New York, New Orleans, Aspen … and Madoc

Madoc ad for Seagram's V.O.In a little over two years of doing this blog, I have learned that you just never know what’s going to turn up. I have been delighted by so many surprises from readers: bits of information, first-person stories, photos, and so on. Now here comes another one: thanks to reader Steve, we have a vintage advertisement for one brand of the longtime beverage of choice of this part of the world. And what group of people was used as an example of the very sophisticated drinker of this beverage, Seagram’s V.O. Canadian Whisky? Why, the people of Madoc, of course.

In case you can’t read the small print, here’s what the ad – which Steve found on Page 4 of the Ottawa Journal of March 6, 1964, so almost exactly a half-century ago – says below the headline “As goes Madoc, so goes the world”:

In Madoc, Ontario, Seagram’s V.O. is extremely popular. Not just because V.O. is produced in Canada, but because the mellow flavour of V.O. combines brilliance of taste with lightness of tone. This Madocian preference reflects a world opinion. In 130 countries around the globe, people of discerning taste buy Seagram’s V.O. Not merely because V.O. is imported from Canada but because they, too, like their whisky to be light, yet brilliant. This balance of good taste – which never varies – is the reason why Seagram’s V.O. is the largest-selling Canadian Whisky in the world.

To which I can only say: “Madocian”? Who knew that was a word?

Actually I do have something else to say about this very interesting find that Steve made. It is the answer to the question you are probably asking yourself – which is, “Why Madoc?” – and it comes thanks to yet another reader.

Grant (who I am becoming convinced knows almost everything there is to know about the history of Madoc and Madoc Township) shares the information that several decades ago a chap called Jack Baker, who was from Madoc, worked for Seagram’s and rose quite high in the company: He “sold a fine Canadian whiskey called Jack Baker’s Special. The lounge at the [Madoc] Kiwanis Centre was called the Jack Baker Lounge.”

rye at the Madoc LCBO

The rye-whisky selection at the little Madoc LCBO outlet is pretty darn substantial.

Aha! It’s all coming together. It’s the Jack Baker connection – plus, did I mention that Canadian – or rye – whisky has long been very popular in Madoc and area? When Raymond and I first started coming to this area from Montreal, after we’d bought the Manse in early 2012, we were quite startled to see the hugeness off the rye-whisky section in local L.C.B.O. outlets. There seemed to be more space devoted to rye than to practically all other spirits put together. That is not something you see at liquor stores in Quebec, or in other places I have been.

Anyway, I am quite tickled by the idea that Madoc was used as an example of good taste in drinks back in 1964 – the Mad Men years, and let’s not forget that Don Draper is partial to another Seagram’s rye whisky, Canadian Club.

And so I went looking for some other V.O. advertising from the era, and found a little gallery’s worth of gorgeously illustrated ads that strive (successfully, if you ask me) to convey worldliness and elegance in sophisticated places. Click on any image to make it larger and see a slide show. They really are quite gorgeous:

So there you have it: the French Quarter in New Orleans, Carnaval in Quebec City, the Winter Olympics, the slopes of Aspen, and Broadway and an art-show opening in New York City. Why, Madoc fits right in!

40 thoughts on “New York, New Orleans, Aspen … and Madoc

  1. Wait! What? Canadian Club is not a Seagram’s brand! The label, launched by Hiram Walker and long owned by Hiram Walker Gooderham and Worts, is now part of the Jim Beam empire.

    And I always thought C.C., not V.O., was the world’s best-selling Canadian whiskey. I’ve certainly been doing my share to help their sales these many years … it’s made in Windsor, Ont. my home town, and used to bill itself as “the best in the house in 87 lands”.

    On the rocks, with water on the side (the way I take it), C.C. is still beloved by many of us urbane sophisticates:

    • Brian, you are absolutely right, and I heartily apologize for my misstep on the Canadian whisky front! And thank you so much for sending along that previously-unknown-to-me George Jones and Merle Haggard classic. Because, as I know you know, it doesn’t actually get any better than George Jones and Merle Haggard.

