This Week in History



This story was initially published in 1999

On July 28, 1786, John Molson opened his first brewery on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Montréal. Remaining family-owned for more than 220 years, the Molson Coors Brewing Company is Canada's largest brewer and is a supporter of community programs and events.

John Molson, a British orphan, came to Montréal at 18 and started producing Molson's ale within four years. Taking into partnership his three sons, John Jr., Thomas and William, he created John Molson and Sons. The sons inherited their father's keen business sense, and pursued several commercial interests, while always keeping ties to the brewery.

The original site of Molson Brewery on Notre-Dame Street, Montréal

The original site of Molson Brewery
on Notre-Dame Street, Montréal

© Photograph by M.S. Henry

In 1809, John Sr. had Lower Canada's first steamship built, the Accommodation. It, along with Molson's future ships, travelled the St. Lawrence River between Montréal and Québec, and were of service during the War of 1812. John Jr. oversaw shipping and had virtual control of the St. Lawrence. He also was involved in the import-export trade, built steam engines at the family's foundry, was president of Canada's first railway, the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railway, and was the founding president of Montreal's City Gas Co. Together, he and William founded Molson's Bank in 1853. William was foremost an industrialist and politician who adapted best to the emerging capitalism. Thomas adopted the distilling process, established the church of St. Thomas, and was often left in charge of the brewery.

Beginning their tradition of social involvement, the whole Molson family actively supported charitable organizations such as McGill University (William Molson Hall) and the Montreal General Hospital. The company once funded everything from Hockey Night in Canada, Indy car racing and concerts, to safety campaigns like their own "Take Care" initiative. The Molson Donations Fund helps programs in the fields of health, education, the arts and the environment.

A $6 bill from Molson's Bank, November 1, 1871 (John H.R. Molson left and William Molson right)

A $6 bill from Molson's Bank, November 1, 1871
(John H.R. Molson left and William Molson right)

© Virtual Molson Tour/ROM-3602

In addition to its lucrative beer business and philanthropic activities, the Molson Brewing Company entered into the world of professional sports, with the purchase of the Montréal Canadiens hockey team in 1978. In 2001, the family sold the team, but repurchased it June 2009.

The Molson family continues to be active in the new Molson Coors Brewing Company, which was created after a merger of the Molson Brewing Company and the Coors Brewing Company in 2005. Andrew Molson is currently the vice-chairman of the Board of Directors, and his brother Geoffrey is the vice-president of marketing in Quebec.

William Molson was designated a National Historic Person of Canada in 1971. His father's steamship, the Accommodation, is also of national historic importance. This vessel signifies the breadth of Molson innovation.

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