This Week in History

Archives

Joseph Emm Seagram: "cheers" to success!

For the week of Monday April 14, 2003

On April 15, 1841, Joseph Emm Seagram was born near Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge). Seagram developed one of the most prosperous distilling companies in Canada, established himself as a successful horse racer and breeder, and was actively involved in politics. Seagram’s black and gold racing colours continue to adorn a popular blend of his whisky and are now the official colours of the city of Waterloo.

Joseph Emm Seagram ca.1900

Joseph Emm Seagram ca.1900
© Special Collections,
University of Waterloo Library

Seagram’s start in distilling came when he began managing a milling operation soon after graduating from a business college in New York. As in many mills of the time, the surplus grain was distilled into whisky. Seagram acquired full ownership in 1883, renaming it the Joseph Seagram Flour Mill and Distillery Company. Seagram’s were among the first blended whiskies in North America and he marketed the unique flavour using easily recognizable bottles and labels. This “branding” brought blends such as Seagram’s 83 and Seagram’s V.O. immense popularity across North America. American distillers called for laws regulating the definition of whisky and requiring all labels to include the country of origin, but these had little effect on Seagram’s sales.

'King's Plate' Label

"King's Plate" Label
© Special Collections,
University of Waterloo Library

The success of Seagram’s business allowed him to pursue his passion for horse racing. Seagram’s racing stables were among the finest in Canada. His horses won both the King's and Queen’s Plate, the most prestigious race in Canada, an unprecedented 15 times. Seagram encouraged the growth of Canadian horse racing, selling his thoroughbreds to Canadian breeders and funding a race for Canadian-owned horses. He was a member and president of the Ontario Jockey Club, an honorary member of the English Jockey Club, and a founding member of the Canadian Racing Association.

Bottling line for Seagram's V.O., ca. 1928

Bottling line for Seagram's V.O., ca. 1928
© Special Collections,
University of Waterloo Library

A strong sense of civic responsibility led Seagram into politics. He served on the town council of Waterloo and was Conservative Member of Parliament for Waterloo North from 1896-1908. He supported the campaign against a young William Lyon Mackenzie King. King initially won a seat but lost it in 1911. Seagram used his wealth to fund a number of local charities. He donated land for the Berlin (now Kitchener)-Waterloo hospital, supported research for tuberculosis and sponsored a German cultural festival. Seagram was an influential and respected member of his community until his death in 1919.

Joseph Emm Seagram was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976 and is designated a person of national historic significance.

Date Modified: