The Origins of Québec Engineering
When François-Xavier Drolet opened his first workshop on rue des Fossés (boulevard Charest) in 1875, Québec City was starting to transition to manufacturing. Mechanical engineer F.-X. Drolet and his employees designed, manufactured, and repaired a wide range of steam-powered equipment and engines. When his sons joined him in 1913, the company had just moved to its new, fully appointed facility. Their legacy continues to shape Québec City’s development.
Preserving and developing heritage
Few examples of early 20th century industrial architecture can match this one. In 1993 when the City decided to restore the F.-X. Drolet plant built between 1907 and 1909 and use it for some of its office workers, the business had long since moved to new premises. The abandoned building, like the entire Saint-Roch neighbourhood, was sorely in need of revitalization. Circumstances were favourable for the preservation of this valuable part of Québec City’s industrial heritage.
A mechanical engineer
François-Xavier Drolet’s talent manifested at a time when automation was taking off in all fields. There was a great need in the late 19th century for steam-powered machines and engines and other types of machinery and mechanisms. He supplied the increasing number of tanneries and manufacturers in Saint-Roch, the steam boats that were replacing sailing ships, and the stores and office buildings equipped with elevators.
F.-X. Drolet was successful at meeting these needs, as evidenced by the growth of his company, which went from 25 to 60 employees between 1880 and 1906.
A model manufacturer
The company moved out of its first facilities in 1909 and into this new, better located plant. The railway passed right in front of the door and Saint-Charles River access made it possible to both ship goods by boat and open a small shipyard to repair vessels. The building included two L-shaped sections: one housed the machine shop, the other the foundry and forge. Large windows provided natural lighting and adequate ventilation. The office was located on the second floor.
In 1924 sons Gaudias, Arthur, and Émile Drolet took over from their father and continued to develop the business—munitions for the army, fire hydrants for the City, pistons, axles, and gears for the automobile industry, and elevators for public buildings. The company fabricated its own molds and made its own steel, iron, copper, and aluminum parts. Quality was controlled in plant labs. The versatile employees were trained to carry out all tasks.
Diversification and relocation
In the 1950s F.-X. Drolet dominated the elevator market across the province with a new hydraulic model. In the 1960s the company also made ski lifts and slow-burning wood stoves, a niche that ensured its future since Drolet stoves are now sold around the world. It was at this time that the Drolet family ceded control of the company, which relocated to an industrial park in the Québec City area.
A new contribution to neighbourhood development
Today the restored building contributes to Saint-Roch’s cultural wealth with its distinctive heritage features, which bear witness to the manufacturers who shaped the district’s urban fabric and marked its history.
What’s more, the relocation of municipal workers to the building in the mid-1990s contributed to Saint-Roch’s economic and demographic recovery and helped it reclaim its city centre role in Québec City.