Success Formula for a City
Cheap power, good location, low taxes and settled labor conditions — Drummondville's tested recipe for prosperity
THERE is one city in Canada that knows not the depression. Or for that matter, the recession either.
One city that has gone steadily forward in an ever-growing prosperity during these late dolorous years while other larger and more important communities have struggled against slackening business conditions, battled increasing unemployment, wrestled with the strangling octopus of relief.
One city that in twenty years has quadrupled its population, brought in new industries, watched its factories enlarge their plants, add to their payrolls, provide steady work for thousands of new citizens. One city that, while others have been cutting municipal expenditures to the bone, has mapped new wards, laid out new streets, hired more policemen, firemen and clerical help, even built a new City Hall to pace its phenomenal growth.
This Canadian community is the city of Drummondville, in the Province of Quebec. When you mention the depression to leading citizens of Drummondville, they ask you: "What depression?” It gives you a queer feeling of unreality. You suspect them of bluffing. You think they can't possibly mean it. They are not bluffing, and they do mean it. There has been no depression in Drummondville.
The twenty-fourth of June is a big day in every Quebec community. It is the day of Saint Jean Baptiste, when French Canadians honor their patron saint with High Masses, more or less ornate parades, many bands and, in the evening, fireworks and feasting.
Saturday, June 24, 1939, was an especially great occasion in Drummondville. Not oijly was it Saint Jean Baptiste Day, but it was the day upon which Drummondville's new municipal building was to be officially dedicated and opened. That structure, built of dark red brick faced with white stone at a cost of $80,000, symbolizes Drummondville’s prosperity, its dignity as a municipality, its growing importance among industrial cities in the province. A big white-faced town dock decorates the front of the building over the main entrance. The structure houses the fire department and jxdice headquarters, contains a public hall and a council chamber, assembles all the municipal offices under one roof. It is smart and modern and up-to-date, as is fitting for the new city of Drummondville, which also is smart and modem and up-to-date.
The people of Drummondville did themselves proud on that Saturday. The great occasion began with an open air High Mass at the stately church of St. Simon. At ten o’clock the St. Jean Baptiste parade left St. Simon for its winding progress through the city streets over a route planned to touch each of the city's four wards.
That was a gay and colorful procession. There was Mayor Arthur Rajotte, and his Municipal Council of eight members, French Canadians all. Aldermen Pelissier and Tourigny from Centre Ward; Melancon and La roque from > Northwest Ward; Leclerc and Metayer from East Ward; and Ferland and Blanchard from South Ward.
The police and the fire laddies marched with uniforms newly pressed and buttons brightly burnished. The Board of Trade and the Junior Board of Trade sent delegations. There were half a dozen local societies, their members brilliantly garbed in traditional regalia. The Drummondville Harmony Band, with Director Leon Ringuet wielding an authoritative baton, and M. Donat Marcotte, the honorary drum major, and M. Aime Bernard, the drum major, high-stepping out in front. There was the drum and fife corps of La Guarde d'Honneur, led by their captain, M. Marcel Pellerin, tootling and drumming sprightly march tunes. There were the 300 members of the Aramis Athletic Club, the ladies of the Daughters of Isabella, and Les Filles de Jeanne d’Arc. There were the Zouaves of St. Simon; and two snowshoe clubs, Les Pieds Légers and Le Voyageur.
There were more than thirty floats, all elaborately decorated. The Spirit of New France, the Vision of Jeanne d’Arc, the March of Electricity, the Progress of Drummondville. That was the keynote. The Progress of Drummondville.
At two o’clock the new municipal building was officially opened, and the Rev. Canon Georges Melancon pronounced a solemn benediction, dedicating the edifice to the public service. There were speeches by the mayor and the aldermen, by City Cleric Joseph Marier, who has occupied his important office for twenty-five years, and several others. Among the orators was M. Noel Boisclair, who was chief of the Fire Brigade way back in 1889 and is still enrolled as a voluntary fireman.
