Selwyn House Founding Families: the Molsons

A family that stands at the centre of Selwyn House history is also a family that forms a cornerstone of the history of Montreal: the Molsons. Sons of the Molson family have attended Selwyn House during every decade of the school’s existence.

The Molson story in Montreal began with the arrival of John “the elder” who emigrated from England as a young man in 1782. He quickly entered the brewing business, later diversifying into shipping, banking, real estate, railways, mining, lumber, agriculture and luxury hotels. From the beginning the family has generously supported community institutions, especially Montreal General Hospital and McGill University.

Selwyn House School enjoyed a Molson connection from the time of its founding in 1908; Thomas Henry Pentland Molson ’11 can be seen sitting in the front row in the oldest existing photograph of Selwyn House students, taken in October of 1911.

T. H. was followed at Selwyn House by Colin J. Molson ’15 and Hartland de Montarville Molson ’18. Described as “the Canadian establishment’s quintessential figure in his time,” Hartland Molson was an RCAF pilot in the Battle of Britain, an independent and outspoken Canadian senator for 38 years and a member of the Order of the British Empire, the Order of Canada and the Order of Quebec. But many Canadians, especially in Montreal, would probably remember him best as the colourful and dedicated owner of the Montreal Canadiens. He bought the hockey franchise in 1957 and stewarded the team through its heyday. At the same time, under Hartland’s leadership, the Molson brewery enjoyed a period of phenomenal growth. During this period Hartland established the Molson Family Foundation, which supports Canadian arts and social sciences and subsidized the production of Selwyn House School: Celebrating 100 Years.

The Molson family has included a number of interesting and influential individuals, many of whom have been staunch supporters of Selwyn House. Walter K. Molson ’27 was a key player in the establishment of Selwyn House Association, which took over the school after the death of Headmaster Geoffrey Wanstall in 1945, and donated the bookcase that was the centerpiece of the main corridor in the school’s former home on Redpath St., and which led to the establishment of the Wanstall Library at Selwyn House.

Walter Molson’s son Percival Talbot Molson ’35 was an outstanding student at Selwyn House, winning the Jeffrey Russel Prize and excelling in football, cricket and Latin. He went on to Bishop’s College School, where he won the Governor General’s Medal and graduated at the top of his class, and to McGill, where he also graduated at the top of his class and won a Rhodes Scholarship.

Molsons continued to be active members of the Selwyn House community throughout the school’s history. In 1961, William Markland Molson’33, a stockbroker and part owner of the Montreal Canadiens, undertook the mammoth task of furnishing the new premises when the school moved from Redpath Street to its present location on Cote St. Antoine.

William’s son John Markland (Mark) ’66 attended Selwyn House from 1956 to 1962, going on to become a professional bridge player, an unconventional career move for a member of the Molson clan. Described as “a superstar” of the bridge world, Mark won eight Canadian championships and two international medals.

Charles Robin Molson ’44 became president of Canadian Heritage of Quebec in 1987, and is credited with saving such landmarks as the Hurtubise House, a well-known Montreal landmark that has stood on a hill above the present site of Selwyn House School since 1688.

Eric H. Molson ’52 became president of Molson Breweries in 1980, and continues at the helm of the family business today, 225 years after it was founded. His family’s tradition of giving back to their community can be seen in the support they have given to Selwyn House, where so many of them got their start in life.

Over the ensuing decades Molsons have continued to fill the ranks at Selwyn House. In addition to those named above, a list of family members who attended the school would include: Eric C. Molson ’50, Stephen T. Molson ’53, J. M. Molson ’66, John P. Molson ’66, Peter J. Molson ’66, David E. Molson ’67, Thomas P. Molson '67, William P. Molson ’69, F. W. Molson ’70, Robert I. Molson ’72, Christopher L. Molson ’75, Glen O. Molson ’75, M. J. Molson ’85, Geoffrey E. Molson ’87, William A. Molson 2004, and current students John F. Molson 2014 and Henry E. Molson 2018.

When Hartland died in 2002, Eric had this to say about what he felt his uncle gained at Selwyn House: “What has made Selwyn House so great is that in the first few years of schooling you pick up the skills and disciplines that will serve you well for the rest of your life. That’s what Hartland appreciated about the School. He was always a good student and his Selwyn House education served him well.”

In return, the Molsons have served Selwyn House well.