Source: courtesy Wikimedia Commons
BRESSE, GUILLAUME, boot and shoe manufacturer and politician; b. 2 Feb. 1833 in Saint-Mathias near Chambly, Lower Canada, son of Charles Bresse and Marie Rocheleau; d. unmarried 30 Jan. 1892 in New York City, of yellow fever contracted while travelling, and was buried on 8 February in Quebec City.
Guillaume Bresse was the son of a farmer and he had two brothers and three sisters. Some of the family, in particular the three girls, emigrated to the United States and married francophone compatriots. Apparently Bresse himself spent several years in Massachusetts, where he struck up a friendship with Louis and Georges Côté, before settling in Quebec City early in the 1860s.
In 1863 Bresse and his two friends went into business under the name of Côté and Bresse, opening a small repair shop on Côte d’Abraham in Saint-Jean ward. The partnership ended in 1866. Bresse then set up his own business on Rue Desfossés in Jacques-Cartier ward, but two years later he removed to Rue Saint-Paul in Saint-Pierre ward. In 1871 he spent $11, 304 to build a factory at the corner of Rue Saint-Antoine (Boulevard Charest) and Rue du Vieux-Pont (Rue Dorchester). Constructed of brick and stone, this building had three storeys and a wing, equipped with a chimney, which was to house his new central energy source, a steam-engine.
Despite claims sometimes made, Bresse was not the first to bring mechanized shoe manufacturing to Quebec City. This distinction belongs to the Woodley family, who owned two factories that in 1871 produced $600,000 worth of boots and shoes, the comparable figure for Bresse being only $165,000. Furthermore, even though Bresse was then employing over 200 workers, the Woodleys had some 800 more. However, Bresse survived the economic depression of the 1870s that ruined the Woodleys and several other industrialists.
Early in the following decade, new manufacturers of shoes, such as John Henderson Botterell and John Ritchie, arrived in Quebec City. Most of them tried to compete with Bresse and Louis Bilodeau, the two leaders of the industry. Thanks to Sir John A. Macdonald’s National Policy, instituted in 1879 and beneficial to the Quebec shoe industry, Bresse’s financial assets steadily increased throughout the 1880s, from an estimated $50,000-$75,000 in 1879 to between $300,000 and $400,000 ten years later. It was during this period that Bresse consolidated his position in commerce and in industry.
In 1881 he enlarged his factory, putting up a new building on Rue Sainte-Hélène near his own house, a brick structure built five years earlier. He rented the third and fourth floors of this addition, along with access to the central energy source, to James E. Woodley in 1882 for $1,200 a year. Five years later the rent was raised to $2,400 annually. However, the lease was terminated in 1889 as a result of the tenant’s bankruptcy, and Bresse acquired all of Woodley’s machinery and business. That year he began to let another wing, which he had built in 1888 for $5,151. In addition, Bresse owned a factory with hydraulic facilities in Saint-Hyacinthe, which he rented to Joseph-Amable and Magloire Côté in 1891 for $1,014 a year. He also sold the machinery and tools he had acquired from the bankruptcy of James Aird and Company to the firm of J.-A. and M. Côté for $7,160.
During the 1880s Bresse continued to make loans, as he had done since the late 1860s. Thus in 1882 he financed Richard Jacques and Company and provided $12,000 to the partners of A. Pion and Company for the construction of a leather dressing factory on Rue Prince-Édouard, in Saint-Roch ward. This company paid off its debt in 1890.
As for sales, Bresse expanded beyond the confines of the local market and in 1883 he shipped merchandise worth more than $22,000 to William Higgins, a wholesaler in Winnipeg. He was by no means the only one to take advantage of western and Maritime outlets. Firms in Montreal and even in Quebec City, for example those of Octave Migner and J. H. Botterell, provided stiff competition. Even less important manufacturers, such as Jobin and Rochette or the Levis Manufacturing Company, had travelling salesmen to sell their boots and shoes on the Canadian market.
Throughout the 1880s Bresse invested in other sectors as well. In particular, he joined the syndicate formed by Louis-Adélard Senécal* which bought the Montreal–Quebec section of the Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Occidental Railway from the provincial government and then sold it to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. This venture earned him substantial profits. It was quite a different matter with his investments in services and textiles. The Quebec Elevator and Warehouse Company seems never to have got going, and the Canada Worsted Company, a cotton and woollen mill, was sold off after only a few years in operation, sharing the fate of such other firms as the Riverside Worsted Company and its successor, the Quebec Worsted Company.
