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  Zéphirin Paquet (1818-1905), 
of La Compagnie Paquet.  

Enlarge image.Zéphirin Paquet (1818-1905) was born in Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville) and founded La Compagnie Paquet Limitée.


La Compagnie Paquet
by Marguerite Sauriol

La Compagnie Paquet Limitée, a French Canadian firm, distinguished itself in the retail and fur-processing sectors. It became well known because it had branches throughout the country and published catalogues that promoted its mail-order service.

The Birth of the Company | The Mail-order Service | The Catalogues - The Retail Division | The Catalogues - The Wholesale Division | Ads for the Mail-order Service | The Mail-order and Delivery Service | Conclusion — La Compagnie Paquet 100 Years Later | Acknowledgements | Further Reading

In the 20th century, La Compagnie Paquet Limitée was one of the most important French Canadian businesses in Quebec. Its founder, Zéphirin Paquet, was born into a family of modest means in Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville), in the Portneuf region of Quebec. He showed that he had good business sense when he established a company that would become a family institution and last over 130 years.

The development of La Compagnie Paquet clearly illustrates the firm's capacity to adapt to change and keep up with the times. Established in Québec, Paquet expanded well beyond the region of the old capital in the late 19th century. The mail-order service contributed to that expansion, since it allowed the company to reach people outside the province through its catalogues, which were published in both French and English.

The Birth of the Company

The first Paquet store was founded in 1850 and was located on Saint-Vallier Street in the lower town in Québec. A few years earlier, Marie-Louise Hamel, Zéphirin's wife, had opened a small boutique on the ground floor of the family's home. She sold wide-brimmed hats, which she made herself, as well as clothing, woollens, and notions. When Zéphirin saw the boutique's profits, he followed his wife's advice and gave up his dairy farm, which he had had for several years, to look after the small business full time. After several moves, improvements, and property acquisitions, the store found a permanent site on Saint-Joseph Street, in lower town.

   The Paquet building on Saint-Joseph 
Street, Québec.   

The Paquet building on Saint-Joseph Street, Québec. Following the great fire of 1866 in Saint-Sauveur, the store was moved to Saint-Joseph Street in lower town. Twelve years later, Paquet moved to its eventual permanent location on Saint-Joseph Street, across from Saint-Roch Church.

Enlarge image.

In 1892, Paquet had two main divisions, retail and wholesale, the latter consisting of a fur-processing plant. The establishment of the wholesale division represented a major expansion, but it was the mail-order service and the catalogues (each division published its own) that made the store's name and reputation known outside Quebec.

The Mail-order Service

It is difficult to provide an accurate description of the early days of Paquet's mail-order service, which was known as CPM, because there are few primary sources on the subject. It is also impossible to establish with certainty when the first and last catalogues of the two divisions were published. However, internal company documents, "État comparatif des ventes, profits et dépenses" (comparison of sales, profits, and expenses), for the years 1897 to 1913 contain statistics on mail-order sales, and possibly profits, for the period 1902 to 1913. The amounts vary from about $3000 in 1902 to almost $20 000 in 1904. In the three years that followed, sales remained around $10 000. Then, starting in 1911, they plunged; the modest amount of $2255 was recorded in 1913. It may be argued that 1902 was the first year of operation of the company's mail-order service and it should coincide with the publication of the first catalogue. A copy of the catalogue of the wholesale division, published under the company's former name, seems to confirm this.

   Office of Manager J. Arthur 
Paquet, ca 1902.   

Office of the manager of J. Arthur Paquet. The date on the calendar and the company's name, which appears on the cover, suggest that the catalogue in which this photograph appears was published in 1902. It may have been a commemorative edition marking the 10th anniversary of the wholesale division, the company's second, and perhaps the first catalogue of the mail-order service.

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The Catalogues - The Retail Division

  La Compagnie Paquet Limitée 
hiver 1908-09, cover.  

Enlarge image.Cover of the catalogue of La Compagnie Paquet Limitée, Fall/Winter 1908-09, no. 16 of the retail division.


Two documents, "Advertising Account" and "Advertising Appropriation," provide information on the catalogues of the retail division, including the frequency of publication. It is possible to determine that there were five issues, more or less seasonal, in 1910 and twelve monthly issues in 1911. It seems that no catalogues were published in 1912 and it is impossible to determine what happened in the years and decades that followed.

