Beer Bottle

The first French-Canadian beer maker dubbed itself the “Brewery of the People.”

Written by Mathieu Drouin

Posted February 9, 2023

Beer was a French-Canadian staple from the earliest days of New France — especially among working-class people. Between the founding of Quebec in 1608 and the English conquest in 1760, a dozen professional brewers supplied the colony, and many inhabitants produced their own beverages as well. Beer was a substitute for wine and strong liquor, which were not widely available.

After the conquest, the situation remained largely unchanged, apart from the increased importation of British beers. It was not until brewing became industrialized in the early nineteenth century that Canadian production really took off.

The big breweries — like Molson, Dawes, and Dow — were run by English Canadians, until Joseph Beaubien founded Frontenac, the first French-Canadian brewery, in 1913. Calling itself the “Brewery of the People,” Frontenac targeted residents of the nearby working-class neighborhood of Mile End. The company merged with National Breweries in 1926, then in 1951 further consolidated with Canadian Breweries, which discontinued the brand.

In 1919, every Canadian province voted in favor of prohibition except Quebec, which rejected the measure by more than seventy-five per cent. While ninety per cent of Quebec municipalities nevertheless banned alcohol, those that allowed it, such as Montreal, became popular destinations.

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This object resides at Maison LePailleur

This article originally appeared in Cinquante Merveilles de nos musées: les plus beaux trésors de la Francophonie Canadienne. The special interest publication was part of Projet Portage, a five-year initiative to connect history lovers in French and English Canada, generously supported by the Molson Foundation.

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