Of Rectitude and Recreation (Part II)

Clan Lindsay? I hardly Knew ye

In my Part I, I discussed Ford Moynes’ interview with a 1920s Ontario moonshiner. It proved if nothing else that the public image of Ontario, long considered the most “proper” Canadian province, was a simplification.

No society likes to bruit its underbelly, and less so in the past than now, but hardly out of the Victorian era, scofflaws abounded – at all levels of society. Essentially Prohibition encouraged widespread disobedience, just as it did in the United States. Moonshining and illegal trade in liquor were emblematic. The Temperance cause hadn’t died, but it was tempered, one might say.

Moynes had addressed liquor before, but now turned his attention to the licit industry, at least for what was sold in Ontario. Read his account here, a column from 1967 in the Lindsay Daily Post. 

He explains that a “Scotch” whisky, Clan Lindsay, was produced by the Lindsay Distillery in the late 1920s, but had no cachet. The reason, he offers, is imported Scotch was blended with alcohol made in Lindsay. So Clan Lindsay was probably a blended whisky, one that combined grain neutral spirits (perhaps aged, this isn’t clear) distilled in Lindsay with genuine Scotch whisky.

The 1967 article refers to an earlier column on Clan Lindsay, see here, useful for additional detail.

Canadian law at one time allowed this type of blend to be sold under a “Highland” or similar designation. The regulations may changed since then, I haven’t checked.

Based on my research including in Toronto Star archives, the venture was financed in 1927 by a public issue of securities. Sir Henry Pellatt, the well-known Canadian financier, was a leading member of the venture. The business, according to a prospectus in the Toronto Star, comprised both beverage and industrial alcohol components.

Two brands at least are recorded, an American Club and the Clan Lindsay. Some accounts refer to the “Scotch” as Lindsay Clan.

I have not been able to locate an image of either. Likely this is due to the short duration of the venture. The Lindsay Distillery filed a bankruptcy assignment in Toronto in 1930, so things hadn’t gone well at least under the original management.

The distillery was built around an old grist mill on the Scucog River. Its large grindstone was among the oldest in Ontario. Pictured below, courtesy Toronto Public Library, is an earlier scene on the Scucog. The large buildings on the left and smokestack were the granary and mill, later incorporated in the distillery as mentioned.

It appears the distillery was purchased in 1932 by Distillers Corporation-Seagram. Moynes has it operating until 1935 but the trail grew cold for me after the purchase.

A probable reason the business sagged is that Hiram Walker in Windsor, ON sued Lindsay Distillery for violating its Canadian Club trademark. Lindsay Distillery lost at trial, appealed, and lost again. The trial judge indicated he had only heard of one “Club” whisky, Canadian Club, hence an inference of passing off was irresistible.

This surely delivered a blow, as presumably American Club was intended not just for sale in Ontario, but to help parch a still-dry America. It’s an interesting legal point whether Hiram Walker would have won had liquor not been legal in Ontario when the decisions were rendered. It seems obvious Hiram Walker could not have sued in the U.S., as the sale of liquor was still illegal, until the end of 1933.

Had Pellatt got his group together in the early 20s, with American Club simply an export product, I’d think he may have won the day. Maybe those among our readership who can be called (in technical terms I hasten to add) “my learned friends”, will offer their view (on a gratuitous basis, please).

Although the tenure of Clan Lindsay was brief, Moynes remembered the brand and probably had sampled it, as he was 30 in 1928. Offering his opinion on its quality – a rather informed one – was rather bold for an Ontario newspaper in 1967. Overall his columns were down-home in style, so probably few noticed.

It’s often considered that between the wars, the Big 5 Ontario distillers (listed in my Part I) were the only authorized distillers in Ontario. Not so. Apart from Lindsay Distillery, whose full name was Lindsay Distilleries Limited, there were beverage distilleries in Sarnia and Port Colborne. They opened after booze became legal again in 1927.

Might there be a bottle of Clan Lindsay in the corner of a manse basement in Lindsay, or elsewhere in Victoria County? Covered with dust, not appreciated for what it is? I’d wager yes, but finding it is another matter.

More soon about the other two distilleries, maybe.

 

 

 

 

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