The Growth cf a Community
DRUMMONDVILLE has come a long wav since the war. In 1919 the place was a somnolent little town, a one-minute stop on the Intercolonial Railway. It is inland on the south shore of the St. Lawrence about halfway between Montreal and Levis, but nearer Montreal. The original settlement was established .on the St. Francis River, and the town’s present prosperity has its roots among the falls and rapids of that swift-flowing stream.
In 1919 Drummondville had a population of around 3,500. There were two main industries, a foundry and a lumber mill. Neighboring cities, Ste. Hyacinthe, with 11,000 people, and Granby, with 7,000, rather looked down on Drummondville in those days. Not now. Drummondville, in 1939, has close to 20.000 inhabitants, has passed both Ste. Hyacinthe and Granby in population, is ranked fourth city in the province by the value of its manufactured products. Only Montreal, Quebec and the pulp and paper city of Three Rivers top Drummondville’s industrial production record.
In the last twenty years an even dozen new industries, employing in round figures 5.000 workers, have established themselves in Drummondville. Editor Darche, who goes to press each Friday with two weekly newspapers—the Drummondville Spokesman in English, and La Parole in French—says:
“Contrary to what has happened elsewhere, our industries for the mokt part instead of closing their doors, or at least decreasing their staffs, have increased their production and taken on more employees. Since the war Drummondville has never ceased to go forward along the road of progress and prosperity.”
Today you get the feel of prosperity in Drummondville. The towm has the appearance of good times. Its principal streets, many, of them newdy constructed in the past few years, are broad avenues, paved with concrete, lined with smart stores displaying merchandise as modern and up-todate as any you will see in the windows of shopping districts in the big cities. The “A Louer” (To Let) signs are conspicuously absent.
On the outskirts of the city, the new houses are for the most part of brick. True, they follow the traditional architectural style of French Canada, two and three flat buildings with flights of stairs clinging to the outside walls, but they look spick and span with coats of fresh paint, and their little gardens are neat and well kept, outward and visible signs of a thriving home-loving community.
These things one sees in Drummondville, and more. The people on the streets are happy people. They are well dressed, especially the women, who are not afraid to wear bright colors and carry them with an air that is unmistakably French, even perhaps Parisienne. The two motion picture houses are filled every evening. Often one of them shows a French film, its posters bristling w’ith names
unknown to Hollywood, but famous among these people. “Le Tigre du Bengale” with Claude May, Alice Field, André Bürgere and Roger Duchesne. “L'Escadrille de la Chance,” with André Luguet and Ginette Ledere. The shops are thronged, the baseball games are well patronized, the band concerts draw appreciative crowds. The town is not alone prosperous. It is happy.
These things one sees, and asks—“Why?” Prosperity in hard times, contentment and gaiety while in so many places elsewhere are fear and unrest, do not just happen without cause. It takes more than a conjuring trick to raise a sleepy backwoods community to the status of a proud industrial city in twenty years.
A large painted signboard alongside the Drummondville railway station informs the world that here are to be found the “best manufacturing conditions in Canada.” This may well be true. But wdiat are these conditions; and how did they come about?
As is true of every large enterprise, many factors have combined to create the Drummondville of 1939. The community is not an old one as French-Canadian towns go. The original settlement was carved out of virgin forest on the west bank of the St. Francis River a hundred and twenty-four years ago; and for one hundred of those years Drummondville’s progress was a limping, uncertain march. The town slipped backward as often as it strode forward. Its periods of retrogression were as frequent as its times of advancement.
Veteran soldiers founded Drummondville. After the War of 1812 had ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, a group of Canadians who had fought heroically at Chateauguay and Chrysler’s Farm gathered under the leadership of General Frederick George Herir t and sailed down the St. Lawrence from Montreal in search of a site upon which they intended to establish a new settlement. Heriot’s original plan was to take his flotilla up the St. Francis River as far as Sherbrooke where a Loyalist colony of Americans, who had clung staunchly to their British allegiance, had rooted itself.
