John Molson

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John Molson
John Molson Sr.jpg
Born(1763-12-28)December 28, 1763
DiedJanuary 11, 1836(1836-01-11) (aged 72)
Nationality British-Canadian
Occupation Brewer

John Molson (December 28, 1763 – January 11, 1836) was an English-born brewer and entrepreneur in colonial Quebec and Lower Canada. In addition to founding Molson Brewery, he built the first steamship and the first public railway in Canada, was a president of the Bank of Montreal, and established a hospital, a hotel, and a theatre in Montreal.

English people Nation and ethnic group native to England

The English people are a nation and an ethnic group native to England who speak the English language. The English identity is of early medieval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Angelcynn. Their ethnonym is derived from the Angles, one of the Germanic peoples who migrated to Great Britain around the 5th century AD. England is one of the countries of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living there are British citizens.

Lower Canada 19th century British colony in present-day Quebec

The Province of Lower Canada was a British colony on the lower Saint Lawrence River and the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (1791–1841). It covered the southern portion of the current-day Province of Quebec, Canada, and the Labrador region of the modern-day Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Molson Brewery was formed in 1786 in Montreal by the Molson family. In 2005, Molson merged with US-based Coors to form Molson Coors Brewing Company, the world's seventh-largest brewery at that time. Molson Coors Canada Inc. is the name of the Canadian subsidiary of Molson Coors Brewing Company. Molson's first brewery was located on the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, where the company continues to maintain its operations today.


Early life

John Molson was born in 1763, in the parish of Moulton near Spalding, Lincolnshire, England. [1] His father John Molson senior (1730–1770) had, in 1760, married Mary Elsdale (1739–1772), the eldest daughter of Samuel Elsdale (1704–1788), of Surfleet. Her brother, Robinson Elsdale (1744–1783), was a privateer, whose unpublished exploits formed the basis of the novel by Frederick Marryat, The Privateersman (1846). Before the marriage, John Molson senior inherited a property known as Snake Hall, [2] in Moulton Eaugate [3] which consisted of a house and various outbuildings associated with 38 acres (15 ha) of land.

Moulton, Lincolnshire village in The Moultons, South Holland, Lincolnshire, England

Moulton is a village in the civil parish of The Moultons, in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated on the B1537 road, 5 miles (8.0 km) east from the centre of Spalding and 3.5 miles (5.6 km) west from Holbeach.

Spalding, Lincolnshire market town in Lincolnshire, England

Spalding is a market town with a population of 28,722 at the 2011 census, on the River Welland in the South Holland district of Lincolnshire, England. Little London is a hamlet directly south of Spalding on the B1172, whilst Pinchbeck, a village to the north, is part of the built-up area.

Lincolnshire County of England

Lincolnshire is a county in eastern England, with a long coastline on the North Sea to the east. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders Northamptonshire in the south for just 20 yards (18 m), England's shortest county boundary. The county town is the city of Lincoln, where the county council has its headquarters.

John Molson senior died on June 4, 1770. His will bequeathed properties to his wife and five surviving children. Under their marriage settlement, Snake Hall went to Mary, and was to then pass on to his eldest son, John, upon her death. She died on September 21, 1772, and thus John was orphaned when eight years old. [4] John senior had named four guardians and trustees for the estate; the young John Molson's financial affairs were overseen by his paternal uncle, Thomas Molson, but in September 1771 Thomas turned over the duties of trustee and guardian to Samuel Elsdale, possibly due to poor health, as he died the following spring. Under Samuel Elsdale's oversight, Snake Hall was rented out to the benefit of their trusts. John went to live with a man named William Robinson, and at age 12 in 1776 was consigned to the care of a Mr Whitehead, who was paid for his board and education until 1780, when he turned 16. Writers have criticized Samuel Elsdale for his oversight but he seems to have performed his duties prudently, although John Molson plainly chafed under his guardianship. [5]

In 1782, at the age of 18, Molson immigrated to Quebec, in a ship that was leaking so badly he switched ships mid-ocean. [5] In 1786 he returned briefly to England, and it was during that year that Molson picked up the book Theoretic Hints on an Improved Practice in Brewing by John Richardson. [6] Molson returned to Quebec with more money and a new mindset. Many Loyalists were immigrating to Quebec from the United States and this influx increased the demand for beer. Molson worked hard, staying up long into the night. He hired an apprentice, Christopher Cook, and a loyalist housemaid, Sarah Insley Vaughan. He married her on 7 April 1801 at Christ Church in Montreal after she had borne him three children. [7]

