An article by: V.W.Bro. Barry D. Thom, St. Clair Lodge No. 577, GL of Canada
In 1782, at the age of 18, John Molson immigrated to Quebec. He crossed the ocean in a ship that was leaking so badly that he had to switch ships in mid-ocean. 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. The brewing of beer was a trade not found in the Molson family. John had now inherited a vast amount of money and decided to make a career brewing beer. He was a quick, hardworking, undaunted learner, and soon became an expert brew master.
At this time, many British Loyalists were immigrating to Quebec from the United States. This new influx increased the demand for beer. Soon Molson’s beer was in such demand that according to one of his diary entries "I 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, as it was ‘universally liked’ (a quote from Molson’s diary). By the start of the 1800’s, Molson’s small brewery had grown tenfold.
A crisis struck the Molson family in 1821 when their Mansion House Hotel caught fire; the books from the library were saved but not much more was salvageable. Molson was undaunted by this and had ideas to build an even grander hotel. By 1825, Molson’s hotel was completely rebuilt and renamed the British American Hotel. Adjacent to it, Molson built his Theatre Royal. Seating 1,000 guests, it was the first theatre in Montreal.
Two businessmen offered Molson partnership in the newly formed Montreal Bank but Molson refused. The reason being that the backers of this project had just come off of multiple failed banks in the United States and he felt it was a risky investment. Not long after Molson changed his mind 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 Montreal Bank had received a charter from Britain and chose to change their name to the Bank of Montreal. Today it is known as BMO.
Molson continued to build his empire by purchasing multiple steamships and creating the St Lawrence Steamboat Company. This company kept increasing the number of its ships to the point that they outnumbered the total of all ships operating in the United States. John had three sons, two of which were involved in his many business ventures. Molson had followed reports of the first railways being built in England and in 1832 his request for a railroad was accepted by the House of Assembly (Parliament). After the second cholera epidemic, when things returned to normal, Molson’s railroad project began to gain speed. The Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad Champlain was the first railway constructed in Canada, connecting the St Lawrence to the Hudson River, making the trip from Montreal to New York much quicker.
In 1833 Molson's hotel burned down again but this time he decided not to rebuild. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see his railroad dream realized. Molson caught a high fever in December 1835.
He wrote his will on January 10, 1836 and died that day.