At the point on the St. Francis w-here Drummondville now stands, the expedition ran smack up against a series of falls and rapids ¡which barred their further progress effectively. That last water, Lord Falls at Drummondville, and Hemmings Falls three miles up the river, stopped Heriot. They were destined a hundred years later and in a new age, to make immensely valuable contributions to Drummondville’s spectacular growth.
Heriot’s men. coming up the St. Francis in early spring, saw that the country was fair. On April 14, 1815, the party made camp on the west shore of the river. They cleared the timber, built a log house for the general, then went about making homesteads for themselves. Heriot parcelled out the land impartially. At his suggestion the new village was called Drummondville in honor of the then Governor of Lower Canada. The little settlement built its first Catholic church in 1822 ; its first Protestant house of worship in 1829.
From Settlement to Industrial City
FOR MORE than fifty years after that Drummondville remained an agricultural village. Its sole means of communication with the outside world wastheSt. Francis. ■* There were no trunk roads, and the railway was years in the future. The first attempt to bring industries into the settlement was made in 1867 when a family named Stear built a tannery. This was followed by a small woodworking plant. Neither of those earliest enterprises lived long. In a few' years they were closed down, the buildings abandoned. Gradually they fell into ruins. Times were hard in Drummondville then. Many of the younger men, impatient because of their restricted lives and limited opportunities, left the village. Whole families emigrated to the New England states. Leading citizens viewed this exodus with alarm. Monseigneur Gravel, head of the religious life of
the community, reported pessimistically on the situation to his Archbishop at Quebec.
But things picked up again in 1880. McDougall, Cowan and Company built an iron foundry—“Les Forges.” They started with three hundred men, and six years later they were employing 3,(XX). There was a heavy demand for iron in connection with railway construction, and the foundry was consuming 20,000 cords of wood a year, cut from the near-by forest lands. A large proportion of the rails used on the first eastern Canadian Pacific lines were made of Drummondville iron.
The success of this new enterprise attracted others. J. A. Gosselin established a second foundry, and one Pepin set up a carriage factory. The Gosselin foundry is still operating, specializing these days on dairy equipment. It employs forty men, and is the oldest of Drummondville’s industries.
Nothing very much happened to Drummondville between 1890 and 1900. 1 h:?re w'ere about 3,000 people in the towm and general conditions were static. At the turn of the century things began to have the appearance of prosperity. But only the appearance. New industries came into the town, but none of them lasted long. It w'as a hectic, uncertain period. A cigar company arrived and departed, leaving its factory to a match company which went through a series of reorganizations, then folded in 1914. Somebody got hold of the idea that Drummondville would be a good place to make shirts in, tried it for a year or so, then called the whole thing off. Three shoe companies under three different names successively tried to make shoes in one Drummondville factory. It was no go.
The single permanent industry that the town acquired in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century was the Campbell, MacLaurin Lumber Company, which set up shop in the town during 1908, and is still there, with around one hundred men on the payroll.
One may suppose that the reactions of this rviral community to the war were much the same as those of any other similar small country town. Excitement, a certain proportion of the young men suddenly in uniform, patriotic rallies, and then the dull routine of waiting to hear news from overseas. It is unlikely that anyone in Drummondville in ,1914, from Mayor Alexandre Mercure down, had the faintest notion that the war years were to bring about a complete metamorphosis in the town; but that was to happen.
Drummondville got through the first few months of the war as best it could. It was an anxious, restless time at the best. People went around saying, “Business as usual,” but few of them believed such a thing possible. Nor was it. There was plenty of business during the war, but a lot of it was most unusual.
In the spring of 1915 some of this unusual business came to the little town by the side of the St. Francis. The Aetna Chemical Company was seeking a site for a new explosives plant, to meet the urgent and growing demand for munitions. The company chose Drummondville, and citizens familiar with the town’s history found a favorable omen in the fact that the land for the powder factory was purchased on April 14, 1915, one hundred years to the day since the landing of General Heriot.
That was the wray things turned out. The munitions works employed as many as 2,400 people at the peak period of its four years existence, and that was a help. What was even more important, it drew the attention of other industries to Drummondville, especially the attention of the Southern Canada Power Company, whose officials had been examining the entire Eastern Townships situation for some time. Southern Canada Pow'er went all out for Drummondville, began construction of its first generating plant at Lords Falls in 1918. The good citizens may not have known it, but the great Drummondville boom was on its way.