Loyalist (American Revolution) loyalist of the American Revolution

Loyalists were American colonists who stayed loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War, often called Tories, Royalists, or King's Men at the time. They were opposed by the Patriots, who supported the revolution, and called them "persons inimical to the liberties of America". Prominent Loyalists repeatedly assured the British government that many thousands of them would spring to arms and fight for the crown. The British government acted in expectation of that, especially in the southern campaigns in 1780-81. In practice, the number of Loyalists in military service was far lower than expected since Britain could not effectively protect them except in those areas where Britain had military control. The British were often suspicious of them, not knowing whom they could fully trust in such a conflicted situation; they were often looked down upon. Patriots watched suspected Loyalists very closely and would not tolerate any organized Loyalist opposition. Many outspoken or militarily active Loyalists were forced to flee, especially to their stronghold of New York City. William Franklin, the royal governor of New Jersey and son of Patriot leader Benjamin Franklin, became the leader of the Loyalists after his release from a Patriot prison in 1778. He worked to build Loyalist military units to fight in the war, but the number of volunteers was much fewer than London expected.

Christ Church Cathedral (Montreal) Church in Quebec, Canada

Christ Church Cathedral is an Anglican Gothic Revival cathedral in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Montreal. It is located at 635 Saint Catherine Street West, between Union Avenue and University Street. It is situated on top of the Promenades Cathédrale underground shopping mall, and south of Tour KPMG. It was classified as historical monument by the government of Quebec on May 12, 1988. In 1999, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Sarah (1751–1829) was the daughter of Thomas Vaughan of Harnham Hall, Morpeth, Northumberland. She was the niece of Wilmot Vaughan, 1st Earl of Lisburne and through her mother's family, the Aynsleys, a cousin of the Duke of Atholl. She emigrated to the American colonies with her first husband, David Tetchley, but ten years later left him, and reverting to her maiden name, she made her way to Montreal, penniless, until taken in by Molson. [8]

Morpeth, Northumberland town in Northumberland, England

Morpeth is a historic market town in Northumberland, North East England, lying on the River Wansbeck. Nearby villages include Mitford and Pegswood. In the 2011 census, the population of Morpeth was given as 14,017, up from 13,833 in the 2001 census. The earliest record of the town is believed to be from the Neolithic period. The meaning of the town's name is uncertain, but it may refer to its position on the road to Scotland and a murder which occurred on that road. The de Marley family was granted the Barony of Morpeth in c. 1080 and built two castles in the town in the late 11th century and the 13th century. The town was granted its coat of arms in 1552. By the mid 1700s it had become one of the main markets in England, having been granted a market charter in 1199, but the opening of the railways in the 1800s lead the market to decline. The town's history is celebrated in the annual Northumbrian Gathering.

Wilmot Vaughan, 1st Earl of Lisburne British politician

Wilmot Vaughan, 1st Earl of Lisburne, of Trawsgoed, Cardiganshire, known as Viscount Lisburne from 1766 to 1776, was a Welsh peer and politician.

Duke of Atholl

Duke of Atholl, alternatively Duke of Athole, named after Atholl in Scotland, is a title in the Peerage of Scotland held by the head of Clan Murray. It was created by Queen Anne in 1703 for John Murray, 2nd Marquess of Atholl, with a special remainder to the heir male of his father, the 1st Marquess.

Soon Molson's beer was in such demand that according to one of his diary entries "Cannot serve half my customers and they are increasing every day." One of the major reasons for this was the wide appeal of his beer to different classes of Montreal society. High British officers had been drinking imported London porters and the city merchants preferred Bristol.[ citation needed ] Yet Molson's beer was special as it was "universally liked" (a quotation from Molson's diary). It was at the Anglican church that he met many influential and wealthy businessmen like fur trader James McGill, Joseph Frobisher, founder of the North West Company, and Alexander Mackenzie.

James McGill founder of McGill University, Montreal

James McGill was a Scottish businessman and philanthropist best known for being the founder of McGill University, Montreal. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada for Montreal West in 1792 and was appointed to the Executive Council of Lower Canada in 1793. He was the honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st Battalion, Montreal Militia, a predecessor unit of The Canadian Grenadier Guards. He was also a prominent member of the Château Clique and one of the original founding members of the Beaver Club. His summer home stood within the Golden Square Mile.

