February 6, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
John Molson

John Molson was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1763 and orphaned in 1772 at the age of eight. His share of his parents’ estate was placed in receivership and young Molson was sent to live under the strict guardianship of his grandfather. At the age of 17 he suffered a debilitating illness that doctors could neither diagnose nor treat. A sea voyage was prescribed.

Molson chose Canada as an exciting destination of opportunity but the sea journey to Montreal was anything but therapeutical. England was simultaneously at war with France and their colonies in America and the seas were awash in warships. Several times the ship was swamped and the captain often spent entire days in his cabin drunk. In mid-voyage Molson and his party were forced to transfer to another ship.

Montreal in the 1780s was a frontier town of 8000, mostly French and mainly involved in the fur trade. Molson scouted the community for possible enterprises and became intrigued with a malting house started by a friend, Thomas Loyd. There had been other breweries tried in Montreal but the French drank only wine and spirits. All had closed.

Still, starting up a brewery was inexpensive, there was little labor involved and the profit margins were substantial. And locally brewed beer was not subject to duties and taxes. When Loyd brewed and sold 50 hogshead of ale late in 1782 Molson decided to join him in January of 1783.

The circumstances are unclear but by January 1785 Molson was sole owner of the brewery. He had purchased 400 acres of land north of Lake Champlain which became Vermont after the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution. At some point Molson apparently traded his land for Loyd's share of the brewery.

Molson closed the brewery and sailed home to England to settle his inheritance and study English breweries. He returned to Montreal with brewing equipment and a supply of high quality barley seed he distributed free to local farmers. He also brought with him a small book, Theoretical Hints on an Improved Practice of Brewing.

Molson's first output that winter was 80 hogsheads, or 4300 gallons. In 1787 Molson said, "My beer has been almost universally well liked beyond my most sanguine expectations." It was also the only beer available. By 1791, when the Constitutional Act separating Quebec into Upper Canada and Lower Canada was effected, Molson was a leading member of the Montreal business community.

Molson, despite being English in the French-dominated Lower Canada, gradually expanded his brewery through the end of the century. Output grew to more than 50,000 gallons annually. In 1797 Molson entered the lumber business. He sold two million board feet in two years but made little profit.

Molson's next venture outside brewing took place in 1809 when he entered a partnership to finance the building of a steamship. For years Molson had watched sailing ships fight the swift current of the St. Lawrence River from his brewery on the banks. He set out to commission a steamship.

The Accommodation took ten passengers on its maiden voyage on November 1, 1809 as Canada's first steamer, and the third commercial, trip in the world. The venture lost money but pioneered the waterway for Molson's future fleet.

In 1814 Molson signed a partnership with his three sons ensuring the brewery would remain in family control. With his time freed from the everyday duties of running the brewery Molson eagerly diversified his interests. He was elected to represent Montreal East in the Canadian Parliament, serving from 1816 to 1820 and advancing the establishment of the Montreal General Hospital.

Molson built the Mansion House, Montreal's finest hotel which included a public library and post office. It burned down but he quickly rebuilt it adding Montreal's first theater next to the hotel. He invested heavily in Canada's railways and served as President of the Bank of Montreal from 1826 to 1830.

Molson died in 1836 at the age of 72 while a member of Canada's Legislative Council. In his will he stipulated that his portrait, painted in 1811, should hang in the brewery for as long as the Molson family retains control but if "the brewery ever pass into the hands of strangers" the portrait must be removed. It still hangs in the Molson brewery today.

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