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HOME HISTORY & ARCHIVES Harry M. Molson

Harry M. Molson

Former Commodore, The Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club First Mayor of the Town of Dorval

In 2003, the Town of Dorval marked the 100th anniversary of its incorporation, succeeding the Village founded in 1892 at the time of its separation from Lachine. While the first Mayor of the Village of Dorval was the Honourable Désiré Girouard, the first Mayor of the Town of Dorval was Harry Markland Molson.

Born in Montreal in 1856, Harry Markland Molson was the great-grandson of John, the founder of the dynasty, who had come to Canada in 1786. The Molson family had already distinguished itself in numerous fields, including navigation (especially steam), distillery, brewery and banking. Harry, who had taken up a career at the Molson Bank, became a Director in 1897 following the death of his uncle who had been the bank's President and had left him a considerable inheritance.

In 1890, Harry Markland Molson became a Life Member of the St. Lawrence Yacht Club (to which the Royal designation was added in 1894), of which he was Commodore in 1900 and 1901. The fact that his summer house was in Dorval qualified him to become Mayor; he was already an Alderman of the City of Montreal. He was also one of the few wealthy Founders of St. Mark's Chapel, almost across the street from his house; he donated the bell that is still in use today. A beautiful oil portrait of him hangs in the newer part of the church.

His house (now bearing No. 960 Lakeshore Drive) was rather modest for a man of such means, but one has to realize that Harry always remained a bachelor and that, when he was not at home in Westmount, he was spending a considerable amount of time on Alcyone, his luxurious 76' steam yacht of 40 tons. He often kept it anchored in the current between his house and Dorval Island (as evidenced by the old photo which accompanies this article), when it was not moored at the Club.

Nevertheless, Harry Molson was quite a sportsman and a top-notch sailor. It was on board Redcoat, his small racing sailboat, that he won a trophy on Lake St. Louis in 1900, on behalf of the R.St-L.Y.C. in the sixth match of the prestigious Seawanhaka International Challenge Cup, created at Oyster Bay, USA, in 1895. Amongst the series of vintage photos of Club sailboats having participated in the Seawanhaka, in the Club hallway to the left of the office door, one can see Redcoat 1900. As was sometimes the custom at the time, both Alcyone and Redcoat were each identified by a different personal burgee then called «Private Signal». It is on this same sailboat that, a year later in 1901, Harry won the Lord Strathcona Challenge Cup that we all know. It is of interest to note that both of these achievements took place the two years that he was Commodore of the R.St-L.Y.C.

In accordance with the Seawanhaka Cup regulations, Harry Molson was the recipient in 1901 of a trophy which now forms part of our remarkable collection, as a perpetual tribute to his Seawanhaka victory the year before. Bearing a coloured reproduction of the Club burgee, it is engraved with the mention «Seawanhaka Cup Defenders 1901 won by H. Markland Molson Redcoat Given by J.K.L. Ross».

After having survived two other shipwrecks at sea, Harry Markland Molson perished in the Titanic tragedy of 1912, at the age of 56.

Some readers are surprised to learn from our article on Harry Markland Molson (R.St-L.Y.C. Commodore in 1900-1901 and first Mayor of the new Town of Dorval in 1903-1904) that, in addition to his fast sailboat on which he won the famous Seawanhaka Cup in 1900, he kept a 76' steam yacht at the Club.

One hundred years ago, the Club squadron consisted of 90 boats of which only 17 were power driven, the other 73 being sailboats. The largest sailing yacht was Lord Strathcona's (Honorary Commodore from 1894 on, who donated the magnificent Challenge Cup bearing his name now displayed in our lounge). It was a 126' schooner named Christine. The others ranged in size from 78' to 20'.

The 17 power boats comprised 9 steam yachts and 8 motor yachts (5 gasoline-fueled, 3 naphtha-fueled). The largest of the steam yachts was that of James Ross (Commodore from 1896 to 1900). It was a 200' schooner named Grundera. The others ranged in size from 80' to 55', including Harry Molson's 76' Alcyone. The 8 motor yachts ranged in size from 30' to 21'.

At the time, the Club property was much narrower, extending only from the present entrance to the easterly boundary, the harbour was not protected by a breakwater like it is today and it had only one long perpendicular pier. Most of the boats were moored away from the shore. One wonders what was happening when the season was over, particularly to Christine and Grundera.

Just over 90 years ago, on Wednesday July 15, 1913, The Gazette published an article concerning our Club, a clipping of which, reproduced hereunder, was found between yellowed pages of the Club's 1913 Year Book. It described an activity of our Club considered worthy of being published and which is no longer taking place nowadays. It consisted in towing a line of several members' sailboats to a distant location. in that instance all the way to Alexandria Bay on the American side of the Thousand Islands (via the late Soulanges Canal and a number of rapids) where an International Regatta was held.

The Club launch "Dorval" in charge of the towing was an impressive boat as may be seen from the photograph shown in our Centennial Album. The 1913 Schedule of Races contained a reminder to members that they could board the launch on racing days, adding that "Refreshments can be procured on board. Only members and guests accompanying them allowed this privilege". Other times, other ways?

Michel Pasquin