See more of the Virtual Museum of Canada
image image
Mail Box Before E-commerce: A History of Canadian 
Mail-order Catalogues image
Mail box
Mail box
image Main Menu Sources Contributors Travelling Exhibition Feedback image Table of Contents
image Section Menu For Collectors - For Teachers - For Students
image Company Histories
Fashion to Furnishings
Capturing Customers
Company Histories
Order to Delivery
Catalogues (1880-1975)
Games and Activities
  Dupuis Frères department store, 

Enlarge image.The Dupuis Frères department store, Montreal, 1877, L'Opinion publique, November 9, 1877. The store founded by Nazaire Dupuis in 1868 was located at the corner of St. Catherine and Berri Streets in Montréal. It closed its doors in 1978.


Dupuis Frères
by Marguerite Sauriol

Founded in 1868, Dupuis Frères, a family company, quickly grew into one of Montréal's largest department stores. Through its mail-order service and its catalogues, the French Canadian firm became known nationwide.

The Mail-order Service | The Catalogues | The Decline | The Closure | Further Reading

Originally from Saint-Jacques-de-l'Achigan, Quebec, the Dupuis, like many other families, arrived in Montréal in 1864 seeking wealth and a new way to earn a living. Four years later, Nazaire Dupuis, the eldest son, opened a small store that developed into a successful business.

In 1870, the store was named Dupuis Frères. When it was incorporated and obtained a federal charter in 1908, the word "Limitée" was added to the name. The period between was a difficult one. In 1897, as a result of bad investments, Odilon Dupuis was forced to sell the business to his brother Narcisse. The positive economic climate that preceded the First World War helped the company regain its profits. Three new managers were recruited from the competition, including A.-J. Dugal, who remained on the executive for 40 years. In the 1920s, the store was considered one of the two or three largest in Montréal. The development of the family business was indeed impressive. In a short time, it became the commercial crossroads of the city's francophone community.

  Dupuis Frères Automne hiver 

Enlarge image.Dupuis Frères Fall/Winter Catalogue, 1932-1933, cover, clearly illustrating the patriotism that was at the heart of the company's marketing strategy.


French Canadian consumers were proud of Dupuis Frères. To obtain such recognition, the company highlighted its French Canadian roots in its marketing strategy. It appealed directly to French Canadians' sense of pride. In 1927, for example, the following words, tinged with chauvinism, appeared in Le Duprex, the employee newsletter: "In a country such as ours, submerged by immigration, surrounded by U.S., British or Jewish financing, we do not have the right to be ordinary, mediocre, inferior, and to resign ourselves to the perpetual role of hewers of wood and drawers of water, obsequious and fearful servants." [transl.]

In the 1930s and 1940s, the company participated actively in the "buy domestic" campaigns aimed at encouraging French Canadian businesses.

Mail order also contributed to the development and popularity of Dupuis Frères. Through its mail-order service, the company became known throughout Quebec, as well as outside the province.

The Mail-order Service

  75th Anniversary, Dupuis Frères 
Printemps été 1943, cover.  

Enlarge image.The Dupuis Frères Spring/Summer Catalogue, 1943, cover. This issue marked Dupuis' 75th anniversary. The company's two imposing buildings, the department store on St. Catherine Street, and the mail-order department on Brewster Street, provide an indication of its success.


When the mail-order service was launched in 1921, 20 000 copies of the catalogue were printed. Written in French only, it had about 30 pages and contained over 500 items. In 1942, over a million catalogues were distributed. In the late 1940s, mail-order offices were opened in several cities in Quebec: Jonquière, La Tuque, Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup, Sept-Îles and Val-d'Or.

   Dupuis Frères parcel label: 
today, shipped today! (transl.)   

Dupuis Frères parcel label. The slogan on this label used by the company's mail-order department - Reçue AUJOURD'HUI, Expédiée AUJOURD'HUI (Received TODAY, Shipped TODAY) - reflects the quality, efficiency, and speed of the service.

