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Business and History - Hiram Walker & Sons, Limited

Hiram Walker & Sons, Limited

This page was reproduced with permission from the Canadian Manufactures Association. The Canadian Manufacturers Association, renamed Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, holds the Copyright for the text and images.

This information came from Industry '67 Centennial Perspective, published by The Canadian Manufacturers' Association in May 1967. The original document is accessible through Western Libraries Shared Catalogue.

Canadian Centennial Companies Crest

In 1857 an astute young Detroit grain merchant named Hiram Walker bought 468 acres of land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. On it he built a mill and a distillery, now the home of Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts Limited, and nerve centre of an international operation with more than 36,000 shareholders, 6,000 employees and plants in the United States, Europe and South America as well as Canada. In 1966 the company reported sales of over $565 million and net earnings of more than $34 million.

Walker chose the Canadian side of the river because of the activities of prohibitionists on the Michigan side. There were other distilleries close by but he had very definite ideas about making his more efficient and profitable. For one thing all his competitors had wind-driven mills. Walker decided on steam power. Within a year, in 1858, he was on the market with flour, feed and whisky. Giant Grain elevators at the waterfront of Walkerville

Walker was a man of ideas and one of them took him from the status of local merchant to that of the foremost distiller of his day: in the mid-eighties whisky was thought of as a local commodity, to be distilled and sold in the same area; Hiram Walker believed that if a good quality whisky could be made, properly matured and skillfully blended, it would attain popularity anywhere. But it would have to be consistent in quality and easily recognized by the consumer. Brand names were also unheard of then but Walker put one on the market that brought him fame and fortune. He called it "Club" Whisky. When it began to make rapid gains on the American market his U.S. competitors forced legislation that made it mandatory for the country of origin to be stated on the label. "The public must not be deceived into thinking they are buying good American whisky," they said.

Artist's rendition of Walker's docksideHiram Walker readily complied and thus was born "Canadian Club", which eventually captured the U.S. market and became well-known in England and France.

As the company grew and prospered over the years so did Walkerville. It became known as Walkerville shortly after its founder arrived. Walker built homes for his employees, built schools and churches, established his own police force and put in public utilities. Indeed, the town became something unique: it was not so much a company town as a small North American barony.

In 1899 Hiram Walker died at the age of 83.

His oldest son, Edward Chandler Walker, had taken over as President a few years prior to the old man's death and for a little more than a quarter of a century a succession of Walkers ran the company.

In 1926 the Walker family sold the company to Harry C Hatch and a group of his associates for $14 million. Of that sum $5 million was the plant and the property; the remaining $9 million was goodwill - which meant the tremendously popular "Canadian Club".

In 1927 Hatch established Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts 1 Limited as the parent company, then set his sights on the giant U.S. market. When prohibition was repealed there in 1933, Hatch was building the world's biggest distillery at Peoria, Illinois. Soon top quality bourbons and blended whiskies from Peoria were on the market.

In 1936 Hatch bought the entire stock of George Ballantme & Son Limited of Glasgow, makers of Ballantine's Scotch Whisky, and just prior to World War 11 another huge distillery was built in Dumbarton, Scotland.

On a trip to the Argentine Hatch saw possibilities in a distillery outside Buenos Aires. The result was Destilerias Hiram Walker & Sons which produces a variety of popular brands for the Argentine market.

Harry Hatch died in 1946. Today his son, H. Clifford Hatch, is President of Hiram Walker Gooderham & Worts Limited, having been elected to the chief executive office in 1964.

Work has already started on a ten-year program that will virtually double the production facilities at Walkerville, at an estimated cost of $481/2 million.

The company's principal brands in Canada are "Canadian Club", "Imperial", "Gold Crest" and "Special Old" blended whiskies, "Crystal Gin", "Maraca Rum", and the imported "Ballantine's Scotch Whisky".