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DROLET, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER, mechanic and industrialist; b. 9 May 1849 at Quebec, son of Alexandre Drolet, a carpenter, and Rosalie Fréchette; m. there first 24 Jan. 1871 Émilie Lainez (d. 10 Oct. 1907), and they had 12 children, of whom five sons and two daughters reached adulthood; m. there secondly 27 April 1908 Georgianna Leteau, widow of Gaudiose Simard; they had no children; d. 21 Feb. 1924 at Quebec.

Born into a family of craftsmen, François-Xavier Drolet was educated by the Brothers of the Christian Schools for a short time and then worked in various industries, where he learned to be a mechanic. He was employed in the carpenter’s workshop of Joseph Archer Sr from 1862 to 1864, George Benson Hall*’s sawmill at Montmorency Falls from 1864 to 1871, the construction business of Simon Peters at Quebec, the foundry and machine shop of Carrier, Laîné et Compagnie in Lévis from 1872 to 1874 [see Charles William Carrier*], and the smaller firm of Tweddell and Campbell (mechanics and founders) in Saint-Roch ward in Quebec City.

On the strength of this experience, Drolet went into partnership in December 1875 with a fellow mechanic, Pierre Audard, under the name of Drolet et Audard. They rented a shed on Rue Saint-Joseph in Saint-Roch and advertised that they were in the business of making and repairing steam engines of all kinds. Their tools and experience were their only capital. The partnership agreement, which was valid for ten years, stipulated that each partner was to receive an income of $12 a week. Early in 1878, in an effort to become firmly established, the small business signed an eight-year lease on the property on Rue Saint-Joseph, with an option to purchase. That year they joined Pierre Guérard, a founder, to set up the firm of Drolet, Audard, et Guérard. In the spring of 1879 it purchased a parcel of land adjacent to Drolet et Audard. The two companies got off to a difficult start. This was borne out by the dissolution of the second partnership, and the division of its sole assets ($600 worth of tools), in August and of Drolet et Audard in January 1881. Drolet gave Audard $1,275 (to be paid on 1 May) in return for all the assets of the firm: the lease, the tools, and his share of the property. He was consequently in complete control of the enterprise. Things improved rapidly. The Bradstreet credit agency raised its rating from F (no credit) in January 1881 to D (net assets of $1,000 to $2,000) in July 1882. In December 1882 the firm, of which Drolet was now the sole owner, had about 15 employees.

At the beginning of the 1890s, the firm of F. X. Drolet became one of the largest machine shops in the city, capable of designing, constructing, and repairing steam engines and motors, pumps of all kinds, as well as various machines used in industrial manufacturing and public works. The many tanneries and shoe factories in Saint-Roch were important clients [see Cléophas Rochette*]. Innovation was a key factor in the company’s success. In 1899, for example, it obtained a patent in the United States for a “valve gear for engine.”

Between 1881 and 1906, Drolet managed to enlarge the machine shops, the shops for building models, and those for casting metal, partly as a result of his purchase in 1892–93, 1901, and 1905 of land on Rue Saint-Joseph and Rue Octave. The workforce grew quickly from about 25 at the end of the 1880s to 50 in 1901 and 60 in 1906. This rapid expansion resulted in increased capital, as witness the improved credit rating, which rose from D to B between 1900 and 1907, while the net assets, which were $5,000 to $10,000 in 1900, reached $35,000 to $50,000. This success enabled Drolet to leave his overcrowded premises and to build a large foundry and an immense machine shop between 1907 and 1909 without going into debt. The new plant was constructed on the site of the former shipyard of Thomas Hamilton Oliver on the south shore of the estuary of the Rivière Saint-Charles, near the Dorchester Bridge. The total cost (including $45,000 for the land) was $91,500 and the location, which had railway access, made it possible for a ramp to be built for the refitting of ships, as well as for installing and repairing their steam engines. In this operation, Drolet realized a substantial capital gain by selling his properties on Rue Octave and Rue Saint-Joseph, which had become a highly desirable commercial thoroughfare, for $80,000 in 1911. Moreover, the city of Quebec exempted him from property taxes for ten years.

