An almost-lost Canadian whisky, and the Madoc man behind it

Quite a few nice people (or maybe they’re just bears for punishment) subscribe to Meanwhile, at the Manse, so that they get an email alert whenever I hit “Publish” on a new post. There is also an option to subscribe to the comments that come in from readers (and my replies to them), but since not everybody takes up that option (What? They might actually have more important things to do?) I thought that tonight I’d draw the general readership’s attention to a most interesting conversation that’s been developing over the past little while in the comments section of a post I did quite a while ago. It is further proof of the amazing things that can come to light when people with knowledge of some of the vintage (i.e. mid-20th-century) things that I often celebrate in this blog find my posts and share that knowledge. As you can surely imagine, I just love it when that happens!

Now, the main subject of this discussion – at least at the point where it’s at now – is a Canadian whisky called Jack Baker’s Top Secret, made once upon a time by the great Canadian distilling corporation Seagram’s. And before I go any further with this, I should explain that I tried and utterly failed to find a photo of that apparently legendary whisky on the internet, so I was at sixes and sevens as to what to use to illustrate this post. Suddenly I thought of a pretty song by Tom Russell called Canadian Whiskey (with “whiskey” spelled the non-Canadian way; several internet sources, like this one, tell me that the preferred Canadian spelling is without the “e”), and I hope you will enjoy hearing Russell and the great Nanci Griffith singing it in the video I’m using as my illustration. Feel free to hum along as you read.

V.O. ad featuring Madoc

The 1964 advertisement that reader Steve found and shared. Why Madoc? Read on.

Now, my original post, from back in March of this year – you can read it in full, complete with comments, here – showed an interesting advertisement for Seagram’s V.O. Whisky that appeared in the Ottawa Journal back in 1964, and that I was able to feature thanks to reader Steve having found and shared it. The thing that made that ad interesting, for me here in little Queensborough, Ont., was that it told the world that V.O. was the whisky of choice for the people of Madoc – Madoc being the small village that is “town” for us here in Queensborough. I wondered why the Canadian-whisky drinkers of Madoc might have been chosen by Seagram’s to be spotlighted in that ad. But reader Grant answered the question by sharing the knowledge that a very high-ranking executive with Seagram’s in those years was Mr. Jack Baker of – you guessed it: Madoc. And Grant also told me that Jack Baker’s name was on a high-end brand of Seagram’s whisky. And I kind of thought that was that.

But then more information came to light. This past September, two readers (unknown to each other before that time), Glenn and Matt, found my post and shared stories of their own connections with Seagram’s and, more importantly for the local link, with Jack Baker. Glenn’s father was marketing manager at Seagram’s for many years and was a good friend of Baker. And Matt worked at Seagram’s in the 1970s and early 1980s, and shared the information that there were actually two whiskies with Jack Baker’s name on them: Jack Baker’s Secret and Jack Baker’s Top Secret.

Now, the best part about this information is that if people didn’t share it, it probably wouldn’t be long before no one would know about or remember those classic Canadian whiskies. Just try finding some reference to them on the internet, people – if you can, you’re a better searcher than I am. My digging turned up one brief reference to Jack Baker (from, of all places, the Montreal Gazette, where Raymond and I worked for many years; Montreal is of course where Seagram’s was based, and where Jack Baker would have worked for much of his career). It’s from the edition of Nov. 18, 1968, and you’ll need to scroll about halfway down this column of local-people-in-the-news tidbits:

Jack Baker in The Gazette

And I also found an interesting document that you can see at this link, some sort of Canadian trademark paperwork that I don’t begin to understand about the rights to the name “Jack Baker’s Secret.” And that’s pretty much it. How can this legendary beverage have disappeared from memory?

Anyway. In my response to one of those comments coming in from Glenn and Matt, I rather flippantly said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to find a bottle of that stuff now! An ideal thing for a future Madoc musuem/archives!”

But of course, given how long ago all this whisky history transpired, I assumed that would be impossible.

Well! The Meanwhile, at the Manse readers have come through again.

Two days ago, a reader writing under the name The County shared this amazing information:

I have a 40 ouncer (1.14 litre) 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.

