In 1898 a splashy, advertorial-style piece in the French-language La Presse wrote up the ten breweries then operating in Greater Montreal. La Presse was founded in 1884 by William-Edmond Blumhart. He descended from a Hessian officer who had served with British forces in Quebec.
For much of the 20th century La Presse was a major force in Quebec publishing, friendly to business yet with a liberal, inclusive outlook. (At least as I remember it, La Presse was not strongly nationalistic, for example). Today, the paper is digital-only and run as a social, non-profit trust.
The breweries profiled were Molson, Dow, Dawes, Ekers, Union, de la Court, Reinhardt (claimed as the first lager brewery in Montreal, 1852), Star, Canadian Brewing, and Montreal Brewing. The three oldest were Molson (1786), Union (formerly the Williams Brewery) (1808), and Dow (1809). Today, only Molson survives, now called Molson Coors Beverage Inc.
Brewing continues at Molson’s historic location by the St. Lawrence River but a new plant is being built in St. Hubert, Quebec. When the key will turn that will spell the end at least of mass production by the riverside in Montreal, a long run indeed at the same location.
The article perhaps was financed by the breweries as a joint anti-Prohibition exercise, as the health, economic, and social benefits of moderate drinking are continually emphasized. The breweries are given space disprportionately to their size, and Molson only got a small paragraph. It is difficult to know why, maybe each paid so much for the space given.
The piece is noteworthy for its historical, ownership and management details as well as product descriptions.
In tune with the industrial and commercial landscape then, most of the breweries were owned by anglophones despite the fact that Montreal has always had a French-speaking majority. Star was owned by a Belgian financier, Count Debellefeuille. “de la Court” name suggests another European involvement, possibly, but this is unclear.
Many breweries, according to the article, had British-trained brewers. Burton, Scotland, and Ireland are mentioned.
In the 20th century brewing in Montreal local francophones commenced brewing, e.g., the Frontenac Brewery although it ended being absorbed in a large combine, National Breweries.
The types of beer made were pale ale, India Pale Ale, stock ale, porter, stout, and lager. Some made both lager and ale, Ekers for example produced a Milwaukee Lager. Its plant was – and is, the building – on St. Lawrence Boulevard north, past the Schwartz smoked meat restaurant many readers will know.
Dawes, then in Lachine, Quebec also made a No. 1 Heavy Ale, suggesting Scots influence in the range.
What happened to these breweries? De La Court ceased in 1900 according to the late Allen W. Sneath’s Canadian brewing history. It seems Star Brewing had ceased business as well by that year.
All the rest, excluding Molson’s, merged in 1909 with a few breweries outside Montreal in Quebec, to form National Breweries Limited. Dow, Dawes, Ekers, and Boswell in Quebec City, were the main surviving units. National Breweries later acquired other breweries in the province, notably Frontenac in Montreal, and Champlain in Quebec City. For further details, see on page 8 this financial “historique” of National Breweries in a Quebec newspaper in 1930.
Toronto industrialist E.P. Taylor’s Canadian Breweries Ltd. (CBL) acquired National Breweries in 1952. In 1989 the successor of CBL, O’Keefe Brewing, merged into Molson’s. The canny Molsons ended with it all, today sharing control with the Coors family and the whole shebang now run from Chicago. But Geoff Molson, of the seventh generation, is still actively involved in management.
La Presse cited various names as likely to be long remembered in Montreal brewing, but the Molsons, given relatively short shrift in its coverage, ended up claiming that honour.
Note re images: the first image was sourced from the story identified and linked in the text. The second, from a later period in Montreal brewing history, is from the City of Montreal’s online exhibition,To Get a Drink You Have to Sell, which memorializes Dawes brewing history. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.