History

The history of Corby Spirit and Wine Limited begins in the early Ontario frontier when whisky was as much a part of daily life as bread and meat.

1830s

Our founder Henry Corby, of French Huguenot stock, learned the baking trade in London, England, before immigrating at age 26 to Canada, where he set up a small food shop and bakery in Belleville, Ontario, in 1832. After military service in the 1837 Rebellion, he sold his bakery and bought a St. Lawrence steamer.

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1840s & 50s

Henry’s involvement in buying and selling grain led him to establish a gristmill on the banks of the Moira River. Farmers would bring their grain to be ground into meal and would reserve a portion of it to be made into whisky. So Henry Corby became interested in the distilling process. He was soon making his own brand of whisky for local consumption as a sideline to the main milling operation. By 1859, the distillery operation was incorporated and equally important to Henry as the mill operations.

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1860s & 70s

During this period, Henry Corby was elected Mayor of Belleville for a two-year term (he did not run in subsequent elections), and following Confederation in 1867, he became a member of the provincial parliament for East Hastings, sitting for two consecutive terms from 1867 to 1875. He retired from public life in 1875 and returned to the milling and distillery business and began selling whisky in bulk.

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1880s & 90s

In 1881, Henry’s son took over the business. Over the next decade under Harry’s direction, the Company began to evolve. They bottled their own brand of whisky and sold it under the name of Corby. The quality whisky became more and more popular and new markets were opened. The Company began diversifying by importing Scotch whisky and wines.

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1900s

In 1905, Mortimer Davis formed a limited company and purchased the assets of the Corby family. The new organization was known as H. Corby Distillery Company Limited. In 1907, the original distillery was destroyed by fire and replaced by a larger new facility.

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1910s

Early in the decade, Corby established an office in Montréal. In October 1912, Henry Corby II was appointed to the Canadian Senate. War changed the business, and the distillery suspended normal operations to dedicate itself to the war effort, producing alcohol for munitions.

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1920s

After the war ended, H. Corby Distillery was sold to the Canadian Industrial Alcohol Company Limited, a holding company that became the parent organization. This new organization purchased the assets of JP Wiser’s Distillery Limited of Prescott, Ontario, and moved its operations to Corbyville, Ontario. During the same decade, both J.M. Douglas and Company Limited (imported wine and spirits merchants) and Robert MacNish and Co. Limited of Scotland (a Scotch whisky producer and exporter) were acquired.

 

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1930s

In 1935, under the leadership of Harry C. Hatch, Hiram Walker–Gooderham & Worts Ltd. became the majority shareholder in H. Corby Distillery Limited, acquiring 51% of the Company’s equity from the Canadian Industrial Alcohol Company.

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1940s

Once again, war forced the distillery to suspend normal operations in favour of producing alcohol for munitions during the Second World War.

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1950s

Following the end of World War II, the international distilling industry began a period of consolidation that has continued to the present day. Canadian troops returning from Europe had acquired new tastes for imported spirits and wines. In 1952, the Company signed a joint venture agreement with the United Rum Merchants of London, England, bringing the renowned Lamb’s family of rums to the Corbyville distillery site, significantly expanding its production. In 1954, Corby and its majority shareholder, Hiram Walker and Sons Ltd., took an equity position in the global Tia Maria brand.

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1960s

Throughout this decade, Corby expanded the distribution of its domestic portfolio and grew its representation of internationally renowned spirits and wines through its J.M. Douglas division. In 1969, the Company changed its name to Corby Distilleries Limited – Les Distilleries Corby Limitée and was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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1970s

In 1978, Corby purchased Meagher’s Distillery Limited of Montréal and its subsidiary, the William Mara Company of Toronto. This acquisition expanded the Company’s presence in the domestic liqueur market and, through William Mara, brought representation of such international brands as Beefeater gin, along with an enhanced wine portfolio.

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1980s

The 1980s were a busy decade for Corby. The Company acquired the Lamb’s trademarks for Canada and increased its equity ownership in Tia Maria and its related company Estate Industries Limited to 45%, the remaining 55% owned by Hiram Walker–Gooderham & Worts Ltd. On March 1, 1986, Allied Lyons PLC acquired 49% of William Mara Company Limited, leading to the expansion of William Mara’s agency representation to include Allied Lyons’ international trademarks such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Teacher’s Highland Scotch whisky. A year later, Allied Lyons PLC successfully acquired a majority of Hiram Walker–Gooderham & Worts Ltd. shares, thereby becoming Corby’s majority shareholder. In 1988, Corby sold its ownership of the Robert MacNish Scotch Company and purchased the assets of McGuinness Distilling Co. Ltd. from Heublein, the spirits division of Nabisco brands. The acquisition of McGuinness brands such as Polar Ice vodka and the McGuinness range of mixable liqueurs further enhanced Corby’s offerings in the domestic spirits market. In 1989, the Corbyville distillery was closed after 132 years and all maturing whisky inventory was transferred to the Hiram Walker facility in Windsor, Ontario.

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1990s

Craft brewing was a growing trend in Canada, and in 1991 Corby acquired a minority stake in Upper Canada Brewing Company Limited. In 1994, Corby’s majority shareholder, Allied Lyons, acquired Casa Pedro Domecq to become Allied Domecq, at the time the world’s third largest spirits company. The following year, Corby decided to refocus on spirits and wine and sold its interest in Upper Canada Brewing. In 1996, Corby acquired the remaining interest in the Montréal distillery from De Kuyper that it did not own previously. The facility provided co-packing services to North American brand owners looking for liqueur expertise. In 1998, the Corby head office was moved from Montréal to Toronto.

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2000s

The new millennium marked the beginning of a new era of growth and innovation for Corby. In 2005, Pernod Ricard S.A. along with Fortune Brands acquired the assets of Allied Domecq and split Allied’s portfolio. As a result, Pernod Ricard became Corby’s majority shareholder. In September 2006, Corby and Pernod Ricard entered into long-term representation and production agreements, adding such international market-leading brands as Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet Scotch Whiskies and Jacob’s Creek wines to Corby’s sales portfolio for the Canadian market. Corby also acquired the international rights to Lamb’s rum and Seagram Coolers, and sold its 45% interest in Tia Maria to Pernod Ricard S.A. In 2008, Corby added the global powerhouse vodka brand ABSOLUT to its representation portfolio through an agreement with Pernod Ricard.

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2010s

Corby continued its market leadership into this decade. The Company received a 2010 Supplier of the Year award from its single largest customer, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, for the second time in four years, along with awards recognizing product and packaging innovation and supply chain excellence. In 2011, as part of a new brand prioritization strategy, Corby sold Seagram Coolers, several other non-core brands and the Montreal bottling and production facility. On November 7, 2013, Corby announced a new brand identity, including a bold and dynamic new logo. The company changed its name from Corby Distilleries Limited to Corby Spirit and Wine Limited in order to better reflect its business activities, values, and personality. In September 2016, Corby acquired the spirits assets of Domaines Pinnacle Inc., comprised of the unique Ungava® Premium Canadian gin brand, Chic Choc® spiced rum, and a range of maple-based liqueurs including Coureur des Bois® and Cabot Trail®, as well as related production assets and inventory; operating as a new Corby subsidiary, Ungava Spirits Co. Ltd.

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