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Humble Origins of the Union at Dupuis Frères
by Sylvie Marier

The Dupuis Frères department store was a commercial success for over 50 years. Its popular catalogue, published in French, helped the store gain an edge over its competition by wooing the French-Canadian market, which was virtually untapped at the time. An advocate of ideologies such as nationalism, Catholicism, and paternalism, the company promoted traditional Quebec values. The story of Dupuis Frères is that of a successful family business and the first national Catholic union to represent store employees.

A Religious Influence | Essential Characteristics of the Catholic Confederation | Leaders of the Union | Company Paternalism | Management Supports the Union | Union Demands and the Status of Women | Repercussions of the Second World War | Conclusion | Further Reading

A Religious Influence

The management of Dupuis Frères played a major role in the founding of the Syndicat catholique et national des employés de magasin (Dupuis Frères Branch) in 1919. The union's members were the employees of the store and the postal outlet. In the 1930s, almost 900 of the company's employees were unionized; the others joined shortly thereafter.

  God, Family, and Country, the 
ideological pillars of the Dupuis Frères branch of the union.  

Enlarge image.The three ideological pillars of the Dupuis Frères branch of the union: God, Family, and Country. Le Duprex 10 (12): 273.

  Postal outlet workers, October 1948.  

Enlarge image.Postal outlet workers, October 1948.


This was a source of pride for management. When the union became affiliated with the Confédération des travailleurs catholiques du Canada (CTCC) in 1922, employees had to be Catholic to join. They were also expected to be sober and orderly and to refrain from joining associations that were considered "neutral", that is, associations that were not Catholic. In the union's early years, employees filled out a membership application that later became a membership certificate. In 1950, Thérèse Fyfe, the assistant treasurer, sought to simplify the membership process and requested that the union simply issue union cards.

   Ad published in Le Travail, 1939.   

Among the French Canadian population and religious communities, Dupuis Frères was seen as a company that protected its workers. This advertisement, published in Le Travail in 1939, helped the company maintain that image.

Enlarge image.
   Delegates from Dupuis Frères 
the annual CTCC convention.   

Delegates from the Dupuis Frères union attended the annual CTCC convention. Founded in 1922, the CTCC was an interprofessional labour organization that represented various Canadian labour groups. With time, it lost its religious characteristics. In 1960, it became a secular union and was renamed Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN). Le Duprex 5(1): 8.

Enlarge image.
   First version of the union membership 
application form, 1925.   

The first version of the union membership application form, 1925. As the union's constitution was not very complex, its main clauses were included on the form. That is no longer the case.

Enlarge image.
Saleswoman's membership certificate, 
   Saleswoman's membership certificate, 

A saleswoman's membership certificate, 1934. A few years later, the form was revised and replaced by a membership card. Le Duprex 3(1928): cover.

Enlarge image.

The union's emblem features the three values upon which the organization was founded: nationalism, Catholicism and paternalism. These values were shared by the company and clearly illustrate the influence of the Church, which played a determining role in the evolution of the union and its ideology. The Church became involved in the labour movement in an attempt to curb the increasing popularity of secular unions, which were called "neutral." It feared that such unions - established mainly in non-Catholic areas - might threaten the moral beliefs of Catholic workers.

  Union emblem created in 1928.  

Enlarge image.The union's emblem was created in 1928 and blessed by the chaplain during the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parade. Le Duprex 2(10): 10.


Essential Characteristics of the Catholic Confederation

   J.-A. Clément, union chaplain 
1940 to 1952.   

J.-A. Clément was the union's chaplain from 1940 to 1952. The chaplain participated in important union decisions and made sure they were consistent with Church doctrine. He attended union executive meetings and could be called upon to provide an opinion on urgent matters. Le Duprex, 11(1): 5.

Enlarge image.

The Dupuis union had to adopt the four essential characteristics of the Catholic confederation with which it was affiliated. It was required to include the word "Catholic" in its name (Syndicat catholique et national des employés de magasin (Dupuis Frères Branch)), have a chaplain present at union meetings, accept only Catholic members, and comply with the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. All important decisions had to be in accordance with the tenets of the Church, which were the ideological foundation of the union. Justice, charity, and obedience to those in authority were the three underlying principles of the Church's doctrine. The union encouraged a spirit of collaboration and harmony between the employees and their employer. Strikes were, therefore, out of the question because they challenged the established order. This purist social doctrine imposed a way of thinking on the union that did not serve the interests of the workers.

The chaplain was responsible for ensuring that the Church's doctrine was religiously adhered to. From the founding of the union until the strike in 1952, at least three priests occupied the chaplain position: Edmour Hébert (1919-1926), Théobald Paquette (1926-1940), and J.-A. Clément (1940-1952).

