Origin of the Term "Whiff of Grape"
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cannon, which is now superseded by shrapnel.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 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.
The first club was formed in Montreal during 1964 by a group of young
men belonging to the defunct Young Progressive Conservatives Club. Initially,
the Club 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.
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 Whiff of Grape in Toronto, 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 .
How we operate
The governance of each Whiff rests in the hands of a five or six member,
all-powerful "junta." It is re-elected each year at the September annual
meeting and the membership can direct their own "grapeshot"
at the Junta before they leave office if they have not done their jobs to perfection. Business is not discussed at general meetings and no consensus
is requested. The Toronto chapter is incorporated as The Whiff of Grape
Social Club Inc. (Ontario charter) and normally meets eight times per year,
most often at the Badminton and Racquet Club at Yonge & St. Clair.
Certain events maybe deemed as "Ladies Night" or "Family Night" which is enjoyed by all. Special attention is paid to inviting a speaker that 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 camaraderie.
- the quality of the speakers is a testament to the varied backgrounds and professions of members that has resulted in their being able to call upon leading figures in the country to be guest speakers.
- lively question periods
- always a great dinner!!!
Listed below are some of the Toronto Whiff's more notable past speakers, which provides a sense of the calibre of presenters.
“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 speaker’s comments and the subsequent interaction among the members.” James E. Domm
“Our dinner meetings provide a unique opportunity to learn about other people’s experiences and interests while enjoying the company of friends. The topics are varied and stimulating and reflect the different educational, cultural and professional backgrounds of our members. It is also fun! - Bev Collombin
“I think of distinctly different, independent characters who appreciate good cuisine and wine. They seem to respect one another but they are intolerant of verbosity. They appreciate good speakers who have a passion for their topics and who can field insightful questions.” - John Ricketts
Listed below are some of the Toronto Whiff's more notable past speakers, which provides a sense of the caliber of presenters attracted to the Club:
- Dr. Roberta Bondar – Physician, Scientist, Photographer, Astronaut.
- Brian Williams - Canada's top sportscaster
- Honourable Frank Iacobucci - Supreme Court of Canada Judge
- Allan Gotlieb – former Canadian Ambassador to the United States and author of “Washington Diaries”.
- Kenneth Taylor – former Canadian Ambassador to Iran
- and many more....