Wiser's Distillery LTD, Belleville
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J.P. Wiser’s Whiskey Empire Helped Make Prescott Thriving Town
At the turn of the century, Prescott's reputation as a thriving community on the St. Lawrence River was largely attributable to the success of J. P. Wiser's and Sons Distillery.
In the early 1900s, Wiser's was the third largest distillery in Canada, producing high-quality whiskey that supplied markets in Canada and the United States, China and the Philippine Islands. In 1911, the company employed over 100 workers in the distillery operation and another 40 at the brickyard located on the Wiser farm just west of Merwin Lane Road.
It would be easy to blame the demise of the distillery business in Prescott on prohibition, which started in Ontario during the First World War and in the United States in 1920, but the company's decline actually started with the death of John Philip Wiser. Wiser was an amazing business man who amassed a huge fortune during his lifetime. Unfortunately his sons lacked his business skills and the once great company started its decline under their leadership.
Prescott was a centre for the production of spirits for most of the 1800s and early 1900s. In 1858-59, there were four distilleries in production in Prescott and others were involved in the brewing of beer.
Wiser was born at Trenton, New York. He was working for the firm of Averell and Egert in upper New York State when the company decided to purchase the Payne Distillery in Prescott. The company already operated a distillery in Ogdensburg, N.Y. Wiser was moved to Prescott to become general manager of the company.
At the time, Prescott was seen as a community with a great future. It had direct railway connections to Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, railway ferry links to the Northern Railway in the U.S. which provided direct access to the Atlantic Seaboard ports, and was a port of call for Canadian Steamers heading both east and west along the St. Lawrence River.
By 1862, Wiser had purchased the distillery from his former company and started a series of expansions that soon led to its national prominence. Strangely enough, the Civil War in the United States was a great catalyst for the growth of the Wiser's business. The war wreaked havoc on distilleries in the United States and Americans turned to Canada for their supply of top quality whiskey. In 1873, Wiser's was paying the Canadian government an excise duty of $2,000 per day .and was spending more than $1 million per year in operating costs.
What really made Wiser successful was his ability to incorporate other businesses into his empire. He developed farms to grow the grains he needed for his distillery operations, he had a huge interest in beef cattle that fed on by-products from the distillery and he developed a brickyard for the manufacture of bricks. He also had a love for beef cattle that led to his purchase of a huge farm in Kansas. Racehorses were another passion for the popular entrepreneur and he owned some of the finest horses in the country.
Wiser was also a politician serving on town council and later in the federal government.
A great deal of the success of Wiser's came from his association with Albert Whitney, a shrewd businessman who acted as the company's treasurer.
The distillery operation was centred on the waterfront at the west end of the town. During the late 1800s, the Wiser family built beautiful homes on the periphery of the distillery property and some of these homes still survive as living testament to the architectural fascinations of the time.
The company was clearly in decline following the death of J.P. Wiser and its collapse followed the death of Whitney in 1917. The distillery was sold to Corby's ( (Hiram Walker Distilleries) and production was moved to the Belleville area in 1932.
Wiser's whiskey has had a solid reputation for quality that has continued to this day. There are still three products being sold under the Wiser's label.
Wiser's Distillery was closed in 1932.