The great entrepreneurs of yesteryear The first French Canadian millionaire

Quebec did not wait for the Quiet Revolution to see the emergence of great francophone entrepreneurs. This summer we introduce you to some of them, whose exploits range from 1655 to the beginning of the 20th century.e Century. Today: Joseph Masson.

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Marc Tison

Marc Tison
The press

“The Honorable Joseph Masson: The First Franco-Canadian Millionaire,” the newspaper headlined. The home countryAugust 19, 1933.

Such an affirmation is always tricky: when? In what currency?

It remains that this son of an illiterate carpenter had a phenomenal career.

Joseph Masson was born in Saint-Eustache on January 5, 1791, 30 years after the Conquest in a world dominated by English-speaking commerce.

He began his career with a British merchant in 1807. At just under 16, he was hired as an apprentice merchant by Duncan McGillis, who ran a shop in the small village of Saint-Benoît, about ten miles from Saint-Eustache.

There he acquired the basics of English and bookkeeping, but above all he learned about the production and trade of potash, a product that was to play an essential role in his life. Easily made by the local people from the ash of the hardwood they burned, potash was in great demand in Britain as the Napoleonic Wars robbed it of this essential product for washing and bleaching wool and cotton.

Promising beginnings

At the end of his contract, Joseph went to Montreal, where he found work with an English-speaking merchant. In this small environment he met the Scottish merchant Hugh Robertson, who landed in Montreal in 1810 to open a branch of the company he had founded in Glasgow with his brother William. The company imports woolen goods and textiles into Canada, paid primarily with potash that is shipped back to the mother country.

In 1815 Hugh Robertson, wanting to return to Glasgow because he had not tolerated the Canadian climate well, put the resourceful young man in charge of his Notre-Dame Street shop. In return, Joseph will pocket one-eighth of the profits within what will henceforth be called the home of Robertson Masson & Co.

From March 1818, his efficiency forced his partners to grant him a third of the profits, provided he also took on a third of the losses. When William died in 1819, his ownership of the Montreal and Glasgow houses rose to 50%.

With no capital invested, Joseph Masson has been able to accumulate profits and valuable business experience.

A solid reputation

While his Scottish partner was paralyzed by the idea of ​​shipping too much goods to Canada, Joseph Masson multiplied the orders, telling him that the Montreal firm’s reputation was firmly established.

Of all merchants in Lower Canada, “there are not five who do not like doing business preferably with Robertson Masson & Co.,” he wrote to him.

Along with businessman François-Antoine LaRocque and Hugh Robertson’s brother-in-law, John Strang, who came to Canada in 1829, he opened Masson, LaRocque, Strang and Company in Quebec.

In 1833 he imported £100,000 worth of European goods.


The first page of the newspaper The home countrydraws a portrait of Joseph Masson, “the first Franco-Canadian millionaire”, on August 19, 1933.

veil, steam and gas

In order to reduce transport costs, in 1825 he and his partner bought a first sailing boat of 290 tons, which he gave one of his wife’s first names, Marie-Geneviève-Sophie Raymond. In 1830 and 1832 he acquired two more and then plunged into high technology by buying a stake in the steamer Edmund Henry in 1836.

Because steam will be the great economic engine of the 19th century.e Century, and he doesn’t miss the train.

In 1832 he helped found the Champlain and Saint Lawrence Railroad, which would build Canada’s first railroad between La Prairie and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

After Steam Gas. By 1842 he owned more than a third of the stock in the Montreal Gas Light Company, formed in 1836 to introduce gas lighting to the city.

In the same year he founded the Quebec Gas Light and Water Company in Quebec with John Strang with a capital of £15,000.

In 1841 he had contributed £24,250 out of £40,000 to found the City of Toronto Gas Light and Water Company.

Active in the banking world

Always looking for opportunities, he bought his first shares in the Bank of Montreal in 1824. In 1826 he was elected to the board of directors of the bank and in 1834 he was appointed vice-president.

His reputation was consolidated and prestigious positions multiplied: 1824 member of the Montreal Commerce Committee, 1834 Legislative Councilor, 1836 Judge of the Court of Special Sessions of the Peace of Montreal, 1843 City Councilor of the City of Montreal The important rue Masson, a shopping street as it should be, becomes remember his name.


When Hugh Robertson retired from the business at the end of 1846, Masson took over the management of the company, of which he had been the driving force for several years.

The Montreal house took the name of Joseph Masson, Sons and Company, and the Glasgow house was henceforth called Masson, Sons & Company.


Built in 1846 by Joseph Masson, the flour mill now houses part of the library of the Île-des-Moulins in Terrebonne.

He’s giving himself a few more years before passing the torch on to the next generation. He won’t have time.

Joseph Masson died suddenly on May 15th, 1847 at Terrebonne, perhaps after dipping in freezing water to check the wheel of the new gristmill he had just built on his dominion. He was 56 years old.

“Among Canadian businessmen of the 1830s and 1840s he was the most important, the one best able to establish himself among Britain’s suppliers, and one of the few to do business ‘after Toronto,'” observes historian Fernand Ouellet, in the article in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography which he dedicates to her.

At his death, the net worth of him and his wife was estimated at £235,500, “an absolutely fabulous sum for the time,” comments historian Thierry Nootens in the Journal of Franco-American History. He left his children “a fortune of one and a half million piasters,” he wrote The home country in 1933.

Unfortunately, they will not inherit his business talent.

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