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Historic Beer Birthday: Thomas Dawes

Today is the birthday of Thomas Dawes (April 8, 1785-February 11, 1863). He was born in Ambleside, Cumbria, England, but emigrated to Canada in 1808, eventually settling in Montreal. After working in breweries, he founded the Dawes Brewing around 1811 and it remained in the family until 1952.

This biography of Dawes is from the Musee de Lachine website in Montreal, Quebec’s exhibition on Black Horse Beer entitled “Pour boire il faut vendre” (To get a drink you have to sell):”

Born in Ambleside, England, Thomas Dawes (about 1775-1863) was the eldest of six children. He arrived in Canada in his early thirties, in 1808. In 1811, he settled in the area of Montréal called Côte des Argoulets (today’s Verdun borough), where he found work at a brewery run by Joseph Chapman. The brewing business suited him, it seems, since it became his lifelong career.

Thomas Dawes married Charlotte Weller in 1817, with Joseph Chapman and James Ogilvie as witnesses. The Dawes and Ogilvie families appear to have been friends. The connection was confirmed a few years later when, on April 21, 1826, Thomas Dawes and his associate Archibald Ogilvie bought from Stephen Finchlay a parcel of land southwest of Montréal, near what is now 28th Avenue in Lachine. Banking on his experience, Dawes set out to operate a farm and a brewery on the 4-acre by 30-acre lot.   

This account of the brewery and the Dawes family is a Google translation from “Historie du Quebec:”

The name  Dawes evokes one of the most famous breweries in Quebec. It was in 1811 that Thomas Dawes founded the Dawes Brewery, which was Lachine’s first industrial enterprise. Dawes is the third brewery on the island of Montreal, after the Molson brewery , founded in 1786, and the Dunn brewery , which appeared in 1809.

The Dawes Brewery is a family business, and no less than four generations of Dawes manage it, before selling the company to Canadian Breweries .

After Thomas Dawes, his sons James P. Dawes and Thomas A. Dawes took over. The third generation is represented by Andrew J. Dawes and James P. Dawes Jr. The fourth, by Norman Dawes, who has run the brewery for decades. But he sold it in 1952.

The Dawes were involved in the development of Lachine. Indeed, Thomas A. Dawes was mayor of Lachine from 1868 to 1869, while Andrew J. Dawes held this position from 1888 to 1893. It was the Dawes who funded the foundation of the Lachine General Hospital and of several churches , the tram network and the installation of the first Lachine telegraph line.

In addition, the Dawes family was among the founders of the Société d’Assurance Automobile du Québec , created in 1904 under the name of the Automobile Club of Canada . Andrew J. Dawes also headed Bell Canada, the Merchant Bank and other large companies. In addition, the Dawes imported and raised black percherons and contributed to the improvement of this horse breed. It will be remembered that it was Percherons who ensured the delivery of the beer and that they thus became the symbol of the Dawes brewery thanks to Black Horse beer .

In 1862, the Dawes built their imposing family home in Lachine (which was not sold until 1940). Around the Dawes area, large fields were devoted to the cultivation of barley and hops.

The decline of the Dawes brewery began in 1909, when sixteen Quebec breweries merged into the National Breweries Ltd. consortium. But the Dawes Brewery survived this ordeal, even if the company felt the effects of American prohibition in the 1920s. In 1939, it became the Dawes Black Horse Brewery, recalling its most famous beer.

In 1944, the Dawes proposed a merger with Molson, but the latter refused for fear of establishing a monopoly. The National Breweries Ltd. consortium was finally sold in 1952. It was bought by Canadian Breweries . The group is renamed Dow Brewery (moreover, the Dow Brewery had already existed for years, it was the designation for the whole consortium). The  Dawes Black Horse Brewery disappears, as does the great Dawes dynasty. The Dow has long become one of the most popular brands among Quebecers, but that’s another story.

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