La Patrie – the cradle of the guitar in Quebec

La Patrie (source : Wikipedia)

La Patrie is a small village in the Eastern Townships at the foot of the Mount Megantic massif. It is in this beautiful region of Quebec that the origins of the Quebec guitar making industry can be found.

Even today, guitar making is at the heart of the region’s economic activity and has spread to other parts of Quebec and the world.

Normand Boucher, the designer

Normand Boucher and his dog
(source : Boucher family)

Born in 1917 in Coaticook, Normand Boucher began learning music at the age of eleven when his father gave him his first guitar.

In 1940, he settled in La Patrie, where he started his family. After working for several years in a sawmill as a diesel engineer, Mr. Boucher decided to go into business as a carpenter. During this time, music remained at the heart of the Boucher family’s interests. Normand Boucher himself had long dreamed of building his own guitar.

In 1967, a persistent request from one of his sons led Normand Boucher to make this dream a reality. Using his skill, ingenuity, and experience as a carpenter, he designed and built the essential tools for the construction of an acoustic guitar; the first Norman guitar was born.

It took six months to design this first instrument. Once the strings were installed, the surprise was total: the instrument has a sound that exceeds all expectations.

The birth of a business

dreadnought mold
(Source : Boucher family)

Normand Boucher is convinced that his instruments would appeal to musicians. He sold his guitars to friends and acquaintances, as well as to the curious and interested who had heard of this exceptional luthier’s work. Les guitares Norman enr. was thus founded in 1968, when many guitars were produced in the small workshop on Principale Street South.

The design of the instruments was originally based on the standards of the time, including Martin guitars, with an X-shaped bracing under the soundboard and a dreadnought body shape.

However, the neck attachment is unique: it is bolted on and the heel is located inside the body. This is a new and very effective concept for tuning the instrument, as the detachable neck can be easily adjusted or even replaced: a notable advantage in our harsh and changing climate.

The growth

Normand Boucher's shop
Normand Boucher’s shop
(Source : Boucher family)

Normand Boucher met Montrealer Robert Godin in 1970. Godin, who worked at La Tosca music shop on St-Hubert Street in Montreal, was immediately attracted to Boucher’s instruments. Godin suggested that Boucher sell his guitars at La Tosca, which was then managed by Alice Fillion.

Normand Boucher and Robert Godin combined their talents and passion: in 1972, Mr. Boucher became the founding president of Les guitares Norman Inc. while Godin founded Sibécor in Montreal, the exclusive distributor of Norman guitars. This profitable alliance led to significant growth in the La Patrie factory in the 1970s.

In the “post-Woodstock” era, as a strong pro-independence political current spread through Quebec, many artists proudly displayed their colours by playing a Norman guitar made in La Patrie. This period of return to the land favoured the use of simple-looking instruments made by hand here in Quebec.

During this decade, the workshop became the leading guitar company in Canada, with an annual production of several thousand instruments.

Fire and reconstruction

Shop rebuild
(Source : Boucher family)

On the morning of September 28, 1980, fire completely destroys the “shop”, as they say in the village of La Patrie. After much reflection, Normand Boucher decided, largely out of loyalty to his employees, to rebuild the factory and continue production. He was 63 years old at the time.

Less than five months later, the new factory was ready and production was underway.

The 1980s, a period of transition

Norman guitars publicity
(Source : Boucher family)

Following the rebuilding of the factory, the company, which produced exclusively acoustic products, experienced financial difficulties as electronically oriented sounds became more and more popular with both artists and the public. In 1986, various local investors took over the production and marketing of Norman guitars.

In 1989, the company was acquired by Robert Godin, who had been in the business since 1979. He revised some of the construction details of the guitars and continued the production of the trademark. Today, the Norman guitar remains a reference in Quebec and elsewhere in the world. It is often referred to as “the Canadian guitar.

The retirement

Normand Boucher at work
(Source : Boucher family)

Normand Boucher continues to build guitars by hand from his small workshop. In the last years of his life, he worked on the development of a bridge bracing system with a lever effect. His latest invention allowed him to lighten the tension of the strings on the soundboard.

Normand Boucher died on December 21, 1997, at the age of 80. His work makes him a great pioneer of string instruments in Canada. He leaves behind an industry, a strong economic activity, as well as having participated in his own way in the Quebec of the 1970s.

Editors: Martyne Boucher, Samira Boucher-Blal, Daniel Laroche and Martin Toussaint