WINDSOR, N.S. — The former Stephens and Yeaton garage and showroom on Windsor’s historic Water Street is finally getting some new life after sitting idle for years.

But what’s interesting about the building’s new owner and tenant is that he’s hoping to revive an old brand as well.

Michael Oxner, owner of the James Roué Beverage Company, is hoping to bring the long-defunct business back in a big way by relaunching it next year.

Locally produced products on offer will range widely from alcoholic sodas to Shandy’s, raddlers, vodka, gin, rum and more.

“The integrity of the building will stay the same, but it’ll go from an automobile showroom and industrial garage to a sailing theme,” Oxner said. “It’s going to be a rum distillery, a flavoured malt beverage company, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.”

The building will also include a retail showroom, a tasting bar and a small restaurant component as well as patios at street level and on the roof.

The newly relaunched James Roué Beverage Company, is a revival of a business of the same name that started more than 150 years ago.

James Roué established the original beverage company in 1851, and it quickly became one of the largest beverage companies in the province, specializing in ginger beers, ginger ales, cordials and other products.

His son, William James Roué, was the naval architect that designed the Bluenose. William James Roué would later launch his own soda line as well, called the Bluenose.

Oxner, from Dartmouth, recently found out that William James Roué is also his great-great uncle, giving him an even stronger appreciation for the brand.

“Five years ago I started to do some research on breweries and I thought I wanted to ultimately end up with owning my own brewery, distillery or something like that,” he said.

“I wanted to do something with this brand; I didn’t want to make a vanity brand or make up something, I wanted to revive something that already existed,” he said.

“I also wanted to create a legacy brand for Nova Scotia,” he continued. “Everybody knows Alexander Keith — it’s a household name. James Roué is not, and it should be.”

Oxner is bringing back some of the original recipes too, along with some new ones.

Originally, he was hoping to open up on the Halifax Waterfront, but it proved to be too cost prohibitive.

After looking in a variety of communities across the province, he stumbled upon the former Stephens and Yeaton building up for sale and after looking at it, he saw the potential.

“It’s close to Halifax, it’s on the waterfront, and I fell in love it,” he said.

“I could see it being transformed into this great beverage company,” he continued.

Michael Oxner stands in front of the former Stephens and Yeaton garage on Water Street in Windsor. The old business will soon be retrofitted into the James Roué Beverage Company, featuring a tasting bar, retail location and small restaurant.
Michael Oxner stands in front of the former Stephens and Yeaton garage on Water Street in Windsor. The old business will soon be retrofitted into the James Roué Beverage Company, featuring a tasting bar, retail location and small restaurant.

“I could already see a lot of movement and development (in Windsor) and I wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “There’s a lot of great little pubs and restaurants and I thought if we had a big anchor tenant here on this side of Water Street, it would be a bonus for everyone here.”

Oxner said he’s hoping to have work on the building mostly complete by the spring of 2019, with production starting that summer and the opening in early fall. But he said that timeline could change.

“The structure will remain. What we’re going to see is a cleaned up outside and all-new windows,” he said. “It’s roughly 10,000 square feet in this building, and with phase two we’ll add on a cellar for aging rum barrels.”

He is hoping to open a satellite location at the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market when things are up and running.

“This is not my vision, I’m just resurrecting this,” he said. “Everything is done, we just have to put it back together.”

Windsor Mayor Anna Allen said she was very happy to see work started on the property.

“People have always been curious about the future of this well-known structure,” Allen said. “We look forward to a new vision at this entrance into town.”

Allen said she’s also happy to see another business popping up.

“Our downtown is growing and becoming the welcoming vibrant community we envisioned.”

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