Book celebrates Chamber of Commerce’s 200th anniversary, Anglo roots

Photo: Scott French

From left: Christian Goulet, Jacques Langlois, Marie Dufour and Sylvain Harvey at Quatre Siècles d’Affaires launch.

Nearly 200 years ago, seven English and Scottish merchants gathered to form an association to encourage Quebec City’s commercial interests in an already bustling economy. The association was Quebec City’s first Chamber of Commerce and the names Irvine, Blackwood, Painter, Mure, Jones, and Monro are written into its charter. Last week the Quebec City Chamber of Commerce enshrined its founding moment with the launch of Quatre Siècles d’Affaires, a new French-language book chronicling the 200-year history of the Chamber.

“We want all of Quebec’s communities’ heritage emphasized, so there is no problem promoting the Anglo-Saxon foundation of the Chamber of Commerce. It’s part of the heritage that francophones must accept since it is part of their own heritage,” long-time Chamber member Robert McGoldrick stated at the book’s launch, which took place in the organization’s 18th-century residence on Rue St. Louis. McGoldrick himself has been a member of the Chamber since 1952.

The 144-page work was intended as a light, anecdotal historical text by the author Marie Dufour. Aided by historian Émilie Guilbault and the Commission de la Capitale’s own historian, Frédérique Schmidt, Dufour created the book’s side-panels, which highlight the commercial exploits of 19th-century English-speaking merchants like Thomas Dunn, Joseph Sheyn or William Price, all once central to the city’s commercial life. The prose is complemented by 125 paintings, sketches and photographs researched by iconographer Jacques St. Pierre, which provide a setting for each of the chapters.

In parallel to the book’s profiles, Quatre Siècles d’Affaires acts as an economic history of the city’s 400 years. “When we started talking about the chamber’s 200th anniversary, we quickly realized, ‘Hey, there’s a precedence here.’ Champlain started trading in 1608. So we started at the very beginning,” said Françine Lortie, the president of the committee charged with the project.

According to Dufour, “The city witnessed more down times than up times. What’s surprising and inspiring is how many times the city bounced back. ... The Chamber was often at the front lines as an actor or lobbyist, or behind the scenes as a more silent observer.”

Despite the book’s anglophone history, it will be initially published only in French. The book’s publisher, Sylvain Harvey, said the possibility of publishing a translated English version will depend largely on its success in the French market first.
The 144-page Quatre Siècles d’Affaires is available in French at bookstores around the city for $39.95.