In 1919, in a speech delivered to the members of the fledgling union, Hébert stated that "[T]he purpose of a Catholic union was to work towards cordial relations between employees and their employers, and to do so in a way that was just." [transl.] The Church wanted to avoid power struggles between the two groups of divergent interests. It tried to justify the inevitable social hierarchy that existed by accepting it. It was in this spirit that the employee monthly, Le Duprex, was created in 1926. The publication was to be "the place where the various parts of the large Dupuis organization would be united into a homogeneous whole." [transl.]

   Cover of the first issue of Le Duprex 
the Dupuis Frères employee monthly.   

Cover of the first issue of Le Duprex, the Dupuis Frères employee monthly. It served as a propaganda tool aimed at religious communities, since it always highlighted Christian values.Le Duprex 1(1): cover.

Enlarge image.

Leaders of the Union

The responsibilities of the union leaders (called "officers"), as well as the number of members on the executive, remained more or less the same over the years. However, the chaplain and the "visitor" did see their duties change with the times. At first, the chaplain played a key role on the executive, but he gradually lost his influence and his position was abolished in the 1960s as a result of the declericalization of Quebec society.




  1. Chairs union meetings and leads the discussions, but cannot intervene or participate in the discussions.
  2. Represents the union at official functions.
  3. Calls meetings.
  4. Monitors the application of regulations.
  5. Signs cheques, together with the treasurer and the proctor


  1. Replaces the president, if necessary.


  1. Writes and reads meeting minutes, records them in a register, and signs them at meetings, together with the president.
  2. Gives union members access to the minute registers.
  3. Files and keeps all correspondence.
  4. Reads all documents that need to be brought to the attention of meeting participants.


  1. Looks after the accounting.
  2. Collects dues and issues receipts.
  3. At monthly meetings, reports on the amounts collected.
  4. Endorses cheques with the union seal.
  5. Makes all authorized disbursements.
  6. Produces the bankbooks at each meeting.
  7. Pays illness and death benefits.


  1. Checks member applications and benefits paid.
  2. Signs cheques, together with the president and the treasurer.


  1. Checks the books.
  2. At each meeting, asks the treasurer for the bankbooks and checks their state.
  3. Checks inventories and accounts and comments on them at the meetings.

Commissaire ordonnateur

  1. Organizes meetings.
  2. Rents meeting space and accessories.
  3. Checks if all members are in good standing.
  4. Organizes the company party and other events.
  5. Checks candidates' background, habits and morals, as well as members' conduct and compliance with the regulations.

Source: Le Duprex 12 (8): 317-318. (transl.)
Archives-HEC Montréal, Dupuis Frères Limitée fonds, P049

The position of "visitor" was established in the 1920s and disappeared after the Second World War. The duties of the position within the union executive were never clearly defined and its name indicates that it was marginal in nature because it referred to someone who was not really a member of the executive, but rather met with its members. Occupied mainly by women, this position had no effective influence on the executive, since it probably was not essential to the proper functioning of the organization.

Company Paternalism

Paternalism is the conception of the role of the head of a company who controls his employees under the pretext of protecting them. Within the union, this took several forms, including the presence of company executives at union meetings. This presence, especially that of senior executives, was seen as a sign that the company recognized the union.

Union members did not view their employer as an opponent who cared only about financial issues, but rather as a benefactor who worked for their well-being. That is how social doctrine became a fundamental element of personnel management. Company managers had at their disposal docile and submissive employees who did not doubt the underlying business and managerial intentions of their employers.

The employees trusted Dupuis, the president, implicitly, and even venerated some of their superiors. For example, by establishing the Saint-Dugal in honour of Joseph Dugal, the assistant manager, and by giving Émile Boucher, the personnel manager, the nickname "bon Dieu" (the good Lord), the employees granted the company's managers moral and intellectual superiority. They took their veneration a step further in 1930, when they recommended to the Vatican that company president Albert Dupuis be appointed a Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great.

  Émile Boucher, Dupuis 
Frères personnel 
manager for over 20 years.  

Enlarge image.Émile Boucher at age 38. Boucher was the company's personnel manager for over 20 years and was admired by employees for his humanity and commitment. Le Duprex 7(3): 37.

  The Pope appointed Albert Dupuis a 
Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, 1930.  

Enlarge image.In 1930, at the request of the Syndicat catholique et national des employés de magasin (Dupuis Frères Branch), the Pope appointed Albert Dupuis a Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great. Le Duprex 12(11): 404.


The employees had immense respect for Albert Dupuis, their provider, and he felt the same way about them; he created an unshakeable family spirit and established a solid relationship based on trust. It took about twenty years for the firm's employees to realize the consequences of such a show of affection, and then they requested that senior executives and managers not be involved in the union.

