This Week in History


An Olympian in the PPCLI

For the Week of Monday, June 26, 2017

On July 1, 1917, as the country celebrated 50 years since Confederation, Canadians were fighting in the First World War. On that evening, Captain Percival Molson led the 2nd University Company of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) back to the regular shelling and sniper fire of the frontlines outside Avion, France.

Percival Molson, Montreal, QC, 1898. He was the great grandson of John Molson, founder of the Molson Brewing Company
© II-126388 McCord Museum Montréal / Wm. Notman & Son

Molson was born on August 14, 1880, in Cacouna, Quebec. A star athlete at 16, he played hockey for the Montréal Victorias, winning the 1897 Stanley Cup championship. He set a world record for long jump at the 1900 American Athletics Meet, while attending McGill University. Captain of the hockey team, track star, tennis, squash and football player, he was the only student ever named the university’s best “all-round athlete” three consecutive years. He went on to play for the Montreal Football Club and represented Canada in the 400-metre race at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Molson joined the McGill Contingent of the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps. He later enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, joining No.2 Company to reinforce the PPCLI. Molson was severely injured in 1916, while engaged in a desperate, 18-hour defence against the German advance at the Battle of Mount Sorrel. Only No.2 Company successfully held the line against the overwhelming enemy offensive.

Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, today
© Oreo Priest / Wikimedia Commons

For his actions at Mount Sorrel, Percival Molson received the Military Cross – given to officers for gallantry in battle – when he rejoined the PPCLI in June 1917. On July 5, Molson was killed in action. He was 36 years old.

In his will, Molson donated $75,000 to McGill University’s new sports stadium. In 1919, it was renamed the Percival Molson Memorial Stadium in his honor. He was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963 and, in 1996, became the McGill Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductee.

William Molson, Percival’s great uncle, is a designated national historic person. To learn about the family business, the Molson Brewing Company, read Beer! in This Week in History’s archives. For more on Canadians in the First World War read The Princess Pat’s: A Privately Funded Army, and Wings of War.

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