Hiram Walker

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Hiram Walker
Hiram Walker, from a painting that hangs in Willistead Manor, Windsor, Ontario
Born (1816-07-04)July 4, 1816
East Douglas, Massachusetts
Died January 12, 1899(1899-01-12) (aged 82)
Detroit, Michigan
Nationality American
Occupation Business
Known for founder of Canadian Club whisky

Hiram Walker (July 4, 1816 – January 12, 1899) was an American entrepreneur and founder of the eponymous distillery in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Walker was born in East Douglas, Massachusetts, and moved to Detroit in the mid-1830s. He purchased land across the Detroit River, just east of what was Windsor, Ontario, and established a distillery in 1858 in what would become Walkerville, Ontario. Walker began selling his whisky as Hiram Walker's Club Whiskey. It became very popular, angering American distillers, who forced the U.S. Government to pass a law requiring that all foreign whiskeys state their country of origin on the label.[citation needed] This move backfired; Hiram Walker's Canadian Club Whisky became more popular following the change.[citation needed]

He established and maintained the company town that sprang up around his distillery, exercising planning and control over every facet of the town, from public works to religious services to police and fire control. At one point, he opened a church for his workers but quickly closed it when the preacher decided to teach on the "evils of alcohol".

The Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery remained in the Walker family until 1926 when they sold it to Harry C. Hatch. Canadian Club Whisky is still produced at the distillery site Walker founded. The company has gone through several owners and is now part of Pernod Ricard (France). The Canadian Club Brand is owned by Beam Suntory, a subsidiary of Suntory Holdings of Japan.

Business history[edit]

Migration west and the beginning of business[edit]

Hiram Walker & Sons Canadian Club Whisky

Having been born in Douglas, Walker did not have many job opportunities. His small town only had a population of 1,800 and they only had few businesses, such as a planing mill, a machine shop and forge, a cotton factory and other small businesses.[1] Walker decided to look elsewhere for an opportunity, and in 1836, he moved to Boston. Here is where Walker became a dry goods store clerk. His general tasks were to order, receive, check and price out all the goods in which the company dealt with. Through this, he gained his first knowledge into the business world. Boston was the major metropolis of New England, the Eastern Seaboard, and the heart of old America. Walker, as well as many other youthful New Englanders, was drawn to the opportunity of the Mid-West and beyond, largely in part to the expansion and development of the railway. He moved to Detroit in 1838.[2]

Detroit was a small town of just 9,000 people when Hiram Walker settled in.[3] After saving enough money, Walker opened his own grocery business. Through this business, he began to distill his own vinegar, which became popular in the area because of its consistency, low price, and high quality.[4] He also had his hands in the grain business, by acting as a supplier to the local flour mills in the Detroit area.[5] Walker was a gambler when it came to business ventures, and he also took part in real estate and even was partner in a few tanneries. He did have interest in distilling his own liquor, but at the time, there were strict prohibition laws which prevented him from doing so,[6] Walker did distill his first barrel of whisky in 1854, while there was instability with the prohibition laws.[7]

Development of Walker’s Distillery[edit]

Being an entrepreneur, Walker looked at every single business venture possible to be able to expand his business. Since Detroit was only a boat-ride across the river to Windsor, Canada, Walker began to weigh his options in expanding into foreign territory. Canada had much to offer entrepreneurs and business risk takers. The population was increasing gradually, communications were advancing, and real estate was cheaper compared to that from across the river.[8] Labour and materials also cost less in Canada than it did in the States.[9] Walker looked into expanding over to Canada. Also with the expansion of America through the Great Western Railroad, trade opportunities opened up for businessmen like Walker. In 1856, he bought his first piece of land from the Labadie family through grandson Eugene Hall for £300.[10] His plan was to open a steam- powered flour mill, which didn’t exist in the area, and a distillery, in which he had very little serious competition.[11] He also had his hands in the agricultural industry with owning cattle and hogs, as well as farming.[12]

In 1857, Walker bought more property near the farm he already owned, increasing his holdings to 468 acres.[13] He began construction of the flour mill and distillery in the same year, which he visited every day during construction even though he still resided in America. He continued his grocery business in the meantime, helping him become the leading commission merchant in Detroit.[14] After the mill was near complete near the end of the year, Walker approximately owned $40 000 in capital.[15]

Both flour milling and whisky distilling operations began in 1858, first with the flour mill.[16] Walker’s flour became renowned for its fine granulation. The whisky was just as successful. Even though he still owned his businesses in Detroit, the success of the mill and distillery began to pull Walker to eventually move over to Canada in 1859 to keep an eye on operations.[17] The house they moved into was a part of the real estate purchase Walker originally made. The house was nicknamed “the cottage.”[18]

The new Canadian business helped spur other ventures for Walker. He tried hog farming for a while, until a cholera break out, in which he switched to cattle farming instead.[19] His investments also had risen to the mark of $100 000.[20] His business was a success in only a matter of a few years.