Joseph Frobisher Canadian politician

The Hon. Joseph Frobisher M.P., J.P., was one of Montreal's most important fur traders. He was elected to the 1st Parliament of Lower Canada and was a seigneur with estates totalling 57,000 acres. He was a founding member of the North West Company and the Beaver Club, of which he was chairman. From 1792, his country seat, Beaver Hall, became a centre of Montreal society.

Career success and later life

Montreal around 1830 with "cagers" and steam boats in the foreground. Cagers were large rafts made of logs attached to each other on which the boatmen installed a cabin or "cage". They descended the river as far as Molson dock. Seen from Sainte-Helene island. Montreal vers 1830. Depuis lile Sainte-Helene. (6965308117).jpg
Montréal around 1830 with "cagers" and steam boats in the foreground. Cagers were large rafts made of logs attached to each other on which the boatmen installed a cabin or "cage". They descended the river as far as Molson dock. Seen from Sainte-Hélène island.

Between 1788 and 1800, Molson's business grew quickly into one of the larger ones in Lower Canada. Already in 1791, he sold 30,000 gallons of beer. [9] During these years Molson and his wife had four children, John junior, Thomas (who died shortly after birth), another Thomas, and William (Billy).

The year 1800 marks the first recorded use of (imported) bottles by Molson. About this time arrived The Philosophical Principles of the Science of Brewing by Richardson, which marks the introduction of the thermometer and the saccharometer to the English craft. [10] By the start of the 19th Century, his small brewery had grown tenfold. Molson now had the money to improve his business by buying new technology.

Steamship pioneer

Molson toyed with the idea of buying a steamship after seeing Robert Fulton’s Vermont go down the Hudson.[ citation needed ] Molson's steamship would be the first in Canada. Molson teamed up with John Jackson and John Bruce who would build a ship for Molson in return for putting up the money and part ownership. Built in Montreal (with engines produced at Forges du Saint-Maurice in Trois-Rivières) in 1809, Accommodation became the first steamship to ride on the waters of the Saint Lawrence River. [1] This was a great feat for Molson but, from a business viewpoint, it was a net loss, costing ₤4000 by 1810. [11] Molson was determined to make money on his ships so he dismantled Accommodation and purchased in person two steamship engines from Boulton & Watt in Birmingham, England. He combined the two engines and the remains of Accommodation to create Swiftsure, a magnificent ship that was a vision of elegance and speed, traversing the route at an average of seven miles an hour. Swiftsure measured 130 feet on the keel and had a beam of 24 feet. [12] The steamship provided a ready cash business, while the government in London had suspended the transfer of specie from 1800 to 1817. Most other Canadian business was carried on with London bills of exchange, and the transfer of those bills from Montreal to Quebec earned the Molsons up to 20 per cent. [13] [14] And since brewing occupied the months when the steamboats were laid up, a harmonious concordance of activities resulted. [15]

1815: The details of this map show the facilities of the industrialist John Molson in the Eastern part of the old suburb of Quebec in the first quarter of the 19th century. (detail of urban plans map) Montreal 1815. La brasserie Molson, rue Notre-Dame. (6819732228).jpg
1815: The details of this map show the facilities of the industrialist John Molson in the Eastern part of the old suburb of Québec in the first quarter of the 19th century. (detail of urban plans map)

During this time Molson's business continued to grow and the War of 1812 pushed sales even higher. Swiftsure was leased to the British Army and brought in a supplemental income.[ citation needed ] In 1815, Molson was elected to represent Montreal East in the legislative assembly on the platform of building a wharf. Molson Canadian is the second oldest company in all of Canada.

Plutocrat and banker

As Molson became more occupied by his multiple businesses and his seat in the assembly, his three sons began to take a much larger role in the companies. John Junior managed the steamships, Thomas was married in England and would frequently travel sending back tips and advice to his father, and William was in charge of the brewery. In 1816, the year he took his sons formally into partnership, [16] [17] [18] Molson built Mansion House Hotel which coincided with the Assembly's acceptance of the wharf. Molson's hotel was only for those who could afford luxury. The hotel offered Montreal's first library, boat rides on the river, well-furnished rooms and six-course dinners, famous throughout all of Montreal.

