Class of 1982
Samuel Bronfman was both a shrewd businessman and a generous philanthropist. First entering the liquor business in 1924, The Seagram Company Ltd. went on to become the world’s largest producer and marketer of distilled spirits and wines.
Samuel was born in Soroki, Bessarabia in 1889; his family was en route from Russia at the time of his birth, and arrived in Canada later that year. The Bronfmans settled in Manitoba, eventually buying a hotel business in 1903. It was through this hotel business that Samuel first noted the potential of the alcohol industry. He entered the market as a distributor, founding the Distillers Corporation in 1924 and specializing in cheap whiskey. When the provincial governments took over all retailing Bronfman turned to manufacturing.
His first distillery opened in 1924 in Ville LaSalle, Quebec. Four years later he and his family acquired Joseph E. Seagram & Sons Limited, a respected firm located in Waterloo, Ontario. It was at this time that the business became The Seagram Company Ltd. When prohibition ended in the U.S. in 1933, Samuel jumped at the opportunity to enter the U.S. market. He developed a clever new marketing approach, selling through a network of distributors. Success in the United States led to further expansion; Seven Crown and Seagram’s VO soon became the largest-selling brands of whisky in the world. By 1965, Bronfman’s liquor had reached 119 countries and was generating sales of over $1 billion. Brand names owned by the company included Crown Royal, Captain Morgan rum and Tropicana fruit juice.
Samuel Bronfman died in 1971, at the age of 82. His descendants remained with The Seagram Company until 2000, when the company’s assets were sold to the Vivendi Group and Pernod Ricard.
It could be said that Samuel Bronfman was destined to succeed in the alcoholic beverages industry – his surname means “liquor man” in Yiddish. However, Bronfman has also contributed notably to education, medicine, art, theatre, music and sports and was a founding member of the Canada Council. In 1967 he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, the country’s highest award. Additionally, Samuel is recognized as a prominent figure in Canadian Jewish affairs, acting as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress from 1939 to 1962.