The curse of the Dow brewery
The curse of the Dow brewery

The curse of the Dow brewery

The curse of the Dow brewery

Contaminated with asbestos

Montréal (Quebec), Canada

Although this building was built around 1861, the history of the Dow brewery began nearly 60 years earlier, in 1790 when a farmer named Thomas Dunn starts in the beer industry in La Prairie who was an important stopover for travelers who go to New York from Montreal. By boat, it takes one day from Montreal to navigate on the St. Lawrence River to go to Sorel and then taking the Richelieu River to arrive in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (formerly Dorchester). That explains why many travelers preferred to go through La Prairie and then travel on horseback to St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where they boarded on boats to go to New York. This shortcut reduced their their trip a half-day minimum.

Anyway, let's go back to our industrial. Thus in 1809 the brewery moved to Montreal on Notre-Dame street and then on St.Joseph street in 1818. The name "Dow Brewery" comes from the James Dunn's business partner, son of Thomas: William Dow, a Scottish master brewer who takes the reins of the company in 1834.

The Dow brewery's golden age will be the first half of the twentieth century when the company possess more than 60 buildings across Canada and count more than 1,000 employees. It will be behind the construction of the planetarium in Montreal in the early 1960s and will be named the Dow planetarium.

Advertisement and innovation

While Molson was the beer drunk in Montreal, Quebec City was a real fortress for the Dow. 85% of all beer drunk in Quebec City, and 51% of that consumed in the rest of the province came from the Dow brewery. Known as a pioneer in the promotion and marketing, they said at the time that Dow innovated and then the others followed.

The collapse

Between August 1965 and April 1966, more than 48 hospital patients in the region of Quebec were diagnosed with an unusual cardiac disease. Fifteen of them will die. While their alcoholism will be quickly pointed the finger, the Dow brewery will be put under the spotlight when journalists will found an enzyme in the beer, the cobalt salt, who was added to increase the production of foam. This enzyme will be suspected as the cause of these men's death.

Although no link has ever been demonstrated between the Dow beer and the death of these men, the brewery will seek to show their credentials by pouring the remaining stocks in the St-Lawrence river and will stop the production of its beer in its brewery in Quebec City. This operation is a real mess et people will see rather a recognition of guilt.

And thus in only one year, the Dow brewery will lose nearly all its market share in Quebec. The following year, in 1967, the brewery will be sold to O'Keefe, its competitor. It will then be sold to Molson in 1989. Although the Dow beer will be brewed until 1998, the Dow never will recover from this dark history.

The building on the Notre Dame Street is abandoned since 1998 and it is contaminated with asbestos. A portion of the complex was converted into condos and some other buildings now owned by Molson-Coors have since been sold.

Related content

Spexel, the Beauharnois abandoned plant
Beauharnois, Quebec (Canada)

It's over 92 years of industrial history that ended in 2004 when the Spexel factory was closed down. The story of this plant start in 1912 when is built the paper mill, which took the name of Howard Smith Paper Mill. Over the following years, the...

Northern View
Montréal, Quebec (Canada)

Used as a snow dump, the site of the former Francon quarry (now known as the Saint-Michel quarry) looks like a huge crater of greenery in the heart of Montreal. This area covers approximately 20% (17% to be exact) of the district of Saint-Michel...

The pit - Photo: Jarold Dumouchel
Montréal, Quebec (Canada)

Built in 1954, the incinerator Dickson was, at that time, the most modern in North America. It has been built to replace these old incinerators where horses were used for harvesting waste.

In the 1920s, the city of Montreal was struggling...

The old and abandoned Blachford plant
Montréal, Quebec (Canada)

From the outside, there is no indication that the plant is abandoned. No window is doomed and there is no "for sale" sign. Even the structure of the building is still in very good condition. Even myself, when I heard about it for the first time,...