Belmont Hall

Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec

Completed in 1818 for Thomas Torrance (1776-1818), a prominent Scottish entrepreneur and the elder brother of John who built Saint-Antoine Hall in the same year. Belmont Hall was a substantial country house standing two-stories over a basement within fine gardens. It is best associated with the Molson family who lived here for almost an hundred years (1825 to 1917), and in 1871 Anna Molson held the first meeting of the Montreal Ladies Educational Association here, which paved the way for women to be admitted into McGill University. A series of tunnels were later discovered underneath the house running under Sherbrooke Street, the purpose of which continue to baffle historians. In today’s terms, the house stood at the north west corner of Sherbrooke and St. Lawrence, and from 1845 it neighboured the "Notman House" which still stands....

This house is best associated with...

Thomas Torrance

Thomas Torrance, Retail & Wholesale Merchant, of Montreal


John Molson

Founder of Molson's Brewery etc., Montreal


John Molson

Lt.-Col. John Molson, J.P., President of the Molson Brewery, Montreal


Mary (Molson) Molson

Mrs Mary Ann Elizabeth (Molson) Molson


John Molson

John Molson III of Belmont Hall, Montreal


Anna (Molson) Molson

Mrs Anna (Molson) Molson, President Montreal Ladies Educational Association


Thomas Torrance was the eldest of five brothers who emigrated from the lowlands of Scotland to Montreal via New York. Thomas established a successful retail and wholesale business with which they were all involved and from which they all profited. After Thomas had died, the family further increased their fortune through steam and rail.

"Torrance's Folly"

Torrance's cut-stone house was erected within the Côte-à-Baron, off Sherbrooke Street. In 1818, Sherbrooke Street was nothing more than a quiet, "shady, tree-lined country lane" set far behind the walls of Old Montreal. When it was built, the Torrance house was considered very much in the countryside which coupled with the immense cost of the project led his house to be known locally as “Torrance’s Folly”. For several decades, tradesmen refused to make deliveries here considering it too far from the city limits.

The house was noted for the elegant spiral staircase in the hallway. The reception rooms were panelled in yellow pine and every joist was morticed and fastened with hardwood pegs. Torrance had a large farm attached to the house and the gardens extended below Sherbrooke Street over the land where the Methodist Church was later built.

Torrance did not live long enough to enjoy his new home, dying in the same year that it was completed. But, his widow, their son, and seven daughters remained here and over the next seven years, Mrs Torrance hosted many “balls and entertainments” attended by Montreal’s commercial elite and the young British officers stationed at the garrison.

The Molsons of "Belmont"

In 1825, perhaps feeling too isolated, Mrs Torrance sold the property to John Molson (1763-1836), founder of the brewery. He gave the house its name, "Belmont Hall," in reference to the original owner of the land, the Sulpician, Francois de Vachon de Belmont (1635-1732). 

Molson's wife, Sarah Aynsley Vaughan, died in 1829. He then took up permanent residence at his farm on the Île Sainte-Marguerite off Boucherville and vacated Belmont in favour of his son, John Molson Jr., who moved in with his family, their cook, nanny, and three servants. In 1832, John Jr. increased Belmont's acreage by purchasing "an immense property" from Andrew Torrance (only son of the original owner) that adjoined it at Côte-à-Baron. Frequent visitors to the house in the 1830s included the Earl of Durham and his wife who had chosen the Bingham Mansion as their vice-regal residence.

Mrs Anne Molson & the Montreal Ladies Educational Association

John Jr. died in 1860 and Belmont Hall devolved to his eldest son, John Molson III (1820-1907), who in 1845 had married his first cousin, Anna Molson (1824-1899). As a young woman, Anna had wanted to study physics and mathematics but being a woman in that era, this was denied her. In 1870, she and other like-minded ladies of means established the Montreal Ladies Educational Association, the first meeting of which was held the following year at Belmont. Anne was elected their president and the organisation led the way for women to be admitted into McGill University - an achievement celebrated in 1884.

Demolition & the Mysterious Tunnels

Belmont Hall served as the Molson family home until the death of Anne's husband in 1907. The area had by then become thoroughly urbanised and on reaching adulthood their children decamped for more fashionable addresses, selling the property in 1917. The house and remaining gardens were purchased by the U.S.A. Gas Company: the front garden became a forecourt and the house was converted into a service station. In 1935, a fire of undetermined origin led to its demolition two years later. The site remains a gas station.  

When the house was being demolished, a network of tunnels were discovered that led from the cellars to under Sherbrooke Street and beyond, which have left historians baffled ever since. By then, the area was fully urbanised so it was impossible to work out where they led onto. It was suggested that they may have been used for storage, but it seems unlikely that if an extension to the cellars was needed that this would take the form of long, narrow tunnels. It is therefore assumed that they were used for communication, but precisely why such a network was necessary may forever remain a mystery.

Taking a Methodical Approach...

If I had to guess, my inclination would be that the tunnels did not originate from the house, but rather they terminated there. It would seem quite plausible given the times back then that the Wesleyan (Methodist) church across the street laid the tunnels out as escape routes in case of trouble. Nominally, the Molsons were Protestants, but the Methodists had a friend in John Jr.'s brother, Thomas Molson (1791-1863). 

Following a trip to England in 1856, Thomas espoused the 'Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion' - an unconventional religious denomination/offshoot of Methodism that was founded the century before by the Calvinist-Methodist sympathizer, the Countess of Hastings. Thomas patronized the Connexion for the church he was having rebuilt on Notre Dame Street and then built a theological college specifically to train clergymen for the Connexion Ministry. Was this association enough for John Jr. to allow tunnels to be run from the Ottawa Street Methodist church into his own cellars? What do you think? And, if you can help shed any light on the matter, log in, and leave a comment.

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 26/09/2018 and last updated on 12/11/2021.
Image Courtesy of the McCord Museum, Montreal; Secrets of Subterranean Montreal (Montreal Gazette, April 17, 1976) by Edgar Andrew Collard; The Molsons: Their Lives and Times (1780-2000), by Karen Molson; The House that Steam Built Replaced by Gas Station (Montreal Gazette, June 4, 1983) by Edgar Andrew Collard; Montreal, City of Spires: Church Architecture During the British Colonial Period 1760-1860, by Clarence Epstein


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