Stories That Move You

ION Willis Way: Shades of Amber and Gold

Seagram's Distillery, Waterloo, ON

SL000269 Seagram’s Distillery (KPL Collection)

As ION goes south along Caroline Street and pulls into the Willis Way station, you’ll pass by the former compound of an iconic Canadian company and Waterloo County family – Seagram. No doubt, many will remember the beloved whiskeys that were synonymous with Waterloo – Crown Royal and Seagram V.O.

The image above shows the view down Caroline Street, long before ION, and the plant’s demolition in 1993. Seagram was originally founded in 1857 as Waterloo Distillery, by partners William Hespeler and George Randall. Joseph E. Seagram bought into the business in 1870 and later became sole owner in 1883.

An avid horse breeder and racehorse owner, Seagram operated a stable and farm at Weber and Bridgeport in Waterloo. His horse, Victorious, won the Queen’s Plate in 1891. He also donated the land for the Grand River Hospital. Joseph E. Seagram died in 1919 and his son, Edward, took over as company president.

The Joseph E. Seagram and Sons company distilled iconic whiskey brands such as Crown Royal and Seagram V.O. (Very Own), known throughout North America, along with other distilled spirits. In 1928, the Bronfman family of Montreal, owners of the Distillery Corporation, purchased Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Ltd. In 1975, company president, J. E. Frowde Seagram retired, marking the end of Seagram family involvement with the distillery.

In 1984, the Seagram Museum opened, showcasing the history of the company and whiskey making. With aging plant infrastructure and limited production capacity, Seagram’s parent company announced, in 1990, that the Waterloo distillery would be closing by 1992. In 1993, the distillery was demolished. A fire on 12 July 1993 destroyed most of the buildings under demolition. The museum closed in 1997.

The distillery’s original barrel houses have since been renovated into condominiums known as the Seagram Lofts.  Construction of the Centre for International Governance Innovation started in 2009, and it opened in 2010.

Cheers, Karen

This is post 7 of 19 in the Stories That Move You series.

Stories that Move You is a Kitchener Public Library project that celebrates the launch of ION service with curated collections of reads, music, audio, learning resources, and local history to help people make the most of an unique window of time during their public transit ride.

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