The Molson Saga 1763-1983


370 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-385-17863-8





Reviewed by Nancy McGregor

Nancy McGregor was a freelance reviewer living in Toronto.


One of this country’s “first families,” the Molsons are best known as the owners of Canada’s largest brewery business. Yet their role in Canadian commercial life and its development has been much farther-reaching, through involvement in such areas as banking, shipping, and rail transportation. And this says nothing of their contribution to the cultural and sporting life of Canada in general and the city of Montreal in particular.

In The Molson Saga, author Shirley E. Woods presents a fascinating portrait of the private and public lives of this remarkable family through its six generations in Canada. From its earliest pages there quickly emerges a picture of a family given to hard work and endowed with a strong sense of civic duty. John Molson, Senior, well established as a Montreal brewer during the last years of the eighteenth century, went on to launch the first steamboat service in Canada, served in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, was a motivating force behind the establishment of Montreal’s first General Hospital (1822), and built the city’s first permanent playhouse, the Theatre Royale, in 1825. His sons William and John founded the Molson Bank in 1854. John, Jr., became the founding president of the first Canadian railroad (the Champlain and St. Lawrence) and established the City Gas Company, which introduced gas lighting to Montreal in 1837.

Through the generations the Molsons’ achievements are chronicled. The ups and downs of the brewing business are played out against the country’s history, through temperance movements and two world wars. At the same time, the family’s contribution to the arts, education, and charitable causes, and its ongoing relationship with sports (most specifically, through its connection with the Montreal Canadiens hockey team) are all considered in detail.

The author has drawn heavily on original material, most especially family letters; his use of such personal correspondence helps to provide a clearer understanding of the thoughts and motivations of the various family members. There are 64 black-and-white photographs, and an extensive bibliography is included.

Mr. Woods’s book is a useful and enjoyable study; it will appeal to anyone with an interest in the history and development of Canada.



Woods, Shirley E., Jr., “The Molson Saga 1763-1983,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,