Whisky Magazine Issue 128
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The spirit of Gimli
It's May, but the ice on Lake Winnipeg is thick enough to drive a truck on. Dwayne Kozlowski smiles, assuring me that in a couple of months the water will be warm enough for swimming. We're in Gimli, Manitoba, the east-west centre of Canada, and it's Canada-cold here. The spirit of Gimli though, is warmth itself. This little town of about 2,000 people happens to be home to Crown Royal, Canada's best selling whisky. But for one obsessive individual, this might never have been the case.
Early in 1920, when the US instituted Prohibition, Canadian distillers were horrified. Their biggest market had suddenly gone dry. Some closed their doors, others struggled on. Initially, Seagram's, in Waterloo, Ontario, diversified, making furniture. Without the huge American market their distillery was not profitable, so they agreed to a merger that quickly became a takeover by Distillers Corporation Limited of Montreal. Controlling that merger was Samuel Bronfman, 'Mr. Sam.' Where others saw bankruptcy, Mr. Sam saw opportunity. By the time Prohibition ended in 1933 that vision had made him a billionaire. Although there is no evidence that he ever actually sold whisky illegally, his reputation became tainted by association when his whisky was re-sold to the speakeasies and blind pigs of America's Roaring Twenties.
Embarrassed by these links with bootleggers, once Prohibition ended Mr. Sam worked desperately to gain respectability. He gave generously to charities, established and funded phi...