Management Supports the Union

There were close ties between management and employees because the two shared a religious philosophy and the union was financially dependent on the employer. The company not only dominated the union spiritually, but also bailed it out when times were tough.

Before the introduction of the Rand formula in 1952, which required all employees to pay union dues whether they were members or not, the union was constantly plagued by financial problems. It was often in debt and struggled to pay its monthly dues to the CTCC. The union dues - 20 cents for men and 10 cents for women - did not help to build up the coffers. To raise funds, special evenings were organized. However, the money raised was insufficient and the company came to the rescue by contributing to the union's reserve fund. In 1935, Dupuis contributed $1000 to the fund. On the union's 10th anniversary in 1929, $250 was donated; another $1000 was given in 1944, when the union celebrated its 25th anniversary. The union was far from independent, financially or intellectually.

  Ad in Le Duprex for a social evening, 

Enlarge image.Advertisement in Le Duprex for a social evening, 1933. The union also organized sporting events, as well as cultural or social outings. Le Duprex 7(5): 79.


Union Demands and the Status of Women

  Departmental managers, 1916.  

Enlarge image.Departmental managers, 1916. Only men held executive positions.


The union's demands evolved very slowly. For a long time, the members focused on building a reserve fund that they could draw on in case of illness or death (group insurance project). In 1936, three issues were raised: the age at which workers were eligible for a retirement pension, an increase in unemployment insurance benefits, and paid leave. Other minor demands did not affect the company's operations in any way.

  Members of the union executive, 

Enlarge image.Members of the union executive, 1942-1943. Women were poorly represented on the executive and did not play an important role until the mid-1940s. Le Duprex 7(11): 173.


Although women accounted for almost two-thirds of the company's workforce, their influence does not seem to have been reflected in the union's demands. For example, pay equity did not make it onto the agenda before 1950. Yet, it was no secret that men sometimes earned twice as much as women. In addition, women did not rise to senior positions until a few years later. This situation can be explained by the poor representation of women on the union executive and their subordinate roles. The union, it seems, did not take into consideration the needs of its female members. This interpretation is suggested by the fact that few women participated in union meetings. To remedy this situation, the union offered cash door prizes and even tried to attract young saleswomen by introducing a dowry fund, which, however, never materialized.

  Églantine Phaneuf, president of 
Association professionnelle des employées de magasin, 1927,  

Enlarge image.Églantine Phaneuf, president of the Association professionnelle des employées de magasin, a women's organization, 1927. Le Duprex 13(6): 8.


To correct this lack of consideration for women, the Association professionnelle des employées de magasin was established in 1906 as an alternative for women working in retail. Founded and run by Églantine Phaneuf, the association helped young female workers prepare for their mission within the family and society. Its monthly meetings offered courses in language, tailoring, sewing, embroidery, and cooking. Although the Association permitted women to express their needs more openly than they could in the union, it perpetuated the traditional roles women were expected to play and it did not defend women's fundamental rights as workers.

Repercussions of the Second World War

Following the Second World War, the union's structure underwent major changes. The role of women changed radically. A greater number of women rose to strategic positions on the executive and were promoted. As a result, they had more influence within the company and the union. This was the direct result of the war, which had liberated women to work in the primary and secondary sectors of the labour market. From that time on, women played active roles in the building of society and they came to occupy the positions they deserved. Their demands within Quebec society were inevitably reflected within the union.

As the number of strikes skyrocketed, the Church had to rethink and adapt its policies. Its social doctrine evolved, making strikes a possibility - at least under certain conditions - as a pressure tactic. These conditions had to be approved by the bishop. The cause had to be just and reasonable; all other means of resolving the issue (reconciliation and arbitration) had to be exhausted; workers had to continue to show respect for employers and their property; and, the strike had to have a chance of success. The Church, which until then had given employers its unconditional support by advocating strict obedience to established authority, did an about-face by siding with the workers, causing quite a stir among the Dupuis Frères executives, who had close ties to the religious communities.


Eventually, the Dupuis employees came to realize that their union was only symbolic in nature, since it did not protect them from mass layoffs. They decided to create an autonomous union that would defend their interests and extricate them from the intellectual bosom of management paternalism where they had been held for so long. The 1952 strike led to a rupture with clerical paternalism and gave the union its freedom.

Further Reading

Collectif Clio. Quebec Women: A History, edited by Micheline Dumont. Toronto: Women's Press, 1987.

Dionne, Bernard. Le syndicalisme au Québec. Montréal: Boréal, 1991.

Linteau, Paul-André, René Durocher and Jean-Claude Robert. Quebec: A History, 2 vols. Toronto: James Lorimer, 1983.

Rouillard, Jacques. Histoire du syndicalisme québécois: Des origines à nos jours. Montréal: Boréal, 1989.


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