If that don’t beat all! (As we used to say back in the day when Jack Baker was doing his thing.) There’s still at least a dram or three of Jack Baker’s Top Secret in existence! Perhaps it’s just as well for The County that he/she didn’t use his/her real name (I’m inclined to think it’s “he”), or all the Canadian-whisky lovers of Hastings County (and lord knows there are lots) might be beating down his door.

Meanwhile: does anyone else still have some of the stuff set aside? I promise I won’t ask for a taste. I’d just like to get a photo of the bottle for the internet and thus posterity.

Because, you know. It’s fine whisky. It’s Madoc. And it’s local history at its most interesting. And tasty!

14 thoughts on “An almost-lost Canadian whisky, and the Madoc man behind it

  1. Hi – you have indirectly reached the person who can best give you info about Jack Baker Distillery.

    When the company started I was President and Jack was Board Chairman. In spite of titles there’s absolutely no question as to who was in charge as anyone who knew Jack would know.

    I do have an unopened bottle of Top Secret and my son has a complete collection of all the products all unopened.

    I’ve never been involved in a blog before so I’m unsure of the protocol or how to upload pictures. If you’d let me know that I can supply several.

    I guess much of my connection is the fact that I’ve been married to Jack’s daughter Elizabeth (Lib) for 54 years. During our courtship I spent MANY weekends in Madoc and especially remember with fondness the Kincaids who owned the local grocery store.

    • Frank, my eyes practically popped out of my head when I saw your comment here. Wow! I mean really – wow! To think my blog post eventually found its way to Jack Baker’s colleague and son-in-law, a repository of tons of knowledge about this much-loved but elusive Canadian whisky. I am utterly thrilled to hear from you, and to learn more about Jack Baker and his Madoc-connected product. I will email you privately and that way you could send me some photos, which I would be delighted to feature in a followup blog post. I think readers will be delighted too! And yes, my goodness – weren’t the Kincaids of Kincaid Bros. IGA wonderful people? I remember that store, and its owners, so fondly. Thank you so much for making contact!

  2. I just had a thought – we ran 6 ads which were all stories about Madoc and Hastings County.

    It strikes me that your readers might be interested in these and if so I can photograph them and put them wherever you’d like.

  3. Hi Katherine.
    Frank tells me you are asking questions that he can’t answer about growing up in Madoc. I have a good memory for “unimportant” details (nobody plays Jeopardy with me) and would be happy to tell you all I can remember. Just a couple years ago, I was given family albums with photos, letters, christening announcements, all the stuff a small town lives for and I took them to the archivist for Hastings County just outside Belleville towards Corbyville. I have not heard from her since and have often grieved at the loss of hundreds of small pieces of real history. Heaven knows what she did with them. You might be able to ask about them – I signed a necessary document to say I would never claim them.

    So, you go ahead and fire up some questions for me and then you’ll have to put up with my wordiness – I do like details.

    Look forward to hearing from you. Lib

    • So great to hear from you, Lib! And I should tell you that I love, and am pretty good at, Jeopardy too, so I am tickled that you mention it. I would never call your memories of growing up in Madoc “unimportant” – those details recalled can and do (I have discovered through my blog) make people really happy, and help bring folks together. I will send you an email with my questions, and thank you in advance for your help! Also, as soon as I am able, I will put out feelers about the material you donated to the Hastings County archives. I are sure they are safe, because the Hastings County Historical Society runs a fantastic archives, and everything I have ever heard about their stewardship of the materials has been extremely positive.

  4. Hi. I have a full 40oz unopened bottle of JACK BAKERS SECRET and eight bottles of unopened JACK BAKERS GIN

    • Wow, Jeff! How on earth did you happen to come into this treasure trove of vintage Canadian spirits? This is the first time I have heard any mention at all of Jack Baker having leant his name to gin, in addition to Canadian whisky. Intriguing!

      • Hi. A gentleman my father knows had the spirts. One Whisky one Rum and eight Gin, all JACK BAKER’S. On opened. He sold his house and is moving into a home. That’s the short version. Can you help me with a price ?

      • That’s news to us. He had a Vodka with his name on it, but neither Frank nor I can recall a gin. Also, to our knowledge, he did not have a rum, having been vice-president of Bacardi before he went solo.

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