Hiram Walker & Sons

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Hiram Walker & Sons

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  • Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts, Ltd.

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Dates of existence

1858 - present

History

Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery officially began operations in 1858, quickly becoming famous for its Canadian Club Whisky. Hiram Walker was a Detroit grocer whose profitable side-ventures in making vinegar and spirits gave him the capital to dramatically expand his business across the Detroit River into Canada, where land was cheap. On farmland acquired from the Labdie family, Walker established a distillery and eventually an entire company town (Walkerville), in a prime location near the Great Western Railway. In time Walker came to own close to 10,000 acres, and exercised control over every aspect of the Walkerville community. Although Walker only lived on the Canadian side of the border for five years, remaining Detroit-based instead, his son Edward Chandler took up residence in Walkerville, commissioning Willistead Manor for his home. Hiram Walker & Sons pioneered many manufacturing and distilling techniques that went on to become industry standards, and Walker was one of the first alcohol producers to clearly label (“brand”) his bottles. The family firm was actively involved in real estate, utilities, livestock, and transportation (both railway and ferry) side-businesses, thanks to patriarch Hiram’s enterprising nature and desire to be as self-sufficient in business as possible.

The company remained in the hands of the Walker family until 1926. In that year, Hiram Walker & Sons – by then the second-largest distiller in Canada – was purchased by Harry C. Hatch, who had bought the largest Canadian distillery (Toronto-based firm Gooderham & Worts) in 1923. Both companies benefitted from the Prohibition era in the United States: they manufactured legally in Canada, then sold to other parties who smuggled their products across the Great Lakes waterways to American customers. Hatch promptly merged his two profitable acquisitions, creating Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts, Ltd., and continued manufacturing spirits in both Toronto and Walkerville (annexed to Windsor in 1935). In 1935 the company acquired a 51% stake in H. Corby Distillery Company Limited, whose Prescott, Ontario-based subsidiary J.P. Wiser was Canada’s third-most successful spirit distillery at the time. Hiram Walker-Gooderham and Worts was sold to British firm Allied Lyons (later Allied Domecq) in 1987. During the 1990s the Toronto operations were shut down, although the Windsor location continued to produce Gooderham & Worts branded products.

Allied Lyons was acquired by competitor Pernod Ricard (the world’s second-largest seller of wine and spirits) in 2005. In the resulting sell-off of overlapping spirits brands, the Hiram Walker distillery parted ways from its iconic Canadian Club product. Canadian Club was acquired by US-based Fortune Brands, later finding a home in Fortune Brands’ spin-off company Beam Inc as part of the American Jim Beam bourbon whiskey portfolio. In 2014 Beam Inc. (including Canadian Club) was acquired by Japanese-based company Suntory and became subsidiary Beam Suntory. Meanwhile, the Hiram Walker & Sons distillery remained with Pernod Ricard, and the facility was converted to the production of J.P. Wiser brand whiskey. Having been established in 1857, Wiser’s holds the title of Canada’s longest continuously-produced whiskey by only one year more than Hiram Walker’s original Canadian Club. In 2020 the Hiram Walker & Sons brand itself was being used for schnapps, brandies, crèmes and liqueurs.

Sources: Ronald G. Hoskins, “Walker, Hiram,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/walker_hiram_12E.html; “Canadian Club,” “Hiram Walker,” “Gooderham & Worts,” “John Philip Wiser,” “Pernod Ricard,” “Allied Domecq,” “Fortune Brands,” “Suntory,” “Jim Beam” articles on www.wikipedia.ca ; “Hiram Walker,” Corby corporate website, https://corby.ca/en/hiram-walker/ ; “About” page on www.hiramwalker.com/about.php. All accessed 20 July 2020.

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