MASSON, MARC-DAMASE, merchant and businessman; b. 23 Feb. 1805 at Sainte-Geneviève on Montreal Island, L.C., son of Eustache Masson and Scholastique Pfeiffer (Payfer); d. 23 April 1878 at Montreal, Que.
Marc-Damase Masson’s family came from Saint-Benoît parish in the town of Orléans (province of Orléanais). The first member of the family to take root in Canadian soil was Pierre, a manufacturer of pulleys (born in 1724). He married Marie-Louise Beaupré on 22 Feb. 1751 at Quebec, and their son Pierre-Marc was Marc-Damase Masson’s grandfather.
Marc-Damase Masson spent the early years of his childhood on his father’s farm at Sainte-Geneviève. He then lived at Saint-Clément-de-Beauharnois, where his father soon established a business. In 1829, after a good business training in the family environment, the young man became a merchant himself at Saint-Clément-de-Beauharnois. On 1 Feb. 1830 he married Virginie Jobin, daughter of the notary André Jobin* of Montreal. Eight children were born of this marriage: three boys and five girls.
Marc-Damase Masson’s business position was excellent when the 1837 rebellion broke out. The young merchant aligned himself with the Patriotes. His property was “destroyed by the soldiery,” and he thereby lost the results of several years’ work. In 1839 he moved to Montreal to re-establish himself, and thanks to his experience and unremitting toil he succeeded in becoming a leading Montreal businessman. At the corner of McGill and Notre-Dame streets he opened a wholesale and retail grocery, which, as the Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette was to write on 23 April 1878, “he carried on most successfully, making the house of D. Masson & Co. not only one of the largest, but one of the best known firms throughout the city and country.” After his death his three sons, Damase, Alfred, and Adolphe, continued their father’s large business.
Marc-Damase Masson’s activities became more numerous and varied as his business grew. In 1846, a number of prominent Montreal citizens founded the Montreal City and District Savings Bank. The majority of Montreal banks at that time were strictly commercial banks, that is, they met only the needs of trade. The basic principles of the Savings Bank were the value and necessity of saving and the need to popularize the habit. Together with a few of the most prominent Montreal citizens of the time, Marc-Damase Masson was elected a director of the new bank from 1846 to 1850. According to the official organ of the Savings Bank, “this was a judicious choice. Masson, an honest and prosperous merchant, put his experience at the disposal of his colleagues, so that the Savings Bank would be established on sound bases.”
On 13 Dec. 1846 Marc-Damase Masson was chosen churchwarden of Notre-Dame. In February 1855 he was elected by popular vote to the council of the city of Montreal. He sat for three years as alderman for the St Lawrence district, and for some years was chairman of the finance committee. He contributed generously to the building of the aqueduct and to other improvements in the town. In 1858 he became president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, and in 1861 was among the businessmen who, with Hugh Allan* as president, founded the Merchants’ Bank. Lacking sufficient capital, the bank did not open its doors until three years after receiving its charter. Masson was one of its directors until his death and one of its biggest shareholders. He took a great deal of interest in this institution and it largely owed to him its few years of prosperity, from the time of its purchase of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District in 1868 until 1873. The Merchants’ Bank then suffered from the Canadian Pacific railway scandal in which Allan was implicated, as well as from the economic crisis that followed. But because it had been launched properly, the bank recovered after 1878 and extended its operations throughout the whole of Canada. It had acquired a valued place among Canadian banks by 1921, when it was taken over by the Bank of Montreal. Marc-Damase Masson was a director of the Richelieu Company, and also a member of the board of directors of several insurance companies, among them the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company [see Sincennes].
On 23 April 1878 he died at Montreal, at the age of 73. His name was highly esteemed in the business world, where he had distinguished himself by his honesty in public and private dealings “His word was above reproach, and he steadily tried by his example to instil into those who came in contact with him the same high principles.”
AJM, Louis Richard, la famille Masson. AVM, 3610.4, 3610.6; Biographies de conseillers, Archives paroissiales de Sainte-Geneviève (Pierrefonds, Qué.), Registres des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures, 23 févr. 1805, 14 sept. 1853. Gazette (Montreal), 23 April 1878. La Minerve (Montréal), 24 avril 1878. Montreal Herald and Daily Commercial Gazette, 23 April 1878. Le National (Montréal), 23 avril 1878. Le Nouveau Monde (Montréal), 23 avril, 26 avril 1878. L’Opinion publique (Montréal), 25 avril, 2 mai 1878. The Canadian album . . . , ed. William Cochrane et al. (5v., Brantford, Ont., and Toronto, 1891–96), V, 117. Raymond Masson, Généalogie des familles de Terrebonne (4v., Montréal, 1930–31). Tanguay, Dictionnaire, V. Denison, Canada’s first bank. É.-Z. Massicotte, Processions de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste en 1924 et 1925 (Montréal, 1926), 40–41. R.-L. Séguin, “Biographie d’un patriote de ’37, le Dr Luc-Hyacinthe Masson (1811–1880),” RHAF, III (1949–50), 496.