LEGARÉ, PIERRE-THÉOPHILE, merchant, industrialist, and philanthropist; b. 12 Feb. 1851 in Charlesbourg, Lower Canada, eldest child of Pierre Legaré, a blacksmith and farmer, and Eulalie Renault; m. first 24 July 1876 Camile Bédard (d. 1902) in Charlesbourg, and they adopted at least three daughters, in addition to taking in orphans; m. secondly 10 Feb. 1903 Ethel Caroline Griffith in Ottawa, and they had a son and a daughter; d. 2 July 1926 at his summer residence in Saint-Benoît-Abbé (Packington), Que., and was buried in Notre-Dame de Belmont cemetery at Sainte-Foy, Que.
Pierre-Théophile Legaré attended the parish school and then in 1861 enrolled in the Petit Séminaire de Québec. In February 1866 he began a commercial course at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière and he continued his studies the following year at the Académie Commerciale de Québec. In 1871 he took some “industrial” training in the United States.
Legaré first went into partnership with his father in a small plough factory in Charlesbourg, which had probably been opened in the late 1860s. The partnership is believed to have lasted until 1877, when Pierre-Théophile took over the business in his own name and moved to Rue Saint-Vallier in Saint-Sauveur (Quebec City). In 1879 he became a representative for the G. M. Cossitt and Brother Company of Brockville, Ont., which specialized in manufacturing agricultural implements. Not long thereafter, he began making horse-drawn carriages, but his enterprise was completely destroyed by a fire that levelled a third of Saint-Sauveur on 16 May 1889.
To make a new start in business, Legaré went into partnership with Montreal merchant Robert Johnston Latimer on 17 Jan. 1890. The firm of Latimer et Legaré specialized in the sale of ploughs, carriages, and various kinds of machinery. In addition to the store on Rue Saint-Vallier, it had another on Rue Saint-Paul in Quebec’s Lower Town. The partnership would end on 1 Nov. 1896; Legaré would become the sole owner of the business, then known as P. T. Legaré and estimated to be worth between $20,000 and $35,000.
Legaré quite logically was also interested in agriculture and its improvement. With his father and other partners, he invested in a butter factory in Charlesbourg and helped organize the Quebec Provincial Exposition. As the 1890s progressed, however, his commercial activities expanded. For example, he and Latimer could afford to hire employees, two of whom would leave a strong mark on the firm’s history. Joseph-Herman Fortier began working for Latimer et Legaré as a stenographer in 1893 and his role would be particularly important; his brother, Pierre-Wilfrid Fortier, was hired in 1895 as a typist. They were both graduates of the Académie Commerciale de Québec and soon became part of Legaré’s family by marrying his sisters-in-law. Joseph-Herman was the “guiding spirit” of the enterprise after Legaré put him in charge of its finances in 1903. That year the brothers were invited to become equal partners with the founder. The firm of P. T. Legaré now began its territorial expansion by opening branches and agencies in many Quebec towns. It was one of the first chain stores established in Canada.
The branches multiplied so rapidly that by 1910 there were 11, and from then on progress was phenomenal. The business now became a limited company, P. T. Legaré Limited, with an estimated value of about $100,000, which would increase to more than $1,000,000 by 1920. Up-to-date marketing techniques were used: advertisements in mass-circulation newspapers, a catalogue and mail-order service, and sales on credit. P. T. Legaré Limited sold everything: farm machinery of various kinds, horse-drawn carriages, and household goods (such as furniture, wood stoves, refrigerators, washing machines, and musical instruments).
Legaré and his partners also became manufacturers. In 1916 they purchased the Percival Plow and Stove Company Limited in Merrickville, Ont., and the following year they founded the Dominion Carriage Company Limited, located in Montreal East. This firm, which would remain in business until 1 Dec. 1924, became one of the largest manufacturers of horse-drawn carriages in the country. It was the popularity of the automobile that led the partners to close it down.
Legaré and the Fortier brothers adapted to the advance of technology and to the market and they set up a large sales network for automobiles. Founded in 1911, their firm was known at first as the Compagnie d’Automobiles de Montréal, but changed its name to Legaré Automobile and Supply Company Limited in 1917. With Montreal and Quebec as its main places of business, it extended its network of branches to most of the small towns in the province. For a time it was the largest automobile and supply company in the country.
In 1921 Legaré and his partners obtained a federal charter and issued bonds to a total value of $1,200,000. That year the combined turnover of their businesses exceeded $12 million. At the time of its founder’s death (which occurred at the peak of its success), P. T. Legaré Limited alone had more than 50 stores and about 1,000 local agencies in Quebec, northeastern New Brunswick, and eastern Ontario. The Toronto Financial Post went so far as to declare in 1925 that the catalogue of P. T. Legaré Limited “is next to the bible in French Canada.”
After Legaré’s death in 1926, the company would continue to expand with Joseph-Herman Fortier as its president. It would be pushed into bankruptcy in 1935, however, by the combined effects of the depression and the fraudulent dealings of its chief officers. Fortier, his brother, and a former member of the management would be sued for fraud and sent to prison. Although the business was restructured after the bankruptcy, it would gradually decrease in importance in the decades ahead. The Legaré banner would not, however, disappear from the commercial landscape in the province of Quebec until 1998.
Although he was often urged to take up politics, Legaré made only one brief foray into it. In 1888 he was elected alderman of the municipality of Saint-Sauveur parish, barely a year before it would be annexed to Quebec City by a referendum. Though a Conservative, Legaré did not seem to be embarrassed by the fact that his principal partner, Joseph-Herman Fortier, supported the Liberals.
After living for much of his life on Rue Saint-Vallier in Saint-Sauveur, Legaré decided in 1912 to join the middle-class citizens of the capital on the Grande Allée, and he built a magnificent Victorian-style residence there. Thanks to his wealth, Legaré also became a philanthropist. On many occasions he gave substantial donations to the Université Laval, with which he had business dealings, including a gift of $25,000 in 1920, and to the parish of Saint-Cœur-de-Marie, contributing, for example, $15,000 in 1919 when the church was being built.
Pierre-Théophile Legaré possessed great entrepreneurial skills. He made his fortune through the timely development of two large networks of stores and the creation of manufacturing enterprises to supply his commercial activities. From modest beginnings, he became one of the most important self-made men of his day in Quebec.
[The author wishes to thank Guy Legaré, grandson of Pierre-Théophile Legaré, Yves Tremblay, Raynald Lessard, Marc Vallières, and Mme Sylvie Tremblay for their valuable assistance over the course of his research. a.l.]
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