The Southern Canada Power Company, Limited, had been incorporated in 1913 as a merger of the first company of the same name with three other power plants in the district. In later years the company acquired ownership or control of nine additional power organizations in the territory between Montreal and Quebec and the St. Lawrence and the Vermont border. Today it has five power plants with an installed capacity of 58.000 horsepower serving 124 communities. It has undeveloped resources estimated at 133,400 horsepower. 'I he two most important power plants are at Drummondville where the company develops 18,400 horsepower at Lords Falls, its first plant, built in 1915, and 33,600 at Hemmings Falls. Southern Canada Power is affiliated with the Power Corporation of Canada, Limited.
The Aetna company was naturally the largest commercial power consumer during the war years; but the Aetna company had no need of its Drummondville plant after the war ended. The power company had a big stake in the town and the surrounding territory, and with the co-operation of leading citizens, the municipal officers and the local Board of Trade began a campaign to attract new and permanent industries to Drummondville.
Here it is that one begins to see the pattern of Drummondville’s growth. The formula takes on a visible, understandable shape. There is water power, developed and in huge reserves. There is an urban industrial community, centrally located, filled with people who are accustomed to work, who believe in work, who enjoy working. There is a municipal government willing to be lenient in the matter of taxation imposed upon industries, because it can afford to be so lenient. There are factory buildings ready for occupancy, requiring only the installation of machinery suited to the special needs of the commodity to be manufactured, to fit them for immediate service.
Power at low rates is, of course, a major .factor; but the quality of the people, and the attitude of the people, is important too. Drummondville is ninety per cent French Canadian. To almost all French Canadians work is a duty, and its accomplishment is a source of profound inner satisfaction. Work is never a hateful task, something done under compulsion merely to earn money. French Canadians do not often strike. Rightly or wrongly, they do not join labor unions, except their own Catholic unions, and the main objective of the Catholic unions is to avoid strikes, never to foment them. French Canadians raise large families, and in many cases each member of the family, male and female, expects to work when the age for working is reached. Drummondville labor is peacefully inclined, not subservient, but amenable.
That is the formula complete. Plentiful and cheap power. Convenient location on a main railway line and a through highway. Friendly municipal officials eager to cooperate, not avaricious for tax revenue; and settled labor conditions in a community of workers suspicious of all agitators, strongly resentful of outside interference in what they consider strictly their own affairs.
This was the alluring picture Drummondville’s industrial salesmen showed to new industries in the years immediately following the end of the war. Tangible results were quickly obtained. In 1919 the Butterfly Hosiery Company located in Drummondville, opening up employment opportunities for three hundred workers, most of them women. Four years later the Dominion Silk Dyeing and Finishing Company established a factory employing another three hundred hands, and in Í924 the Louis Roessel Company, weavers of pure silk fabrics, joined the group. The Roessel firm employs a hundred and fifty people.
By this time the growing town had be’ come known in the textile industry as a silk centre. Doubtless the presence in Drummondville of those three more or less related industries had a great deal to do with bringing to Drummondville its most important single industry, the plant of Canadian Celanese, Limited.
Celanese, an artificial silk, was a war by-product; to some extent an industrial accident. Its base is wood pulp reduced to liquid form by chemical action. During the war the brothers Dreyfus, Swiss chemists, who first produced the liquid, made contracts with the British Government for the use of their product as airplane “dope,” that is, protection for airplane fabric against rain and ice. When the war ended, the brothers had vast j quantities of the liquid on hand, stored in j tanks in various parts of England, and 1 no further use for it. Continuing their experiments, they discovered that their product, sprayed under high pressure through screens, could be converted into fine strong threads, very much like silk. The process is somewhat similar to that used in the manufacture of rayon artificial silk, but there are points of wide divergence between the two.
