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Hiram Who?

Click here to start reading about Hiram Walker and Canadian Club Whisky.

Section Links

Hiram Walker's Whisky Palace

How Walker's Club Became Canadian

The Royal Warrant
Hiram Walker Timeline: 1858-1899
Hiram Walker Tales

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Hiram Walker Supported Industries
The Walker Farms
Elmwood Cemetery: Hiram Walker's Final Resting Place
“The Canadian Club Girl” – Ella Walker – granddaughter of Hiram Walker
Hiram Walker Commemorative Poster

young-walker.jpgFounding Father, Patriarch, Benevolent Dictator

Few people in Walkerville know much about the fascinating man whose vision shaped an industry and a model town.

One hundred years ago, the man who put the club into Canadian and the Walker into ville, lapsed into a coma and died.

Other than driving past his former enterprise on Riverside Drive or sniffing that unmistakeable aroma as we open our front doors, few of us think much about Hiram Walker. Which is a shame since there was much more to the man than just whisky.

"Perhaps some would like to know something of my childhood? I was born a pauper. I was taken in by friends, kind and generous friends. Later, I was sent to schools and I worked on the farm.

I was also taught the value of a penny, not to cast it to the wind. The young men of the present do not know the value of moneyś. I hardly had time, as a young man, to go fishing, for I was always working. My habit, in my younger days of saving the pennies, has placed me where I am today."
Walker on his 74th birthday.

Born in New England in 1816, Hiram Walker came west to Michigan in the 1830's to seek his fortune. After a few false starts, he launched a successful grocery business in Detroit and learned how to distil his own cider vinegar instead of selling someone else's for a minuscule profit. Then Walker decided to branch into whiskey. His first barrels were produced in 1854 and were a hit due to their fine quality and purity.

Worried about Michigan's strong puritanical temperance atmosphere and aware of the good farmland being opened up by the Great Western Railway on the Canadian side of the river, Walker decided it was time to make a move.

In 1856, he purchased a French farm lot 11/2 miles upriver from Windsor from Eugene Hall for 300 pounds. Not long after that, he purchased another French lot giving him possession of  land between what is now Kildare and Walker Roads and inland to Wyandotte Street.

Walker began clearing trees for his operation and in addition to building a whisky distillery along the waterfront, Walker grew and bought grain, milled flour and raised hogs and cattle fattened with left over mash from his distillery. And, he began building housing which he leased to his employees.

whisky-sign.jpgIn his day, distillers sold their products in unmarked barrels, but Hiram Walker set a precedent by putting his product in bottles that bore his name: Walker's Club Whisky. His product was immediately popular and became the first Canadian brand of whisky to be marketed around the world. Success in the U.S. prompted U.S. competitors to lobby Congress and forced Hiram Walker to add the word "Canadian" to the name.

As his success grew, Walker purchased more land, continued to build homes for his employees, established and provided free public utilities, built St. Mary's Anglican Church in memory of his wife, Mary Abigail, who died in 1870, campaigned for good schools and supported them generously.

In the 1880's Walker moved his family back to Detroit after living in the Labadie farmhouse next to the distillery for several years.

train-station-clr.jpgIn 1882, he built a short railway to connect with his new farm in the interior of Essex County. By 1898, the railway went as far as Kingsville. This transformed Walkerville from a small village adjacent to Windsor into an important town. To facilitate his journey back to Detroit and to connect up with his new railroad, Walker established his own ferry from his Walkerville plant to Detroit.

By this time, Walker employed almost the entire population of 600 souls in some capacity. Workmen were offered a lease to a Walker cottage and if they declined, they would likely be denied employment!

Walker never sold the land or the company-built cottages. Consequently, he was able to control the type of individual that would live in the village. Ronald Hoskins, in his Master's Thesis for the University of Windsor on the Life and Times of Hiram Walker, (1964) wrote:

As town patriarch, [Walker] always envisioned Walkerville as a progressive, self-sustaining, model town, a separate, exclusive entity whose well being would rest on a strong industrial basis. He endeavoured to foster a strong civic spirit, efficiency, and a unique relationship between himself and the townspeople, that of working together toward a common end ­ a flourishing Walkerville.

sandwich-street.jpgWalkerville was incorporated as a town in 1890 partly to prevent amalgamation with Windsor, something Walker was dead set against. Walker provided fire and police protection, street lighting, well-paved and drained streets and running water. Walkerville was a model community unparalleled in Ontario due to its high standard of urban design and building quality provided by the best professional advice on architecture and planning available at that time.

When Walker decided to expand his railway to allow the transport of produce from his farms in South Essex directly to the distillery and his cattle barns which were eventually located near what is now the junction of Tecumseh and Walker Roads, he didn't take no for an answer.

Hoskins wrote:Walker reigned undisputed monarch of all under his surveillance. If he cherished a railway, he would have it, if humanly possible. As in his other endeavours, he would tolerate no interference from other sources, but would accept nothing less than complete control over the enterprise.

Hiram Walker's enterprises were so profitable, he was able to provide capital for the development and growth of many other new firms, including the Walkerville Wagon Works, which became the Ford Automotive Plant.

And the rest as they say, is history!

Next Story: Hiram Walker Timeline



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