Creemore visionary John Wiggins dies at 89
John Wiggins, the founder of Creemore Spring Brewery, is being remembered as a visionary that shaped the village and had a positive impact on the lives of the people who live here.
“John Wiggins is a legend,” said daughter Lisa of her father who passed away at his home at Balmoral Village in Collingwood on April 10.
Born in Vancouver in 1931 to Dr. Reginald and Mary Jane (nee Hendry) Wiggins had the sort of life that legend is made of. Some of his earliest memories were of a cross country move during the depression. According to his written memoir John came face to face with a man-eating tiger on the first leg of the journey. He was pulled by the tiger to its cage leaving him scarred for life and making the ride squeezed into the back seat of a 1926 McLaughlin Buick with his siblings even more painful.
During his childhood, he moved frequently throughout the Maritimes for his father’s work until finally landing in Ottawa. In his early teens John’s father left the family for the States and his mother went to work as a nurse. Despite some hardship she did all she could to foster her children’s interests and opportunities.
It was in Ottawa that John met his future wife Sylvia van Steenburgh (passed 2018). The beauty from a posh family was considered above him but with pointed focus John set out to woo her. He went without a winter coat so that he could buy the tuxedo required when courting a woman of Sylvia’s ilk. They married in 1954.
John put the same determination and creativity to use in the field of advertising working with major national brands and creating logos that many would still recognize today such as Harvey’s and Dixie Lee. When he was not working his mind was still busy drafting plans for the family cottage near Havelock, painting or dreaming up ideas for electric cars.
Wiggins first started visiting the area with his wife and children to ski at Devil’s Glen. During their early days as founding members of the club the Wiggins family came to know and love the village, moving to Creemore full time in 1977. John continued to commute to Toronto for work.
At the time, Creemore was literally boarded up according to Wiggins. He purchased what was the W.A. May Hardware Store at the corner of Mill and Elizabeth Streets. He saw it as an investment and did not have even an inkling of what the space would eventually become. During early ownership it housed several businesses including a clothing boutique and an art gallery.
Wiggins continued working long hours in Toronto’s high stress advertising world, until he was so affected by arthritis that he needed to step back to protect his health. Though he really enjoyed his new life, watercolours and training performance horses were not enough for the man whose mind never stopped so Wiggins put all he knew about marketing into his own venture. He wrote the business plan, got the investors, installed the copper kettles in its main street location and Creemore Springs Brewery opened in 1987.
Though he was the driving force Wiggins, whose daughters say was unfailingly modest, was always quick to attribute the community’s agricultural roots and strong work ethic for the success of one of Canada’s first micro breweries.
John sold his Creemore Spring interests to his business partners in the early 2000s but maintained strong opinions when it came to the company that he founded. He was quite vocal when the business was sold to Molson in 2005, when a major expansion occurred in 2009 and again when the brewery rebranded in 2019.
Wiggins played an active role in Creemore’s economic development spearheading the movement to install a municipal waste treatment system, aiding businesses in branding and attracting entrepreneurs to the community. “He touched so many lives. He believed all dreams could come true and would help anybody in a heartbeat if they had an idea,” said daughter Lisa.
Jackie Durnford, the past president of the Creemore BIA and former owner of the 100 Mile Store came to Creemore in 1989 because of John’s encouragement and support. “He had an amazing vision and we bought into it. He wanted to be known as a catalyst for change – and he was. Every business in Creemore can thank him. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
John is survived by children Christopher, Sheri (John) and Lisa (Dan). Grandchildren Michael (Elyse), Taylor, Spencer, Joshua, Daniel (Liz), Emily and Jonny. Great-grandchild Daxton. A fitting celebration of life will take place when COVID protocols allow.