By: Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca
Founded in Montreal in 1786, the Molson Brewery is the oldest brewery in North America and continues to produce beer on the site of the original brewery.
On May 2, 1782, 18 year old John Molson left Lincolnshire, England for Canada, landing in Montreal on June 26. Shortly after his arrival, at a time when Montrealers drank wine, rum and port, Molson sensed a market potential for beer in the then British colony, seeing the influx of English and Irish immigrants, who were particularly partial to beer. With money he had inherited from his parents, Molson acquired a small brewery on the banks of the St. Lawrence, just outside the fortifications of Montreal.
In 1785 he sailed back to Europe to find modern equipment and seeds. Upon his return, he offered the seeds free of charge to local Montreal farmers who agreed to grow them to satisfy the brewery’s need for malt. Production started on Sept.1, 1786, and six weeks later John Molson launched four brands of ale: Strong Ale, Mild Ale, Table Beer and Small Beer. Business was thriving and in 1800 glass bottles were introduced. (Beer was previously only sold in barrels). In 1803, the brewery started a beer delivery service in Montreal, rather than selling directly from the brewery.
John Molson’s business enterprises were not limited to his Montreal brewery. In 1816 he entered into partnership with his sons John Jr, Thomas, and William. It was Thomas who would follow in his father’s footsteps by continuing the Molson brewing tradition and upholding the high standards of quality. In 1903, inspired by the popularity of imported beers, Herbert Molson, Thomas’ grandson, and brew master John Hyde created Molson Export, an authentic Ale brewed in the classic style developed by John Molson.
Although brewing proved to be Molson’s most sustainable field of endeavour, other business activities were added. John Molson founded one of the first commercial steamship enterprises and the first railway, developed one of Canada’s first banking businesses, the Molson Bank in 1855, which merged with the Bank of Montreal in 1925, and built Montreal’s first luxury hotel. He built the city’s first theatre, helped found the Montreal General Hospital, and sat on the Lower Canada Legislative Assembly.
Succeeding generations of Molsons have followed in his path, making the Molson name a national landmark: Molson’s Bank, Molson Stadium, Molson Library, Molson Breweries, Molson Centre, and, John Molson School of Business.
Molson had lost his wife on 18 March 1829, and in his seventy-second year he was stricken with an illness that brought about his own death, in 1836. The funeral took place at Christ Church in Montreal and he was buried in the old cemetery of the faubourg Saint-Laurent. Later his remains were transported with his wife’s to Mount Royal Cemetery, to rest in the impressive mausoleum that their sons put up in 1860.
Source: Archives Canada / Concordia / Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Molson Brewery in 1936
Molson Brewery in 2015 – located at 1555 Notre Dame East
(Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)