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In 1857 William Hespeler, a merchant, and George Randall, a contractor, built what was known as Granite Mills in Waterloo, Ontario. A susidiary to the mill was a small distillery known as the Waterloo Distillery. The business also included a dry goods store. In 1863 Hespeler and Randall took in William Roos, and in 1864 William Hespeler went abroad, hiring young Joseph Emm Seagram to look after his interests. By 1870 Seagram had bought out Hespeler's interests and the company name became "George Randall and Company."
In 1878 Seagram bought out Randall, and he, Seagram. and Roos operated as "Randall and Company" until 1881 when they changed the name to "Seagram and Roos." 1883 Seagram bought out Roos and became the sole proprietor, changing the company name to "Joseph Seagram Flour Mill and Distillery Company." Seagram incorporated the company in 1911, changing the name to "Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, Limited." By 1919 when Seagram died, he had built his Waterloo distillery into a major exporting company and his brand names were widely known. In 1928 the Bronfman family acquired the distillery and amalgamated it with their company, Distillers Corporation Limited. (From: 200 Years of Tradition: The Story of Canadian Whisky / Lorraine Brown. Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, c1994: 27-29, and History of Seagram's '83' / Joseph Edward Frowde Seagram [speech notes, 1960].)
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Octavius Augustus Seagram and his wife, Amelia Stiles, immigrated to Canada from Wiltshire, England in 1837. They purchased two farms and a tavern in Fisher's Mills, near Galt (now Cambridge, Ontario). The couple had two sons, Joseph Emm, born in 1841, and Edward Frowde, born in 1842. These boys were orphaned in their teens, and lived for six years at Dr. Tassie's boarding school in Galt.
After spending a year at business college in Buffalo, New York, Joseph Seagram returned to Canada, where he worked as a bookkeeper and manager at various mills in Galt and Stratford. In 1864 he went to work for William Hespeler at the Granite Mills in Waterloo, which was to be the foundation of his career as a distiller. In 1869 he married Stephanie Urbs, daughter of Jacob Hespeler's sister Maria, thus connecting himself with some of the most prominent families in the area, such as the Warnocks and Hespelers. In 1850 Adam Warnock, a merchant in Galt, had married Joseph Seagram's wife's aunt, Stephanie Hespeler. His wife's sister Marie had married Canon Bland. Joseph Emm Seagram and his wife Stephanie had five children who lived past infancy. Their four sons were Edward Frowde, 1873-1937, Joseph Hamilton, 1875-195-?, Norman, 1879-1963, and Thomas William, 1887-1965. Their only daughter was Blanche Alexandrine (Adine), 1871-1919, who married G.H. Bowlby, M.D. in 1894.
Joseph Emm Seagram's passion was horse racing. A wealthy man, Seagram advanced horse racing in Canada, establishing it as a popular hobby among the wealthy elite. He imported high-quality breeding stock from the United States and Britain. Horses from the Seagram stables were Queen's Plate Winners for eight consecutive years, beginning in 1891. His horses achieved fifteen plate wins in all. His enthusiasm was shared by his son Edward Frowde and grandson Joseph Edward Frowde who continued the family tradition to the 1970's.
Also active in politics, Joseph Emm Seagram was a Conservative Member of Parliament for Waterloo North during the Liberal years of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He participated in a variety of local organizations, becoming an influential and respected member of the community. His sons and grandsons continued the tradition of strong local participation in business and civic life, as well as displaying a keen interest in and support of sports, ranging from golf to football to cycling.
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Special Collections & Archives is not able to assist with the identification of bottles, jewellery, or collectibles relating to the Seagram Company as our holdings pertain only to the Seagram family and the administration of the Seagram Museum. The archives of The Seagram Company after 1928 are housed at the Hagley Museum, Wilmington, Delaware.