Bresse had few involvements outside the business world. In politics he made one brief foray into local affairs representing Jacques-Cartier ward on the municipal council from 1876 to 1878. On the provincial scene, his Liberal allegiance and his friendship with the premier, Honoré Mercier, secured him the seat for Laurentides division on the Legislative Council in December 1887.
When Bresse died in 1892 his financial assets totalled $262,275, nearly 63 per cent being accounts receivable, 21 per cent cash on hand or bank deposits, about 12 per cent loans to individuals, and 4 per cent shares in insurance and trust companies and in a public utility. More than three-quarters of his portfolio had gone into the initial capital of the Saint-Hyacinthe Water Works. In addition, Bresse held land and personal property evaluated at $176,650. Factories, machinery, tools, and the raw materials required for production represented nearly 63 per cent of this total: $80,200 for the old factory in Quebec City, $15,000 for its extensions, and $15,000 for the factory in Saint-Hyacinthe. The rest consisted of buildings in Winnipeg valued at $13,000, farms at Charlesbourg, near Quebec City, and in the municipality of Saint-Roch-de-Québec-Nord (Quebec City) ($23,025), and his residence ($14,000), as well as various other properties in Jacques-Cartier ward and in Saint-Roch-de Québec-Nord ($15,000).
After Bresse’s death, his nephew Olivier Bresse and François Dumas formed a partnership to continue the operations of G. Bresse and Company. By an agreement dated 17 Feb. 1892 they obtained a loan of $20,000 from the heirs to his estate; its terms established the annual rent at more than $6,000, exclusive of other charges (in particular, insurance), prohibited any change in the company’s name for 20 years, and stipulated the repayment of capital and interest over a period of 10 years. In return, the partners obtained the right to operate the factory, along with a promise of transfer. On 28 June Dumas withdrew; he was replaced on 5 July by accountant Louis-Eugène-Hercule Lapointe. However, owing to a disagreement with the heirs, which brought about a premature repayment of $60,120 in 1896 followed by a long hiatus in production, Olivier Bresse faced overwhelming financial difficulties and was reduced to bankruptcy in 1897. The following year the factory was sold at auction. Georges-Élie Amyot, who acquired it for $21,500, sold it in 1907 for $300,000 to the Dominion Corset Company, a firm he had helped to found.
AC, Québec, État civil, Catholiques, Saint-Roch, 8 févr. 1892; Minutiers, É.-J. Angers, 7 janv., 27 juill. 1881; 6–7 févr., 19 août 1882; 8 sept. 1883; 7 oct. 1886; 2 mars 1887; 23 juin 1888; 3 avril, 24 juill. 1889; 1er–2 mai, 3 juin 1890; 29 mai, 3 juill. 1891; 17, 22 févr., 28 juin, 5 juill. 1892; 24 juill. 1896; 30 août 1897; Augustin Vocelle, 3 mars, 20 déc. 1868; 14 juin 1871; 27 mai 1876. ANQ-M, CE2-22, 3 févr. 1833. BE, Québec, Reg., B, 185, no.96627; 186, no.98346; 188, no.99742; 222, no.121098. Bradstreet Commercial Report, ed. John Bradstreet (New York), 1879, 1889. Quebec Official Gazette, 25 Sept. 1897. L’Événement, 1er févr. 1892. La Presse, 4 mars 1896. Cyclopædia of Canadian biog. (Rose and Charlesworth). J. Desjardins, Guide parl., 71. Quebec directory, 1865–66, 1868–69. RPQ. Turcotte, Le Conseil législatif, 226. Jean Benoit, “Le développement des mécanismes de crédit et la croissance économique d’une communauté d’affaires; les marchands et les industriels de la ville de Québec au XIXe siècle” (thèse de phd, univ. Laval, Québec, 1986), 284, 482, 689–90, 694–97, 723–24, 730, 736, 752. Chouinard et al., La ville de Québec, 4: 37, 234. Albert Jobin, Histoire de Québec (Québec, 1947), 157–58. Leather Life Daily (Montreal), 16 Oct. 1950: 11. “La première manufacture de chaussures à Québec,” BRH, 47 (1941): 191.