CANADA DRY - A SOAP OPERA
By DAVE STEVENS
If the name Chivas conjures up visions of dour Scots stirring vats and muttering about a 'Moose loose in the hoose', then you are in for a disappointment. For the owners are as far from the Highland clans it is possible to get, although they could teach the Celts a thing or two about clannishness!
Chivas and a host of other Scotch Whiskies are part of the world's largest distillers, a part of the massive Bronfman empire. But let's not jump the gun for, as the song goes 'Let's start at the very beginning, it's a very good place to start.'
The Bronfmans came to Canada in 1896, no doubt in a bid to escape Tsarist persecution, please pause while this author wipes his eye.
The family started off as homesteaders, but this obviously didn't suit them, for by the outbreak of the First World War the two eldest sons Abe and Harry had come into posssession of a string of hotels (The Waltons this ain't!)
The most profitable part of the Bronfmans' expanding business was in the sale of booze. And while the First World War brought misery and death to millions, in the case of the Bronfmans it just brought millions. While others were being killed they were making a killing.
At the end of the War prohibition was brought in, but just as a circus lion will jump through a hoop, the Bronfmans jumped through loopholes. Although by sheer cunning their business remained just legal the less legalistic among us might call it bootlegging and it was on this that their future empire was based.
By the mid-1920s the Bronfmans had moved east of Canada's then financial capital Montreal. By this time it is the third son Samuel who takes the stage. It was he who moved the operation over into America and sadly for us into Scotland, where he bought up some of its most distinguished distilleries.
Samuel Bronfman, with glasses, and former Israeli President David Ben-Gurion, right
It was our Sam (who, we are informed, swore like a sailor in perfect yiddish) who got involved in the more political side of things, becoming President of the Canadian Jewish Congress and subsidising two Yiddish daily newspapers.
A listing of the Bronfmans' property and financial holdings in Canada alone filled 21 pages of a book published six years ago. This is made even more mind-boggling when you consider that only 7% of the Bronfman's business is now accounted for in Canada. The list of flies in the Bronfman web included Costa Rica, Australia, the U.K., Mexico, Ireland, etc. The list goes on forever.
The empire includes oil and gas exploration as well as the distillery business. And even teetotallers can't escape since they even own a dairy firm. Their property included apartments and shopping centres in every major city in Canada and the United States. Many of these are held by the CEMP Corporation, the initials of which stand for Sam Bronfman's four children, Charles, Edgar, Minda and Phylis. But more on them in a moment.
Every family has its ups and downs and the Bronfmans are no exception. For it seems that when old uncle Sam wasn't swearing in Yiddish and buying up half the world he was conspiring against his cousins.
Blood is thicker than Chivas and old Sam wanted his own four lovable muppets to have total control over his hard-earned income. So the poor cousins were left with a paltry ￡20 million and had had the corporate door slammed in their face. But before you rush out to post them a little something you will be glad to hear that they landed on their feet. They now own assets of over a 100 billion dollars. They own a paper firm (Scotts), a brewery (Labatts), a little ol' bank (The Continental Bank of Canada), not to mention oil, mining, trust companies etc. You will also be glad to hear that the rift has been healed and that both branches of the family have even collaborated on a number of ventures. All together now, ahh!
Now let's turn our small minded and hate-filled gaze on good old uncle Sam's kiddy winks. We will start with the least harmful.
Phylis Lambert is Sam's second daughter and can usually be seen walking around in workman's overalls and an old shirt. Yes, she's an artist. She was briefly married to a Jean Lambert who held a post in the Wartime French Government in exile. The marriage didn't last. Maybe he didn't like going out with someone who dresses like a MacAlpine scaffolder. Anyway, Phylis now lives in a three-storey converted nut factory (how fitting) in Montreal's bohemian quarter.
The next is Minda, the oldest daughter, who seems more upwardly mobile than her sister. After all, if you're family's bought one half of everything why not marry into the other half. She married Alain de Gunzberg, who belongs to a French Jewish banking family. He seems to spend most of his time shooting game in Spain (mainly on the plain, no doubt). When tired of exterminating hapless Spanish wildlife he helps raise money for the Weizmann Institute. He is managing director of France's third largest merchant bank, the Banque Louis-Dreyfus, and if that wasn't enought his family is linked with the Rothchilds.
Now we come to the more powerful members of the Bronfman empire.
Edgar, at the age of 56, is the older of Sam's two sons. He has been based in New York since 1955 and controls the U.S. end of the Bronfman empire. He has something of a reputation in the political as well as the purely financial sense. For instance, he is now president of the World Jewish Congress.
Unfortunately for Edgar his private life is far from being well managed.
His first marriage was to Anne Loeb, an offspring of the famous (or infamous) American banking family. This soon fell apart. He then got involved with one of our own home-bred parasites, a certain Lady Caroline Townsend, her only claim to fame being that she is a direct descendant of the looney who taxed tea, thereby sparking off the American War of Independence. It seems Lady Caroline was not as dumb as her background suggests, since it seems she suddenly suffered from bouts of frigidity when it came to poor Edgar's advances. It cost him an embarrassing court case, not to mention ￡115,000 worth of jewellery and ￡40,000 a year for the next eleven years, which must work out as the most expensive ice-box in history.
It seems for Edgar it's a case of 'third time lucky', this time with an English woman of a lower social order. He has now married one Georgina Webb, who is 25 and is the daughter of a Essex publican. His pub is Ye Olde Nosebag (I kid you not) in Finchingfield.
However, this tale is not all happy because a month before the wedding son Sam II was reported kidnapped. The ransom was ￡4 and 1/2 million. Within days it had been reduced to ￡2.3 million (that's what I call bartering). Sam II was later found in the flat of a Brooklyn fireman. One of the abductors told of a homosexual affair between Sam and the fireman, and that the supposed victim was to share in the ransom. Poor old Edgar.
Last but not least is Charles, the younger of the sons. He describes himself as a fervent Canadian patriot. Which seems odd, for when the Quebec Separatists stood in the local elections this 'patriot' threatened to pull his business interests out if they dared win. The electorate, it seems, ignored his threats and the Separatists won a decisive victory that even surprised themselves.
Sadly for the health of Quebec, Charles Bronfman, instead of moving out, moved in. Within six months he and the Separatist premier of Quebec were happy to appear at public functions together. Such is life.
In other circumstances, in other times, the family Bronfman could be quite amusing. What with Yiddish bootleggers, loony artists, and patriotic international financiers, they would be worth a giggle in a Brian Rix Farce. But who's laughing. Certainly not us. After all, these freaks, and people like them, rule the Western world and believe me that's no laughing matter.