Calling their new synthetic silk “celan¡cse,” the Dreyfus brothers with their financial backers began to manufacture ^ the fabric in England and on the Continent, then extended their operations to the United States. By 1926 they were ready to enter the Canadian market, and they chose Drummondville as the site for their first Canadian plant. Construction of the imposing stand of buildings which is the Canadian Celanese factory began that year, was finished in 1928. There is steady work in the Celanese plant for 2,800 men and women. The demand for the product is unfailing, and increasing annually. The citizens of Drummondville are proud of their Celanese industry. There is even a Celanese Road.
About the time that the Celanese people were starting work on their factory, the Canadian Marconi Company, in conjunction with its overseas organization, was planning beam wireless stations to be located somewhere in Eastern Canada. In this instance the power supply or the labor market had little to do with the requirements. Geographical location was most important. Two Quebec towns were chosen after an exhaustive survey. One was Drummondville, the other Yamachiche, situated on the north shore of the St. Lawrence at a point almost exactly opposite Drummondville. The two stations between them handle all the Marconi beam business routed through Canada to every corner of the globe. As employers of local labor the Marconi stations are of small consequence; but the Drummondville and Yamachiche folks get a big kick out of the knowledge that a large proporj tion of the world’s wireless communication, I including the broadcasts to the Empire made by King George VI. are handled by the operators at the two stations, as were those of his father before him. The tall steel masts of the Marconi beam station j located on the site of the old Aetna plant, are a Drummondville landmark, visible for miles around.
A Four Million Dollar Payroll
HALF a dozen other industrial plants were established in the town between 1928 and 1932. The Drummondville Cotton Company employs six hundred people in the manufacture of tire fabrics; the Dominion Silk Printing Company, allied with the Dominion Silk Dyeing and Finishing Company, gives work to fifty ; more, and still another fifty are on the payroll of the Holtite Rubber Company, making rubber soles and heels, together ! j with a lot of other rubber products.
The Dennison Manufacturing Company of Canada makes the Dennison line of fancy papers, tags and labels at Drum-, mondville, employing sixty people. Eagle ; pencils are made in Canada at Drum• mondville. A paper box factory has sixty ¡
workers. There is a local creamery, three sash and door factories, and the printing and book-binding plant of La Parole, which employs about thirty. There are new shops, hotels and professional services to serve the growing community.
Altogether these industries provide steady employment for close to 5,000 men and women. They have a yearly payroll of around $4,000.000. The annual value of their products exceeds $12,000,000.
The Southern Canada Power Company itself employs 275 men and women, serves 29.000 customers in its territory, and in the fiscal year of 1938 had a gross revenue from sales of electricity alone of $2.190,933. Drummondville is surprisingly sold on electric household equipment, for a Quebec community. Probably more Drummondville housewives cook with electricity than in any other city in the province, pro rata with the population.
Since its inauguration the power company has several times reduced its rates, and today the average rate is about $2 per hundred kilowatt hours per month. This rate, the company claims, is lower than the rates of any municipal electrical service in Quebec, lower than any rate in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, lower than any rate in Manitoba, except Winnipeg, and lower than rates in the majority of Ontario municipalities considering the fact that the company pays taxes from which Ontario hydro electric districts are exempt. The taxes in 1938 paid by Southern Canada Power amounted to $9.60 per customer.
Drummondville’s municipal finances are on a sound basis. Taxable property within the municipality, valued at $1,000,000 in 1917, is $8,624,070 in 1939. The town’s total assets are recorded as $1,571,370, against a town debt of $1,360,765. Ordinary receipts are $240,163, the property tax is $2.10, the school tax ninety cents and the water tax six per cent. City of Drummondville debentures are selling currently for more than those of the province.
There is no relief problem to speak of in the community. Such unemployment as exists, most of it seasonable, is taken care of through public works. The few really indigent poor are looked after by local charities. It is of some significance that the City Council has no Relief Committee ; but it has a Committee on Workmen’s Dwellings.
This, then, is the formula. Cheap power, plus favorable location, plus a people who are happy to be working, equals a prosperous city.
Power is important. Location is important; but perhaps the people are most important of all.