Interview: Karine Chagnon and Marc-Antoine Malo
Post-production: Gabriel Laprade
Gilles Tétreault is seated on a leather couch in his living room. He recalls the many changes he observed at the Lafayette Manufacture.
Over there, when I got there, we were making 400 pairs. But then they said: we’re modernizing. At Lafayette’s, they were making all types of men’s over there. Children’s and all that and they even made women’s as well. In any case, they did pretty well everything. They didn’t call it General Footwear for nothing. Down here, it was called Lafayette’s, but when it comes down to it, the company was General Footwear in Montréal. They sold all kinds of shoes. Nun’s shoes, bowling shoes, army shoes. All sorts of stuff. But it didn’t pay all that well because they were overextended. At one point, they said, we’re gonna specialize in winter boots. We’re gonna make sealskin boots, we’ll try that out. So then, for the sealskin boots, we cut into sealskin hides, real sealskin, real fur. There were a couple of good tailors in St-Ours who were qualified and they were fast, too. That stuff was hand trimmed. Then they brought in clickers. Those things were electric, it went faster than doing it by hand and it made for more work. So then they decided to bring in big machines, like those you see in the picture here. Huge machines. We had to bring them in through the window frames. They brought in four machines through the third-floor frames. Huge machines. They were mighty heavy. They used huge, what do you call them, huge cranes. They brought them in. So, we put two in one department, and two in the other department but on the same floor. That’s where we cut the felt, the felt liners, like skidoo boots, they were real fashionable back then, and lumberman boots for folks that worked in construction. It was a felt liner that was about yay high. Bit by bit, year by year, from 400 pairs of shoes, we went to 10,000 pairs a day.