  2. My father was marketing manager for Distiller’s Corporation (the Seagram company) for many years. Jack Baker was a good friend of his, and for a short while, his boss. Jack later left Seagram’s and joined Bacardi; and later still was one of the founders of Garda Security – a well-known security provider in the GTA.

      • Yup! BTW – my dad began his career in the ‘Mad Men’ era; worked for an agency and then went to Seagrams. His job as marketing manger was to approve corporate advertising; he did it during the period that the adds that accompany the blog were out there. He probably chose them!

      • All right, now I am seriously in awe of your dad, Glenn. I mean, seriously. I wrote that post quite some time ago, and I will confess that when your comment came in I needed to go back and look at that little gallery I did of the Seagram’s ads, to remind myself of them. And they are just so gorgeous! And so of their time, and of (frankly) any time. Way better than most of the advertising we see today. I find myself wondering what he told you of his work – did he talk about the fun and creativity of it? (I bet he did.) (Unlike Don Draper with his kids.) So great that you found this chain of posts!

      • Hi Katharine; sorry to take so long getting back to you – a little scattered these days! No, my Dad really didn’t talk with a great deal of happiness about his agency days. After the war, he went for a while to McGill (first in his working class family ever to go to university); but with a wife and child (me) to feed, he had to drop out without earning a degree. However he’d always been interested in illustration & writing so he went to work for one of Montreal’s ad agencies. He was there for about 5 years, enjoying it and doing well, when the senior partner called him into his office one day and said they were cutting back staff – last hired, first fired (him). He later found out that the guy was looking to hire a family member – Dad, as the newest guy, was the only one he could fire. But it worked out okay in the long run; a connection found him a place at Seagrams and he was there until he retired in the 80’s. An extremely varied career it was, too, not just advertising and marketing – I’ll write more a little later in the day!

      • Thanks so much for this, Glenn. You are shining a light on an interesting era, in advertising and many other things. It’s also nifty that your family and Raymond and I share a strong Montreal connection.

    • Hi Steve; where did you work for Seagrams? You might have known my father – Don Deans.
      By 1972, my dad had moved out of mainstream management and had become the company’s new Chief Information Officer. Until 1980 or so he was at Peel St., supervising the initiation of the Seagram Museum collection at Ville Lasalle. Along about 1980 he relocated to Waterloo and established the Museum. He retired in 1983.

      • Glenn, your dad’s career continues to interest me. Point 1: his name was Don! (Just like Mad Men Don.) Point 2: He worked at the Peel Street building. That would be the one that looks like a small castle, now owned by McGill? That building was just kitty-corner from our longtime workplace, The Gazette, at Peel and Ste. Catherine. I’ve walked past it and admired it hundreds of times. And Point 3: He was deeply involved in the Seagram’s Museum in Waterloo, wow! I remember when that was new – designed by Barton Myers, if I’m not mistaken. Connections all over the place!

    • Hey, thanks for this information, Matt! My goodness, Jack Baker of little old Madoc, Ont., really got a name for himself (so to speak) in the Canadian whisky world! Did you ever taste it? Was it better than the run-of-the-mill Canadian whiskies?

    • Just a quick note . . . was looking on line for some old trademark records – found out that in 1977 there was a copyright issued for ‘Jack Baker’s Secret’ whiskey.

  3. Jack had a business relationship with Seagrams and his whisky was made by Seagrams as far as I know so it had to be good. I worked out of the sales office in Toronto I really didnt know others in Montreal. I had the opportunity to visit the museum in Waterloo several times and the distillery before it became the museum.

