ON THE SCENE: The curious case of Canadian Club

Tim Robinson, D.J. O’Neil, Vergie Rodgers, Joel Stanton, along with a few family members and friends, spent a lovely Indian summer weekend Nov. 7-8 digging up D.J. and Vergie’s back 40 in Lake Placid in search of a long-hidden case of whisky.

In mid-1960s through the 1980s, long before micro-brews, straight scotch, and designer vodkas became the craze, Hiram Walker & Sons’ advertising agency came up with an award-winning “Hide a Case” ad campaign. A series of ads encouraged people to search for 25 cases of Canadian Club whisky hidden in off-beat locations, with the copy and images providing teasing clues as to where they might be found.

Cases of Canadian Club were placed in such locations as the Devil’s Backbone Reef, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Lost Dutchman’s gold mine, and high up in a New York City skyscraper. Many, but not all, were found. About five are still missing. One of these elusive cases was hidden in Lake Placid in 1979, the fall before the XIII Olympic Winter Games. At the time, locals were already keen sleuth hounds as the radio station WIRD had been hiding a series of prizes about the community that had people searching high and low.

Thus, Canadian Club hiding a case here brought out dozens of local Sherlock Holmes-type adventurers augmented by many visitors seeking the same trove. The ad’s headline read, “Lost in a Blizzard” and featured four people cross-country skiing through a snowstorm with the leader carrying a case of the precious whisky on his back. After crossing a field and coming upon a fence row, they followed along the railing until they could see “the towering silhouette of Whiteface Mountain.” The copy continued, “With our bearings restored, we hid our treasurer in a place where those who seek gold will miss by a quarter-mile.”

A fence row a quarter-mile from where? The Mount Van Hoevenberg sports complex? The Intervales ski jumps? The Olympic arenas and speeskating oval? Key was seeing Whiteface; thus, the area around John Brown’s farm became a popular place to look, as did the River Road, Fawn Ridge and the fields around Mount Van Hoevenberg.

Joel Stanton digs for a case of Canadian Club whisky. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

But no case was found.

Time went by. In 2015, Sue Cameron, then working for the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, decided to write a blog titled “The Case of the Missing Case,” featuring an image of Mad Men’s Don Draper sitting back with a glass filled with Canadian Club in hand. Contacting the ad agency, she learned that five cases were still missing.

Cameron let her readers know that the ad executives initially wanted to locate their case near Heart Lake, but the Adirondack Mountain Club wouldn’t permit them. Naturally, she teased her readers about coming visiting and giving it a shot, providing links to a variety of delightful places the adventurers could stay with one, the Whiteface Lodge, offering two nights of free lodging to anyone who found the case.

“About five years ago, I stumbled across the ad that Canadian Club had put out,” said Cameron. “I thought I hadn’t heard anything about it in a long time. I started digging and found several people who had been searching for it over the years. I decided to write a blog and the folks at ROOST said, ‘Yeah, go for it.'”

Search again though locals and visitors did, no case nor two days of free lodging were acquired. So matters rested until Tim Robinson, co-owner and general manager of Terry Robards Wine and Spirits in Lake Placid, talked with his friends D.J. O’Neil and Vergie Rodgers. They were bringing him occasional dinners during the initial COVID-19 lockdown last spring. Over the food they prepared, Tim learned that the late Bill Stowe had told them about the ad and missing case rumored to be on their property, then owned by Barbara and John Erickson.

Julie Robards and Vergie Rodgers pose at the dig site. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Robinson’s Sherlockian ears perked up. “Wouldn’t it be neat if we could find it?” he said. Months later, at a Lion’s Club function, he spoke with Cameron and Joel Stanton, who just happened to own a backhoe. With Stanton agreeing to help, his and the O’Neil’s idea gathered steam. A couple of weeks ago, another neighbor, Brad Streeter, introduced them to Mark Erickson, the son of Barbara and John who happened to be in town.

After conferring with his mom, Mark told D.J. that after more than 40 years, no one would find the case without a bit for help, so he told them it was located by old fence row on the far side of the property.

Later Barbara said her husband was a New York City ad executive. When he learned that the Adirondak Loj had thwarted Hiram Walker & Sons’ advertising reps and the November weather was getting a bit grim, he suggested they plant the box on his property, land formerly a part of the Lake Placid Club’s extensive farms. So they did, with everyone swearing to secrecy.

“You know that they couldn’t have gone far or dug a pit,” said D.J.

Scouting the area recently, Robinson found the remanent of a fence with its end pointed at Whiteface. On Nov. 7, Robinson, O’Neil and their friends started digging with Stanton carefully scraping the top surface and alders away with his backhoe. With a zest no less than Cook and Peary trying the find the North Pole, they poked, prodded, dug and ripped through the mire and web of clothes-tearing thorns. All they found was some old plexiglass and, for their effort, acquired lots of scratched arms and muddy attire.

Tim Robinson digs for a case of Canadian Club whisky. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I think it’s inspiring and adventurous, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” said Vanessa Scovell of Keene, helping Tim with the digging. “It gives us something else to focus on and keep our hopes up. If they find it will be historic. I look forward to tasting it.”

After two days, Julie Robards asked Barbara for some advice. Viewing a field that had all the appearance of being hit by an aerial bombardment, Barbara encouraged them to look 20 feet to the right. That resulted in finding an old milk bottle, but still no case.

“It’s still a great mystery,” said Barbara.

While nearly all the early enthusiastics faded with the warm weather, not the O’Neils and not Robinson, who decided to scout a tad farther back and found a parallel fence a bit higher up on dry land. Ah ha, the force was with them. Probe the ground for objects and dig they did, but still no case — as yet. Discouraged? No. Humbled? Yes. Will the search continue? By all means, most likely in the spring.

“I nearly gave up hope, and then I found the parallel fence line,” said Robinson. “I was so tired, and then here is this clue. So now it’s OK, we’re going to make this happen. I’m certainly not going to give up. No way.”

“I know we’re going to find it,” said D.J. “When Vergie came in and said we found another fence line, I just knew it. I give Tim accolades for tenacity. Great news is that an old apple tree blocking our view of Whiteface from the kitchen window is now gone, along with all those alders. We’re going to have a great bonfire.”

Canadian Club on the rocks, anyone?