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Original title:  Photograph Mr. William Dow, brewer, Montreal, QC, 1868 William Notman (1826-1891) 1868, 19th century Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process 8.5 x 5.6 cm Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd. I-34177.1 © McCord Museum Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)

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DOW, WILLIAM, brewer and businessman; b. 27 March 1800 at Muthill, Perthshire, Scotland; d. 7 Dec. 1868 at Montreal.

The son of a brewmaster, William Dow emigrated to Canada in 1818 or 1819 with substantial experience in brewing. He was employed as foreman at Thomas Dunn’s brewery, one of the few in Montreal at that time; by November 1829 Dow was a partner and was joined by his younger brother, Andrew, who had also trained as a brewer. Known as William Dow and Company after 1834, the year of Dunn’s death, the firm prospered and became one of the principal competitors in Montreal to Molson’s, the largest brewery in the city. Like some of his competitors William Dow was also engaged in distilling and in this business too he was a major local supplier. By 1863 his plant was producing some 700,000 gallons of beer in comparison to the Molson’s 142,000 gallons. As his business grew, Dow took in other partners besides his brother (who died in 1853). During the early 1860s he was joined by a group of associates, headed by Gilbert Scott, to whom he eventually sold the business for £77,877 in 1864; it kept his name.

By that time Dow was already a wealthy man with a number of highly remunerative investments in other enterprises besides brewing and distilling. Through the 1840s he put considerable sums into Montreal real estate: in one transaction in 1844 he paid £5,580, mostly in cash, for four pieces of property. Investing also in railways and banks, Dow became important in this expanding sector of Montreal’s economic life. He was a director of the Montreal and New York Railroad Company (which had a line between Montreal and Plattsburg, N.Y.) from 1847 to 1852 and invested nearly £10,000 in its shares, an unusually large sum for anyone to put into a single joint stock company in that era. Dow was one of the Montreal promoters who merged this railway with its major competitor, the Champlain and St Lawrence, in 1855, after a vicious rate war threatened to bankrupt both companies. He also had a small investment in the St Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad and served briefly on its board of directors (1852–53). A shareholder in the City Bank, he was also a director of the Bank of British North America and the Montreal Provident and Savings Bank. Although a determined rival of the Molsons in the beer and whisky business, he was their associate in 1854 in the formation of still another Montreal bank, Molsons Bank [see William Molson*], which was later incorporated into the Bank of Montreal. Compartmentalization of their lives, especially in business, was characteristic of most Montreal businessmen and, indeed, was probably essential for success in this era of constantly expanding frontiers of enterprise.

Dow was a director of the Montreal Insurance Company between 1839 and 1852 and a member of the group which formed the Sun Life Insurance Company in 1865. His many other local corporate ventures included the abortive company organized in 1849 by John Young* to build a canal between the St Lawrence River and Lake Champlain, the Montreal Steam Elevating and Warehousing Company founded in 1857, the City Passenger Railway Company in 1861, and the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1852. Though not himself a shipowner, he invested in shipping companies and was one of the pioneer investors in the Atlantic Telegraph Company. In 1854 he and Hugh* and Andrew Allan*, William Edmonstone, and Robert Anderson of Montreal formed the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company with a capital of £500,000 to provide regular steamer connections between Great Britain and Canada.

Although a bachelor, Dow lived in baronial style in an immense, richly decorated stone mansion named Strathearn House at the top of Beaver Hall Hill in Montreal and also nearby in the country on his estate at Côte Saint-Paul. At his death, on 7 Dec. 1868, the house and the bulk of his estate, estimated to be in excess of (300,000, were left to his brother’s widow and her four daughters.

Gerald Tulchinsky

ANQ-M, Greffe d’I. J. Gibb, 20 mai 1844; Greffe de James Smith, 13 nov. 1864. Château de Ramesay (Montréal), Antiquarian and Numismatic Soc. of Montreal, no.104. O’Keefe Brewing Company Ltd. Archives (Montreal), correspondence relating to the launching of the Atlantic Telegraph Co., 1857; last will and testament of William Dow, 22 Nov. 1868. PAC, RG 4, A1, S-299, 2e partie, p.159; C1, 173, no.3363; RG 30, 389, Lake St-Louis and Province Line Railway, stock ledger, 1851–54. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1849, c.180; 1854–55, c.44; 1857, c.178; Legislative Assembly, Proceedings of the standing committee on railroads and telegraph lines . . . (Quebec, 1851), 244–65. Canada Gazette (Montreal), 5 Jan. 1850. Gazette (Montreal), 9, 11, 12 Dec. 1868. Montreal Herald, 10 Dec. 1868. Morning Courier (Montreal), 24 Feb. 1849. Alphabetical list of merchants, traders, and housekeepers in Montreal (Doige). The Montreal almanac . . . , 1839. Montreal directory, 1847–52. Merrill Denison, The barley and the stream; the Molson story; a footnote to Canadian history (Toronto, 1955). G. H. Harris, The president’s book; the story of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (Montreal, 1928), 23. Historique de la brasserie Dow, 1790–1955 (s.l., s.d.). Montreal old and new, entertaining, convincing, fascinating; a unique guide for the managing editor, ed. Lorenzo Prince et al. (Montreal, n.d.), 92. The National Breweries Limited;25ème anniversaire, 1909–1934 (n.p., n.d.), 18. Émile Vaillancourt, The history of the brewing industry in the province of Quebec (Montreal, 1940), 39.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gerald Tulchinsky, “DOW, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 28, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dow_william_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dow_william_9E.html
Author of Article:   Gerald Tulchinsky
Title of Article:   DOW, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   May 28, 2024