To the John Molsons and Sons partnership were leased at 6% per annum Molson's accumulated capital assets; the term was seven years. The four partners divided equally, share and share alike, the profits and the losses. If any insoluble difference arose between the partners, two indifferent arbitrators were to be appointed. By December of 1816, Molson had accumulated £63,550. [19]

In 1817, John Richardson and George Moffatt created the Montreal Bank. Molson declined a partnership in it as the backers of this project had been involved with multiple failed banks in the United States and he felt it was a risky investment. Molson changed his mind not long afterwards and the bank became fully Canadian-owned when the U.S. partners sold their shares after the U.S. financial crisis in the fall of 1818. By 1822, the bank had received a charter from Britain and changed its name to the Bank of Montreal. Between 1826 to 1834, Molson presided over its affairs. [1]


In 1819, Molson had a short bout of sickness. It was during this time that he noticed the only hospital in the city, Hôtel Dieu, only held 30 beds. Molson proposed to the assembly that a new hospital be established that would contain 200 beds. Although the assembly denied his request, [20] there was much private support and soon donations came pouring in. By May the new hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, was opened on Craig Street (now Saint Antoine Street).

International beer and spirit merchant

A crisis almost struck the Molsons in 1821 when the Mansion House Hotel caught fire; some of the books from the library were saved but not much more was salvageable. [21] Molson was undaunted by this and had ideas to build an even grander hotel, a true testament to his character. While John junior and William took care of the businesses within Canada, Thomas was busy working in England. Thomas brought over 237 gallons of beer to London, England. The response was encouraging and Thomas brought another 1385 gallons on his next trip. Molson's had its first international market.

The first Canadian distillery on an industrial scale was a Molson endeavour. [22] It was in response to the economic collapse that occurred from 1817 to 1820, that Thomas convinced his partners to enter the distillery business, which was industrially a virgin land. [23] From 1820 to 1866, one or another Molson partnership were the largest distillers in Canada. [24] The trade in liquor was only wholesale in nature, [25] because trade at the retail level had been forbidden the managers of a distillery under a law passed in 1794. [26] The Molson company official historian maintains that until 1846, the single most substantial source of revenues were duties on alcoholic beverages. In those pioneer days, alcohol was the primary form by which was monetized grain, and in the absence of Scotch supply the British craved Canadian whiskey. [24] One historian has concluded that, because the cost of transportation rises with volume shipped, Molson shipped concentrated alcohol to his British agents, Grayhurst & Hewat, who then cut it down for retail. [27]

In 1828, the temperance movement in Canada was begun, with Methodist preachers setting up shop first in the Niagara Peninsula, then in Montreal and at Bedford, Nova Scotia. Prohibitionists called for the elimination of import, manufacture and sale of strong liquor for beverage purposes. [28]

Theatre impresario

A performance at Molson's Theatre Royal, Montreal, 1825 Theatre Royal Montreal 1825.jpg
A performance at Molson's Theatre Royal, Montreal, 1825

By 1825, Molson's hotel was completely rebuilt and renamed the British American Hotel. After the hotel was completed Molson built a theatre adjacent to it. By November, Molson's Theatre Royal was completed, the first theatre in Montreal. It seated 1,000 guests, presenting Shakespeare and Restoration authors and was also used for circuses and concerts. [29] Edmund Kean and Charles Dickens both performed there before it was demolished in 1844 to make way for the Bonsecours Market. [30]

Never resting, Molson continued to build his empire by purchasing multiple steamships and creating the St Lawrence Steamboat Company. [1] This fleet of ships was so big that it outnumbered all of those operating in the United States. In 1826 Molson decided to run against a young Louis-Joseph Papineau but resigned quickly after discovering the amount of support Papineau had from the French and the Irish.

On March 18, 1829 Molson's wife Sarah Vaughan, died after treating her rheumatism with laudanum. Sarah became addicted to this opium-based painkiller and died from the effects. Molson sold the house they lived in together and moved on with his life. His four-year term as President of the Bank of Montreal (1826–1830) [1] ended and Molson did not run for a second. Even at the age of 67 Molson did not contemplate retirement; one of his biggest projects still lay ahead.

Railway entrepreneur

Replica at World's Fair Expo 86 in Vancouver of the C&SL locomotive Dampflokomotive John Molson.jpg
Replica at World's Fair Expo 86 in Vancouver of the C&SL locomotive

Since 1825, Molson had followed reports of the first railways being built in England. Molson had told the head of this project, Jason Pierce, that he was interested. Pierce did not forget about Molson's interest and in 1832 Molson's request for a railroad was accepted by the Assembly. The Champlain and St Lawrence Railroad was to connect the St Lawrence to the Hudson River, making the trip from Montreal to New York much quicker. This was the first railway ever constructed in Canada. Molson became the Railroad's largest shareholder, [1] [31] when a cholera epidemic struck Canada in 1832 and 1834 added to echoes of the economic depression caused by the crisis closure of the Second Bank of the United States. This all caused the railroad project to lose much of its momentum. Many businesses closed in Montreal but the Molsons continued work as usual. Construction of the railroad was begun in 1835, and was completed on Thursday 21 July 1836 with great pomp and ceremony, but without the senior Molson. [32]