The 1908-09 fall-and-winter edition of Paquet's catalogue, written entirely in French, reveals the variety of goods offered. At first, Paquet's suppliers were Quebec wholesalers, but starting in 1885, the company began importing its stock from Europe. The catalogue offered a wide range of products: clothing for women, men, and children; incense; cigarettes, pipes, and tobacco; clocks; eyeglasses; perfume; soap; dishes; Butterick patterns; furniture; and religious articles. The 1911-12 catalogue proposed musical instruments, rugs, and sewing machines. In 1930, the company published a bilingual catalogue of religious articles, namely accessories and sacerdotal vestments. Paquet thus competed with Dupuis Frères, which published a catalogue for the clergy.

The Catalogues — The Wholesale Division

  J. Arthur Paquet catalogue, 
cover; La Compagnie Paquet Limitée 1909-10, cover.  

Enlarge image.J. Arthur Paquet Catalogue, cover.


The company's second division, launched in 1892 by J. Arthur Paquet, one of Zéphirin's sons, was a fur-processing plant. Initially called J. Arthur Paquet, its name was changed to La Compagnie Paquet Limitée, Division du gros in 1907, and its head office was in the Pointe-aux-Lièvres sector of Québec's lower town. This division imported and exported raw hides, from which it made articles for women, men, and children, including coats, gloves, mittens, and moccasins. It also made snowshoes and felt, wool, and straw hats. The company opened branches in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, and, later, Saint John, New Brunswick. The catalogues of the wholesale division were published in both official languages.

   J. Arthur Paquet catalogue, 
cover; La Compagnie Paquet Limitée 1909-10, cover.   

Cover of the catalogue of La Compagnie Paquet Limitée, Division du gros, 1909-10.Founded in 1892, the fur-processing plant called J. Arthur Paquet brought considerable growth. In June 1907, its name was changed to La Compagnie Paquet Limitée, Division du gros. This cover confirms the name change.

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The Pointe-aux-Lièvres processing plant was eventually converted into a warehouse. The publication of the catalogue of the wholesale division most likely ended at that point; however, the mail-order service and the publication of catalogues for the retail division continued. A catalogue published in the 1960s provides evidence of this.

It is interesting to note Paquet's tendency to target anglophone customers, not only through catalogues, but also through ads for the store and the mail-order service.

Ads for the Mail-order Service

  Ad in Le Soleil, March 19, 1910.  

Enlarge image.Ad published in Le Soleil, a Québec newspaper, March 19, 1910. Le Soleil was one of the main newspapers in which La Compagnie Paquet published ads for its retail division. They were often full-page ads.


According to the "Règlements des Grands Magasins Z. Paquet de 1907" (policies and procedures of the Z. Paquet department stores for 1907), the head of advertising was responsible for the catalogue, as well as newspaper ads and flyers and brochures. Two English documents, "Advertising Account" and "Advertising Appropriation," clearly indicate the towns and regions targeted by the newspaper advertising, for both the store and the mail-order service. The ads appeared in both English and French newspapers. In the early 1910s, promotional ads for the store appeared in five Québec newspapers.

Ads for the mail-order service were placed in newspapers in various provinces. At least one newspaper in each of the following cities carried them: Arthabaskaville, Beauceville, Roberval, Sherbrooke, Montréal, and Rectory Hill in Quebec; London, Ottawa, Toronto, and Peterborough in Ontario; Glace Bay, Nova Scotia; Sussex, New Brunswick; Calgary, Alberta; and Winnipeg, Manitoba (in three of the city's newspapers).

  Ad for mail-order service, 
March 10, 1910.  

Enlarge image.Ad for the mail-order service published in L'Éclaireur, March 10, 1910.

  Ad for mail-order service, 
L'Éclaireur, September 29, 1910.  

Enlarge image.Ad for the mail-order service published in L'Éclaireur, September 29, 1910.

  Ad for mail-order service, 
L'Éclaireur, October 19, 1911.  

Enlarge image.Ad for the mail-order service published in L'Éclaireur, October 19, 1911. The ads for the mail-order service of La Compagnie Paquet also promoted the fur-processing plant, which was the wholesale division


The Mail-order and Delivery Service

The mail-order service functioned as follows: Correspondence was sent to the mail-order office, where it was sorted, read, and filed according to the department. "Buyers" (six in all in 1950) went to the departments, bought the items, and took them to shipping.

  Mail-order department.  

Enlarge image.The mail-order department .

  Paquet's delivery service.  

