The History of the Whiff of Grape
The first club was formed in Montreal during 1963 by a group of young men belonging to the now defunct Young Progressive Conservatives Club. Initially, the Whiff featured internal debates among members and later invited outside speakers to voice their opinions followed by a lively debate. Special attention was made to invite speakers with controversial topics.
In 1967, the Toronto Chapter was formed (incorporated with an Ontario charter since Feb 22, 2001 as The Whiff of Grape Social Club Inc.) and has met since then eight times per year, primarily at The Badminton and Racquet Club near Yonge & St. Clair until the Feb 14, 2017 fire. The RCYC welcomed us for meetings at the RCYC City Clubhouse, which continued until the Covid-19 pandemic precluded in-person meetings and curtailed the 2019-2020 campaign after the Feb 2020 meeting. Once it was determined that the pandemic would endure for an unknown period of time, the Junta began the Whiff@Home program, beginning with a virtual 2020 June Bash using video conferencing via Zoom™. The Junta hopes to resume in-person meetings in the Fall of 2022.
Over the years, we have heard from Supreme Court judges, P remiers, astronauts, Olympians, ambassadors, CEOs, broadcasters, explorers, professors, doctors, police chiefs and great raconteurs. Certain events may be deemed as “Family Nights” which are enjoyed by all. Special attention is paid to inviting a speaker who will appeal to the extended audience. It is also an occasion where members frequently hear stories about their fellow members that they have never heard before.
The success of the Whiff of Grape can be attributed to:
- Having a membership of individuals who are well informed, highly educated and enjoy a good sense of humour and fellowship.
- The quality of the speakers, which is a testament to the varied backgrounds and professions of the members that has resulted in their being able to call upon leading figures in the country to be guest speakers.
- Lively and insightful question periods.
- An always great dinner and camaraderie!!!
When does the Whiff meet for a dinner with a speaker?
The Whiff of Grape meets the last Tuesday of the months of September to November, and January to April at 6:15pm for cocktails, with a 7:00pm call for dinner. In early June, we hold the “June Bash” for all members and their guests, at another fine private Toronto club such as the R.C.Y.C. Island Clubhouse or The Toronto Hunt Club.
“The Whiff of Grape is well known for its comradeship, fellowship and jolly good fun at regular meetings, which feature speakers who address relevant topics with perspicacity and timeliness. Speakers have the assurance of privacy along with being confronted with Whiff member audacity & impertinence and even irreverence during lively question periods. Our annual finale features a lovely and graceful evening with spouses and significant others – usually at a fine club. The Whiff is truly a unique and wonderful organization”
– William Hewitt
“I have been a member of the Whiff of Grape for over forty years, commencing in Montreal then Toronto. My appreciation and enjoyment of the Whiff emanates from two main sources. Firstly the fellowship among the members who come from various walks of life and secondly the intellectual stimulus provided by the speakers’ comments and the subsequent interaction among the members.“
– James E. Domm
Origin of the Term “Whiff of Grape”
In the early 1500’s, artillery experts advanced cannon ammunition from solid large balls to small iron balls in a cloth bag or canister called grapeshot. Grapeshot was fired from a smooth bore cannon, which is now superseded by shrapnel.
The term “Whiff of Grapeshot” later shortened to “Whiff of Grape” is attributed to Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), a Scottish essayist and historian who wrote The French Revolution at its time of happening.
In 1794, Robespierre was arrested and beheaded on a guillotine, a common punishment during the French Revolution. This act, in effect, ended the reign of terror in France; shortly thereafter, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was released from prison and chosen to lead troops against the mobs who threatened the National Convention i.e. the middle-class French government. In 1795, Napoleon turned his cannons on the rioting mobs and some 200-300 besieging revolutionaries were killed and twice as many wounded while the rest retreated in panic. Napoleon’s ruthless, though effective, action made him an instant hero. In the words of Thomas Carlyle, “the National Convention was saved by a whiff of grapeshot”. More accurately, the revolution was saved by Napoleon’s decisive and ruthless actions during the crisis.
The term “Whiff of Grape” is intended to refer to the two-way blast or tempest of verbal communication that sometimes takes place between the views of our diverse speakers and club members, albeit more mellow over recent years. Napoléon ordered his troops to fire over the heads of peasants storming the gates of Paris, yelling “give them a whiff of grape!“. Hence our logo of the cannon spewing grapeshot. It signifies firing non-lethal, but effective questions at our speaker whose views may not always be similar to our own. The meetings are “in camera” so as to allow the speaker to state his or her mind without worrying about those remarks being repeated in the public domain.
Some (more detailed) History of the Whiff
The first club was formed in Montréal sometime in1963 by a group of young men who initially held internal debates among members and later invited outside speakers to voice their opinions followed by a lively debate.
Special attention was made to invite speakers with controversial topics. And one of the more memorable speakers was René Lévesque. Subsequently, while speaking in Toronto, he referred to a meeting he had attended in Montreal where a “moneyed group” called The Whiff of Grape did not believe that Québec could survive on its own. “For the sake of their health, they should leave Québec,” he was quoted as saying.
During this period of political unrest, a number of Montréal Whiffers did in fact leave Québec, but for economic, not health reasons. These expatriates from Québec missed the camaraderie of the Whiff and formed new chapters in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh. The following cast was instrumental in founding the Toronto Whiff of Grape, in 1967: Mike Barber, Eric Barton, Dave Burrows, Jamie Gairdner, Jim McCartney, Warren Moysey, Charlie Pielsticker, Chris Scott, Gary Strickler, Howie Taylor and Steve Wilgar. Each of them invited three others to join them and The Toronto Whiff was off and running. Howie Taylor introduced the first speaker: Robert Nixon, then Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Liberal Party in Ontario .