After his multiple successful proposals, John Molson was appointed to the Legislative Council of Lower Canada. He was considered part of the "Chateau Clique" as he was a rich English businessman. The people were losing their faith in English businessmen like Molson and were turning to men like Papineau and Robert Nelson, both members of the Patriote movement. In 1833 Molson's hotel burned down again. This time though, Molson decided not to rebuild it.[ citation needed ]


Photos of the masters of St Paul's Lodge 374 in Montreal. Molson is third from the left on the first line. Past masters, St Paul's Lodge, 374, ERmontage of 36 photographs (HS85-10-25525).jpg
Photos of the masters of St Paul's Lodge 374 in Montreal. Molson is third from the left on the first line.

Molson was appointed Provincial Grand Master of the District Grand Lodge of Montreal (Freemasons) by the Duke of Sussex by Letters Patent dated May 15, 1826 and installed in office by Claude Dénéchau on September 5, 1826; Molson resigned in 1833. [33]

Death and legacy

Molson family mausoleum at Mount Royal Cemetery Cimetiere Mont-Royal - Monument en l'honneur de la famille Molson 01.jpg
Molson family mausoleum at Mount Royal Cemetery
Plaque on the Molson family mausoleum Cimetiere Mont-Royal - Monument en l'honneur de la famille Molson 07.jpg
Plaque on the Molson family mausoleum

When things returned to normal after the second cholera epidemic, Molson's railroad project began to gain speed. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see his last dream realized. Molson caught a high fever in December 1835. He wrote his will on January 11, 1836, and died that day. In his will, Molson named John Molson junior, Thomas Molson, William Molson, George Moffatt and Peter McGill executors. [34] His remains now rest in a family mausoleum at Mount Royal Cemetery.

In 1955, a historian noted that of the many and myriad businesses started in 18th-century Montreal, only three remained to that date. [35] The Molson Coors Brewing Company still has the dominant share of the beer industry in Canada.

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Martin, Joseph E. (2017). "Titans". Canada's History. 97 (5): 47–53. ISSN   1920-9894.
  2. McCord Museum Snake Hall, Lincolnshire. Photograph: House, copied for Mrs Molson in 1868 (Anonymous) Retrieved on: 2010-06-25.
  3. Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1147269)". National Heritage List for England . Retrieved 4 May 2013.
  4. Denison 1955 , p. 13
  5. 1 2 Hunter, Douglas. Molson: The Birth of a Business Empire. Penguin Books Canada, 2001. ISBN   0-670-88855-9
  6. Denison 1955 , p. 35
  7. "MOLSON, JOHN". Dictionary of Canadian Biography.
  8. Molson, Karen. The Molsons: Their Lives & Times, 1780–2000. Firefly Books, 2001. ISBN   1-55209-418-9
  9. Denison 1955 , p. 47
  10. Denison 1955 , p. 55
  11. Marsh, John. "Accommodation" in The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988), Volume 1, p.10.
  12. Denison 1955 , pp. 80–82
  13. Denison 1955 , p. 87
  14. Denison 1955 , pp. 105–6
  15. Denison 1955 , p. 152
  16. Denison 1955 , p. 44
  17. Denison 1955 , p. 91
  18. Denison 1955 , p. 115
  19. Denison 1955 , pp. 115–6
  20. Denison 1955 , p. 108
  21. Denison 1955 , p. 114
  22. Denison 1955 , p. 119
  23. Denison 1955 , p. 127
  24. 1 2 Denison 1955 , pp. 119–121
  25. Denison 1955 , p. 134
  26. Denison 1955 , p. 192
  27. Denison 1955 , pp. 132–133
  28. Denison 1955 , p. 193
  29. Wilson, Edwin, ed. Living Theatre: History of the Theatre. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2008. Print.
  30. Canadian Theatre
  31. Denison 1955 , p. 159
  32. Denison 1955 , pp. 160–4
  33. "History of the Grand Lodge of Quebec". Grand Lodge of Quebec. Retrieved April 17, 2017.
  34. Dubuc 1988
  35. Denison 1955 , p. 43


Business positions
Preceded by
Horatio Gates
President of the Bank of Montreal
Succeeded by
Peter McGill