Between 1872 and 1892 Émilie Drolet bore 12 children (one of whom was still-born). Until 1889, when Drolet purchased a modest property on Rue Richardson (De La Salle) for $1,000, the family had to move frequently. Ten years later it chose to take up residence in an opulent home on Rue Saint-Vallier. Drolet bought the lots adjoining his new property at a good price and two of his sons settled there. In 1900 he sold his house on Rue Richardson to his eldest daughter, Émilie.

Drolet married Georgianna Leteau in April 1908, not long after the death of his first wife on 10 Oct. 1907. The couple opted for a marriage settlement based on the separation of property. During these years Drolet began getting his sons established. The eldest, Joseph-François-Xavier, became a farmer at Pointe-aux-Trembles (Neuville), while the next three, Gaudiose, Émile, and Arthur, went into the family business once they were past adolescence. The youngest, Camille, entered the Jesuit order. By then about 60 years old, Drolet was thinking of passing on the family industrial heritage. He began the process in May 1913 by organizing a joint-stock enterprise, Compagnie F. X. Drolet, with a capital of $199,000; he retained 97 per cent of the stock and sons Gaudiose and Émile, along with a few loyal employees, held the rest. In 1920 he sold the factory to the company for $142,000, payable in annual instalments of $5,000. Gaudiose, the eldest of the sons involved in the business, now became president and general manager, with Émile and Arthur as vice-president and treasurer respectively. When François-Xavier Drolet died in 1924, the company’s shares were divided equally among his seven children, each of whom received $60,000. (Since Émilie had died before him, but after he had made his will in 1921, her share went to her three children.)

Drolet’s business reached its peak during World War I, when it had about 100 employees. In 1918 its sales exceeded $250,000, thanks mainly to its production of shells and bombs. It suffered, however, when industrial activity at Quebec levelled off. At the beginning of the 1920s, new contracts for elevators, fire hydrants, and automobile parts helped keep the business alive, but its profitability, which had enabled it to pay good dividends until 1918, subsequently began to fall off. In spite of significant growth in sales at the end of the 1920s, it had suffered continual losses since 1921. François-Xavier Drolet’s career illustrates the rise of a craftsman of inventive mind who built a sizeable family business, but did not extend his economic and social connections outside his enterprise and his family.

Marc Vallières

ANQ-Q, CE301-S1, 10 mai 1849, 24 janv. 1871; CN301-S305, 1875–81; CN301-S336, 1878–79; Index BMS, dist. judiciaire de Québec, Saint-Roch, 27 avril 1908; P678; TP11, S1, SS20, SSS1, 5 mai 1876, no.1812; 9 sept. 1878, no.2231; 6 avril 1880, no.2484; 18 janv. 1881, no.2607; 9 juill. 1913, no.204. Bureau de la Publicité des Droits (Québec), vol.B-120, no.54798; vol.B-124, no.57496; vol.B-158, no.79938; vol.B-169, no.87282; vol.B-174, nos.90750, 90892; vol.B-196, no.114788; vol.B-197, nos.102417, 102495; vol.B-200, no.106668; vol.B-203, no.106667; vol.B-205, no.108863; vol.B-217, no.117413; vol.B-224, nos.122954, 122956; vol.B-226, no.123988; vol.B-227, no.123989; vol.B-229, no.125161; vol.B-246, nos.133518, 133544; vol.B-250, no.135936; vol.B-347, no.193715; vol.B-353, no.193719; vol.B-360, nos.193714, 193716. L’Action catholique (Québec), 22 févr. 1924. Daily Telegraph (Quebec), “20th century number,” January 1900. L’Événement, 22 févr. 1924. Le Soleil, 23 nov. 1907, 22 févr. 1924. Bradstreet Commercial Report (New York), 1878–1925. Directory, Quebec, 1871–1925. Une page d’histoire de Québec; magnifique essor industriel ([Montréal, 1955]), 273–76. Who’s who and why, 1914.

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Cite This Article

Marc Vallières, “DROLET, FRANÇOIS-XAVIER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drolet_francois_xavier_15E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/drolet_francois_xavier_15E.html
Author of Article:   Marc Vallières
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   December 2, 2023