Whisky tycoon John Philip Wiser once said, “Quality is something you just can’t rush. Horses should hurry, but whisky must take its time.”
At the turn of the century, much of Prescott’s prosperity could be attributed to the success of J. P. Wiser’s and Sons Distillery. By the 1870s, the company was known for two premium brands: Wiser’s Red Letter Rye and Wiser’s Canadian Whisky.
During the early 1900s, Wiser’s was the third largest distillery in Canada, producing high-quality whisky that supplied markets in Canada, the USA, China and the Philippines. The company employed more than 100 workers in its distillery operation along Prescott’s waterfront and another 40 at the brickyard on the Wiser farm just west of Merwin Lane Road.
In spite of his entrepreneurial success, J.P. Wiser’s first love was horses. By the time New York’s Wallace’s Monthly reported on his trotters, he was the proud owner of a 7,000 acre ranch in Kansas and a second property of 1,7500,000 acres in the Panhandle district of Texas.
Wallace’s wrote about the Kansas ranch in 1885: “Our next view was of part of the stock now on the ranch for the ensuing year, consisting mainly of 2000 cattle, 1800 hogs and some mules, and very fine horses from Mr. J.P. Wiser’s Rysdyk Stock Farms. Among the latter we observed particularly, Bellwood, a dark bay inbred Hambletonian, with a four-year old record of 2:37; Minnie Day, a Hambletonian; Miss Canada and Victoria of the Mambrino stock; the coal-black Nagar, and other Clydesdales.”
Seven years earlier, Canadian Illustrated News published images of Wiser’s 600 acre farm in Prescott and four horses referred to as his Rysdyks. From these barns, the first cattle were exported to Great Britain, making Wiser a pioneer in the export cattle trade.
His obituary in the May 1st, 1911 Ogdensburg Journal stated ” To the live stock industry of Canada the enterprise and intelligence of Mr. Wiser were of great value. He served as a member of The Ontario Agricultural Commission in 1880 and imported at a great expense the celebrated Rysdyk Hambletonian stallion and other high-bred trotting stock into Canada, notably Chestnut Hill, Phil Sheridan, Hiram Woodruff, Orient, Wm. B. Smith, Barbara Patchen and Joe Brown, which were trained and stood on his farm.”
The 1870s proved to be a significant decade for the Town of Prescott with the building of the Town Hall in 1874 and the hosting of The Queen’s Plate in 1877 (helped along, of course, by J.P. Wiser’s stature in thoroughbred racing).
The oldest continuing race in North America, The Queen’s Plate was run in Prescott on July 2-3 at the South Grenville Fair Grounds where South Grenville District High School stands today. In the early years, politicians lobbied to hold the race in their constituencies. It was raced at Toronto, Guelph, St. Catharines, Whitby, Kingston, Barrie, Prescott, Woodstock, Picton, London, Hamilton and Ottawa before it settled, with the Queen’s approval, in Toronto in 1883.
Three-year old Amelia (by Sharpcatcher – Lizzie Wright), won the Plate in 1877 in a four-horse field. Owned by John White, she belonged to a distinguished line of Canadian purebreds developed by James and John White of Halton County. For more than three decades two of their horses appeared in the pedigree of many Queen’s Plate winners (7 for their stallion, Terror and 8 for their incredible broodmare, Yellow Rose).
To mark Wiser’s 150th anniversary of distilling, Corby’s Distillers (today’s owner of Wiser’s) released a special edition Red Letter. Citybites.ca reported, “A moderate social drinker, J.P., as he was called, invited his distilling team to his home each Saturday afternoon to sample the week’s production. J.P., they quickly learned, was a perfectionist…He believed in paying for the best and soon the nation’s best were working in his distillery. Still, J.P. was always looking to improve everything he touched, and he just couldn’t resist tinkering…” He referred to his creations as “the mingled souls of rye and corn.”