    • Matt:
      When Seagrams decentralized in 1964 (up to that point, all executive decision-making was located at 1430 Peel), the sales office that you are referring to became the head office of Central Division. My dad was transferred to TO, as was Jack Baker, a vice-pres. at the time. Jack became the CEO of central division and my father functioned as his 2nd in command.
      In 1968 Dad came back to Montreal; I don’t believe Jack came back – I can’t remember when he formally left the company, but it wasn’t long after. He and dad remained in contact as friends for many years after.
      BTW I was only in Toronto with them for ab’t 2 years; I returned to Montreal for studies and graduated Concordia in 1970 with a science degree. But I returned to Ontario to marry a TO girl; went to Kitchener for a while and worked for a year or so at the distillery; I was a clerical ass’t. in the bottling department under John Krutz – I don’t know if you ever met him.
      Another BTW – I helped a bit with research for the museum,which oddly enough turned out to reflect (?) my current post-retirement career in several important ways – but I’ll write about that, (if anyone is interested? 🙂 ) another time!
      And yes, Katharine – it was (is) the building that looked like a castle. I saw it again just a few years ago on a trip to the Maritimes (I live in Hamilton ON these days). I stopped over & walked the town. I do that every few years. And what never ceases to amaze me – I’ve lived in 6 cities in 4 provinces in this country in the last 40 years; but when I stand on the corner of Peel and Ste. Catharine, that is when I am truly at home!

      • I know what you mean, Glenn! While home for me will always be Queensborough, when it comes to cities, Montreal is it for me. I’m feeling a little nostalgic for Peel and Ste. Catherine even as I write this! (And it doesn’t help much that in the post I’m working on for tonight I make mention of the wonderful Jean Talon Market.) Hey, as for your post-retirement career – I am intrigued, especially since it seems to have to do with museums and research. Do tell!

  4. I worked out of the sales office in the Toronto Dominion Center. It was a wonderful experience and I met some fine people. I took some training at Waterloo and became a SOB (Seagram Order of Blenders) Had the opportunity to go to Europe twice on the company tab. At the end Sam Jr. took the company in a different direction and a few years after I left it was broken up and sold. There is an annual Seagram Old Timers dinner in December if you want more info and a contact.

    • Hi Matt;
      Wouldn’t mind. I might even know some names. Incidentally as part of what I do these days I’m into Kitchener/Waterloo once a week; if that’s where the dinner is, might even be able to attend it (if it’s allowed, of course!). BTW – I’m a little pressed for time this morning but I will write a bit about my current activities later in the day.
      Not wanting to be pedantic, but it was Edgar Jr., Mr. Sam’s grandson, who took over the company. I remember my Dad in his last days being somewhat upset as to the direction he seemed to be taking it in. Dad passed before the company was broken up and the museum closed. I remember my late brother being REALLY upset over that!

      • Oh yes – Edgar, who decided to turn the company into an entertainment juggernaut, instead of the well-run beverage juggernaut that it had been for all those years … That did not turn out well.

      • Thought I’d take a few minutes and fill in what I was talking about concerning my current activities . . .
        I retired a few years back (in fact the company I worked for went bankrupt – majority shareholder ran with the cash!) and I had very little. Took on some part-time work for a local accountant, but I needed something to enjoy. I remembered the days doing research for my dad and how much I had liked learning history; so the former science student started taking O/L history courses at the University up in Waterloo. Soon I began to take it seriously and started attending classes (found out that grey-heads at the universities are not that uncommon these days); shortly one of the professors said: “If we take your old degree courses as electives and you do the honours seminars, we could grant you the second degree!” I went for it, and in April 2012 I was granted a BA (Honours History).
        But that wasn’t the end of it. Another prof said, “Why don’t you sign up for some MA seminars? Your grades were good enough.” I went for that too. I had to take some time off for health reasons, but as of this moment I am, I believe, Canada’s oldest MA History candidate! (There are, I understand, a few older ones in the US.)
        So that’s where I’m at! And, I’m a member of the local heritage committee, so I get involved in the process of designating local heritage sites. Any questions? 🙂

      • HUGE congratulations, Glenn! Your story is beyond inspiring, especially for people of a historical-interest bent and (ahem) of a certain age. I’m also interested to know that you’re involved in local heritage preservation/designation. That’s great (and important) stuff!