Distillery buildings in Walkerville (now part of Windsor, Ontario) c. 1910

The 1860s were a high time for the company. With the growth of the distillery and the flour mill, Walker expanded the business in many ways. He began to build Walker Road in 1860,[21] as well as hire many employees, such as salesmen, office workers or skilled trade workers. With this developed an increase in population in the area, especially in respects to being centralized around the mill and distillery. With more success and the hiring of more employees, the area grew and grew, creating a small community, with Walker’s business institutions being the centre of it. As the area grew, it was given the nicknamed “Walker’s Town.”[22] Though the community kept this nickname for a few years, eventually it would be changed to something else; something more famous which it holds to this day. On March 1, 1869, Walker’s Town established its first post office.[23] This is when the government officially recognized the small hamlet as the name it is known by today, Walkerville.[24]

Walker made sure that his employees and his “town” were well taken care of and maintained. He developed public utilities that were free for the residents surrounding the company, as well as build and provide housing for employees. Walkerville was truly becoming a community through the ventures of the company, developing it more and more into a small town. Walker also opened paved roads and built institutions, such as schools, in support of the community. One of the most popular institutions Walker erected was a Methodist church in 1870.[25] It was converted into an Anglican church in 1874, and renamed St. Mary’s, in honour of Walker’s late wife, Mary.[26]

The Walkerville community received a large reward in 1890. Through heavy petitioning, especially from that of the Walker family, the community became an incorporated town.[27] This released the burden of paying for many services from the Walker company.[28] The City of Windsor was developing around this time, and by Walkerville becoming incorporated, it also helped the town ward off annexation with Windsor. Walkerville officially became a town on April 7, 1890.[29] In honour of the incorporation and in gratitude to its founder, Hiram Walker received a bronze statue made by Tiffany’s.[30] The ceremony took place on Walker’s birthday, July 4, which was declared by town council to be a public holiday.[31]

One of Walkerville’s great concerns was to be annexed with Windsor. The town tried and tried, yet eventually efforts failed and the two communities amalgamated, with Walkerville becoming a neighbourhood near East Windsor. Even though Walkerville is solely just a neighbourhood within the larger city limits, it still holds distinct historical significance.

The Pregnant-Cow Case[edit]

Hiram Walker was also a cattle breeder and was party to a famous contracts case, Sherwood v. Walker, known as "The Pregnant-Cow Case." (33 N.W. 919 (Mich. 1887).) According to the majority opinion, Walker agreed with Theodore Sherwood, a banker, to sell him a cow of distinguished ancestry known as "Rose 2d of Aberlone". The price was $80, both parties believing Rose to be sterile. When Walker discovered that she was pregnant and worth between $750 and $1,000, he refused to deliver her. Sherwood sued and prevailed in the trial court, but lost on appeal. This case illustrates the contract law rules of rescission of contract by mutual mistake. Because both parties believed they were contracting for a sterile cow, there was a mutual mistake of fact, and therefore ground for rescission. However, the dissent in the case, written by Justice Sherwood, notes that Sherwood believed that Rose "might be made to breed" and purchased her on that chance.


In 1887, Walker made a financial gift to found Children's Hospital of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center.


Hiram Walker died in Detroit, Michigan, January 12, 1899. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit. His direct descendants are of the Julia Elizabeth (Walker) Buhl, Franklin MacFie Walker and Elizabeth Talman (Walker) Paterson families.

Hiram Walker's Grave, Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Francis X. Chauvin, M.A., “Chapter 3: The Town of Douglas...” in Hiram Walker: His life, His Work and the Development of the Walker Institutions in Walkerville, Ontario., Francis X. Chauvin, M.A., 4.
  2. ^ Francis X. Chauvin, M.A., “Chapter 5: Biography of Hiram Walker” in Hiram Walker: His life, His Work and the Development of the Walker Institutions in Walkerville, Ontario., Francis X. Chauvin, M.A., 1.
  3. ^ Lorraine Brown, 200 Years of Tradition: The Story of Canadian Whisky(Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1994.), 30.
  4. ^ Brown, 200 Years, 30.
  5. ^ Brown, 200 Years, 30.
  6. ^ Wendy Carol Fraser, Hiram Walker Remembered: publication on the occasion of the Windsor Centennial 1892–1992. (Windsor: Forest Press, 1992), 6.
  7. ^ Carl Morgan, Birth of a City: Commemorating Windsor’s Centennial 1992. (Windsor, Border Press Inc., 1991), 65.
  8. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 5.
  9. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 5.
  10. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 5.
  11. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 66.
  12. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 5.
  13. ^ Chris, Edwards, pub. best of the times magazine: stories and images from the archives of The Times Magazine 1999–2004. (Windsor: Walkerville Publishing, 2004.), 22.
  14. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 4.
  15. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 4.
  16. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 6.
  17. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 7.
  18. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 7.
  19. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 8.
  20. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 8.
  21. ^ Fraser, Remembered, 11.
  22. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 66.
  23. ^ Edwards, best of times, 23.
  24. ^ Edwards, best of times, 23.
  25. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 67.
  26. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 67.
  27. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 69.
  28. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 69.
  29. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 69.
  30. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 69.
  31. ^ Morgan, Birth of a City, 69.

External links[edit]