Enlarge image.
  Dupuis Frères horse-drawn 
vehicle, 1932.  

Enlarge image.Dupuis Frères, delivery vehicle. Horse-drawn vehicles such as this one were used until the mid-1920s, when they were replaced by trucks. Le Duprex, 6 (4) (January 1932): 45.


In the early 1930s, Dupuis received up to 10 000 orders a day. The mail-order department had to be moved to a larger building in the Saint-Henri area. A new exchange was installed so that orders could be placed by telephone. The company proudly declared in Le Duprex that it was known from coast to coast because of its mail-order business.

A report published in 1934 by the Royal Commission on Price Spreads and Mass Buying reveals that, despite its image of success, Dupuis Frères had deficits. The document includes the company's annual sales figures for the period of 1925 to 1934. According to the Commission, the mail-order division had a deficit every year. For example, the losses totalled $9800 in 1928 and $68 000 in 1934. The statistics for Simpson's follow a similar pattern. The Depression partly responsible.

The Catalogues

The Dupuis Frères catalogues offered a wide variety of items: clothing for all members of the family, lingerie, undergarments, medicinal products, and household appliances such as electric stoves and irons. Religious articles were also included, but the company published a separate catalogue for the clergy. Sports equipment could also be purchased from the catalogue. Each year, hockey was featured in the fall-and-winter catalogue and baseball in the spring-and-summer edition. The sale of certain items, therefore, depended directly on the season and on how well the company was doing. In 1952-1953, for example, there was a great demand for the undergarments featured in the fall-and-winter catalogue, especially the long underwear for men. The company earned $19 300 from the sale of 6000 undergarments (long underwear, undershirts, and boxer shorts). Over the same period, 260 coats and suits for men brought in $16 700.

Women were targeted by the catalogues. The section devoted to women's clothing was more striking than the others and had the most pages and the most colour.

The Decline

Although the economic situation improved after the Second World War, the 1950s and 1960s were difficult for Dupuis. The company tried new marketing strategies in an attempt to project a more youthful image, but it was a waste of time. Because of the numerous confrontations associated with the 1952 strike, everyone — managers, employees, and customers — lost confidence in the company. Sales plummeted and mail orders could not be filled on time. Dupuis discontinued its mail-order service in January 1963, a few months after the last catalogue was published. In 1964, strikes and lockouts once again disrupted the company's activities. Mounting financial problems forced Dupuis Frères to close its doors in 1978. The family had sold the business in 1961.

   The strike at Dupuis Frères, 

The 1952 strike at Dupuis Frères. Officers of Montreal's mounted police force were called in to maintain order among striking workers.

Enlarge image.

The Closure

Three factors contributed to the closure: the location of the store at the east end of Berri Street, which isolated it from the other department stores in the downtown area; the competition; and the decreasing loyalty of francophone customers, who gradually turned to other companies on St. Catherine Street or suburban shopping centres.

In 1978, when Dupuis Frères sought protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and closed its doors, 700 people found themselves out of work and without compensation. The company had many creditors and the employees were last in line. Much later in November 1989, the company's former employees received some compensation and, in February 1990, they were finally granted full compensation. Thus disappeared a company that claimed to spearhead the economic ambitions of the French Canadian "race."


Further Reading

Dupuis-Leman, Josette. Dupuis Frères, le magasin du peuple. Montréal: Stanké, 2001.

Fonds d'archives de Dupuis Frères Limitée, 1868-1978, École des hautes études commerciales de Montréal, HEC P049.

Lefebvre, Jean-Marie. "Nazaire Dupuis." In Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, vol. X (1871-1880). © 2000 University of Toronto/Université Laval. <>

Matthews, Mary Catherine. "Working for Family, Nation and God: Paternalism and the Dupuis Frères Department Store, Montreal, 1926-1952." MA thesis, McGill University, 1998.

Trudel, Robert. "Famille, Foi et Patrie: Le credo de Dupuis Frères." Cap-aux-Diamants, 40 (Winter 1995): 26-29.



top of page
image image