A trailblazing secretary
Bombardier Snowmobile Limited was incorporated on July 10, 1942, in Valcourt. The company manufactured vehicles that could travel on snow—also known as snowmobiles—and was led by inventor Joseph-Armand Bombardier. The first photograph of the company’s management team looks like a family portrait. Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s brothers, Alphonse-Raymond, Léopold and Gérard occupied the positions of Vice President and Directors, respectively.
However, one person stands out from the group: a woman by the name of Marie-Jeanne Dupaul, who was secretary and treasurer of the company. Ms. Dupaul came from a family of shopkeepers in Valcourt, and worked for Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s company as secretary and treasurer for more than 20 years. This short biography introduces Marie-Jeanne Dupaul: an extraordinary woman who was the living embodiment of discipline and loyalty.
The Bombardier Snowmobile Limited management, 1942
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul - Early life
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul was born on July 12, 1902. Her parents Joseph Dupaul and Georgianna Robin had 13 children, 4 of whom passed away before the age of 16. Thus, she grew up with three brothers and five sisters. The Dupaul family was very active in Valcourt’s community life. The father ran a general store, which he later passed down to his son Théophile Dupaul.
Front row (left to right): Marie-Joseph, Marie-Jeanne; middle row: Marie-Anne, Théophile, Goergianna, Eva, Joseph; back row: Léopold, Eugénie, Régina and Alexina (circa 1908)
As a child, Marie-Jeanne attended the Sacré-Cœur convent in Valcourt. She was a talented musician, and passed the piano examinations at the Sherbrooke Royal Conservatory in 1918.When she was 17 years old, Marie-Jeanne joined the Daughters of Charity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The religious community was well-established in the area and ran the convent in Valcourt. However, Ms. Dupaul’s life as a nun didn’t last long, and she left the convent on December 28, 1923. After leaving the order, Marie-Jeanne chose not to marry, and began working at the family’s general store.
General store owned by Joseph Dupaul, Marie-Jeanne Dupaul’s father (circa 1920)
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul - Life at Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s company
Joseph-Armand Bombardier was well acquainted with the Dupaul family. Naturally, the inventor shopped at the J. Dupual general store—one of the largest stores in town. And Marie-Jeanne’s brother Théophile had been taking his cars to Le Garage Bombardier for repair since the 1920s. Théophile also helped to test some of the inventor’s prototype snowmobiles.
In the early 1940s, Joseph-Armand Bombardier was looking for a secretary to help with administrative duties. At the time, the business had only about 15 employees. The Dupaul family was well known in town for its business acumen. Mr. Bombardier was impressed by Marie-Jeanne’s work at the general store, and offered her a position as secretary. Shortly after joining the company, she lent her new boss $1,000 for the construction of a new plant, which shows just how much she believed in the company and its leader. In those days, $1,000 was the equivalent of about six months’ worth of a secretary’s salary.
Although Marie-Jeanne began her career at L’Auto-Neige Bombardier as a secretary, her duties rapidly became more diverse. On July 10, 1942, Bombardier Snowmobile Limited became incorporated, and Marie-Jeanne Dupaul was appointed secretary and treasurer of the board of directors. She was the only woman on the board, and was surrounded by Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s brothers and the inventor himself. As a member of the board, she received company shares.
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul, secretary and treasurer, and Gilberte Dupont, secretary (circa 1945)
Among her duties at Bombardier Snowmobile Limited, Marie-Jeanne was in charge of the accounting records, employee payroll, billing, accounts payable, and all other tasks related to the company’s financial management. In other words, she was Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s right-hand woman. She looked after hiring and managing office staff, including assigning and supervising work.
Employees at Bombardier Snowmobile Limited described Marie-Jeanne as “strict,” especially when it came to finances. She kept a close eye on company resources so as not to waste a single thing, e.g., pencils had to be used right up to the last millimetre before being replaced. Although she made no exceptions when it came to money, she was generous with her time. She never hesitated to help others. Marie-Jeanne loved chatting with co-workers, but only once her work was done! She was also known for carrying her little dog around with her everywhere.
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul worked alongside Joseph-Armand Bombardier for 20 years while Bombardier Snowmobile Limited underwent continuous expansion. In the early 1960s, Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s fragile state of health put their professional collaboration in peril. In 1963, just a few months before his death, Mr. Bombardier restructured the company with a view to planning his succession. On June 28, 1963, Marie-Jeanne Dupaul and the inventor’s brothers stepped down from the board of directors. Mr. Bombardier passed away on February 18, 1964, and a chapter in the company’s history came to a close.
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul in her office (circa 1945)
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul – Friends and family
In parallel with her work at Bombardier Snowmobile Limited, Marie-Jeanne spent time with Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s family outside of office hours. Mr. Bombardier’s spouse Yvonne L. Bombardier and Marie-Jeanne both belonged to the Catholic women’s organization the Daughters of Isabella. Marie-Jeanne was president of the Valcourt Circle from 1946 to 1948.
In 1950, Marie-Jeanne travelled to Florida with Mr. Bombardier and his wife. Of course, when she wasn’t travelling with the family, she stayed in Valcourt to supervise the company’s operations.
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul was committed to Bombardier Snowmobile Limited throughout her career. She was equally dedicated to her family, helping her younger sister Marie-Joseph with the education of her two adopted children, and living with her sister Marie-Anne for 84 years. Marie-Jeanne and Marie-Anne died within a year of each other. Marie-Jeanne Dupaul was 87 years old when she passed away on December 21, 1989. Her funeral was held in Valcourt at the Saint-Joseph-d’Ely Church, even though she was living in Saint-Étienne-de-Bolton at the time of her death.
Yvonne L. Bombardier and Marie-Jeanne Dupaul in Florida, 1950
Marie-Jeanne Dupaul left her mark on the history of the Bombardier enterprises through more than 20 years of dedication and, of course, her talent for counting! She was a pioneer in the workplace, appointed to Bombardier Snowmobile Limited’s board of directors in 1942, only two years after legislation granted Québec women the right to vote. Despite the enormous barriers women faced in the workplace at the time, she played an important role in the development of one of the largest industrial companies in the history of Québec.