      • A certain age?? Hmmmm…… 😉
        Thanks, Katherine! BTW the heritage stuff is very important to me, too. And I’m thinking of concentrating my thesis work on some issues in local history; one of my advisors and the local archivist think that I could something publishable out of it.

  5. I have a 40 ouncer (1.14 liter) bottle of Jack Baker’s Top Secret from probably the late 70’s or early 80’s. It still has about 4 or 5 oz. in it that I just can’t bring myself to drink until I can find a replacement that tastes as good. I know that sounds ridiculous. Back then I could smell the difference if someone tried to give me something other than Top Secret. I think I could even tell the difference between Secret and Top Secret. Does anyone know of a whiskey today that has that same distinct smell and flavour? If so, pleeeaaassse tell me what it is.

    • Wow!! The fact that you still have a small secret stash of Jack Baker’s is just amazing, The County! I wish I were enough of an expert on Canadian whiskey to offer some semblance of an answer to your question as to whether there’s one to match Jack Baker’s Top Secret, but I’m afraid I’m not. This intrigues me, though, especially since good Canadian whiskey is a prime ingredient in one of my favourite cocktails, a Manhattan. I may have to start a quest to find and try some of that legendary Jack Baker’s (of Madoc!) myself. Have you tried the relatively new Collingwood whiskey? I have not, but I love the design of the bottle! (Does that count for anything?)

      • I’m not big on trying new whiskey’s as such. Over the years I have switched to beer other than to enjoy a whiskey with old friends of the day. I was really a ‘rye’ man until they changed the designation of “Canadian Whiskey” to allow it to be made from corn. I did just recently buy two bottles of the limited edition CC 100% Rye, but haven’t tried it yet. I’m not sure anything will ever match Top Secret. I often thought of trying one of Seagram’s other whiskey’s to see if they put the Top Secret recipe in those, but never have gotten around to it.

      • I think it’s time for me (if I can find the time) to try to track down someone from Seagram’s to speak to whether any of their current whiskeys are anything like Top Secret, The County! This is getting to be an interesting exercise in Canadian distilling history.

  6. I have an unopened bottle of jack baker whiskey from 1973. Perfect condition. there is little to know information anywhere about this person. this whisky is not the secret or top secret brand. happy to send pictures if you like

    • Well that is most interesting, Brendan! After I wrote that post I found out quite a bit more about Jack Baker and his whisky (notably reported in a followup post here), but I have not heard of a Jack Baker whisky that was not named Secret or Top Secret. How intriguing! I will very happily take you up on your offer of photos, and will message you through email so you can send them. Thank you so much!

      • Hi Katharine; I think I mentioned in prior communications that my Dad worked both with and for Jack baker, and that when Jack left (Around 1968 or so) he went to Gooderham’s for a while. The whiskey in question may be one of his first ones, but I never heard of it either! Unfortunately anyone who could have filled me in is no longer with us. I keep trying though! Got the opportunity to meet a 4th generation Bronfman (Stephen) recently, but he knew very little of what was once “the family business” . . .

      • Glenn, so great to hear from you again. I’ve made a tiny bit of progress in unravelling the mystery that Brendan has brought to our collective attention, thanks to Jack’s daughter Elizabeth (Lib) and son-in-law Frank Baillie. I’ll report on that as soon as I get a chance, but I have to say that it’s still quite mysterious. Very cool that you are still in contact with the Bronfman family!

      • Stephen Bronfman is Chief Revenue Officer for the Liberal Party of Canada. I was on the nominating committee for the local Liberal candidate in the last Federal election and we met. (Unfortunately our candidate lost to the NDP representative in my riding – Hamilton Centre.) However I’m trying to get hold of a retired Seagram employee who apparently was a contemporary of Jack Baker and my Dad; he belongs to the Toronto chapter of a men’s club, and one of the local members (a friend of mine; I’m not in the group) says he will let me know next time he’s in town. So I may get more info. In the meantime, keep up your inquiries and let us know!

  7. Is there anyone out there that can tell me what a bottle of JACK BAKER SECRET is worth ? I also have bottles of JACK BAKER GIN. All unopened. Thank you

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