Enlarge image.Paquet's delivery service. For quite a while, La Compagnie Paquet used horse-drawn vehicles to deliver its orders. In 1950, they were replaced by modern trucks, which delivered about 25 000 packages a month in Québec and the surrounding area.


The orders were shipped by mail or train. The railway companies offered two types of delivery service: express for light parcels and freight for bulk orders or very large items. Paquet had its own horses for deliveries in Québec and the surrounding area. In 1910, there were about 20 horses. Joseph-Arthur Paquet's will, drawn up by a notary in 1907, mentions that the J. Arthur Paquet company in Montréal had one horse and used a sleigh in the winter and a buggy in the summer. In 1950, the company had a fleet of about 20 trucks, which delivered up to 25 000 parcels a month.

The company encouraged its customers to pay when placing their orders. In the 1911-12 fall-and-winter catalogue, it informed its customers that starting on January 1, 1911: "[We will pay] all transportation charges for orders of $5 or more shipped by mail, express or freight … Anywhere in Canada … to the [railway] station that is closest to your home … When the order is shipped COD, we will pay for express service, but customers are responsible for the collection fee that the transportation company will charge. It is therefore preferable to send us the required amount when placing the order." [Transl.]

Conclusion — La Compagnie Paquet 100 Years Later

The Paquet company and its founder became extremely well known. Its staff, initially six or seven employees, grew to over 800 a century later.

   Telegram from PM Wilfrid Laurier when 
Zéphirin Paquet passed away on February 26, 1905.   

Paquet and its founder were well known, as this telegram from Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier attests. It was sent to Joseph Paquet and the Paquet family when Zéphirin Paquet passed away, on February 26, 1905. According to Le Soleil, about 6000 people attended the funeral.

Enlarge image.

   Hergé, creator of Tintin and 
visits the Saint-Joseph Street store in 1965.   

Hergé, who created Tintin and Milou, visited the Rue Saint-Joseph store in 1965. His visit is confirmed by his signature and the drawings of the two famous characters from his comic books, which he left in the gold book kept by La Compagnie Paquet Limitée.

Enlarge image.
  Telephone order department.  

Enlarge image.The telephone order department. Paquet had 120 phone lines installed to receive customers' orders.


Incorporated in 1901, La Compagnie Paquet Limitée occupied 200 000 square feet (1.86 hectares) of sales space on Saint-Joseph Street by 1950. Its store had six elevators, an escalator, and 72 departments. Mail order, catalogues, and home delivery were always among the services offered. A telephone order section was later added. About 7000 orders a day were placed through 120 individual telephone lines. The contracts section, which handled interior decoration, and the construction materials department were among the new services offered by the company. To meet the needs of its customers, Paquet also began offering credit and, in doing so, abandoned one of the basic principles that were so dear to its founder, the "no credit" clause.

Paquet had several warehouses and opened three branches in 1957 in Chibougamau, Baie-Comeau, and Sept-Îles. To enhance its competitiveness, it opened three others in shopping malls in the 1960s: Place Laurier in Sainte-Foy, Place Fleur-de-Lys in Québec, and Les Galeries Chagnon in Lévis. In the mid-1970s, it also bought three stores from the Syndicat de Québec, which were added to its two department stores in Québec. They were the company's last major acquisitions. By the end of that decade, Paquet had about 1500 employees and annual sales of over $20 million.

As the competition increased, the company was unable to keep up; it could not expand at the same rate as American companies while meeting the union's demands. In 1981, a strike broke out. La Compagnie Paquet Limitée, which was considered Québec's leading trading house was forced to cease its activities. It closed its doors in June of that year.


The author would like to thank Mme Suzanne Paquet Gagnon, Émile Paquet's daughter and Zéphirin's granddaughter, who was kind enough to share her memories and documentation on Paquet. Our thanks go as well to Jean-Yves Laurin, former president of La Compagnie Paquet, who provided useful background on the history of the company.

Further Reading

Alcas-Marie, Brother, with a preface by Brother Marie-Victorin, F. É. C., Zéphirin Paquet: Sa famille, sa vie, son œuvre. Essai de monographie familiale. Québec: n.p., 1927.

Archives nationales du Québec, Québec, Fonds Paquet-Syndicat Inc., P 726. Vallières, Marc. "Zéphirin Paquet." In Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, vol. XIII (1901-1910). (© 2000 University of Toronto/Université Laval.



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