Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA: A family business—past and future

January 2017



After being in operation for over 80 years, Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA is firmly woven into the economic fabric of Quebec. Founded in 1933 by Alfred Dallaire and his wife Aline, the enterprise is still owned by the Dallaire family, and will remain so. Meet Jocelyne Dallaire-Légaré and her daughter, Julia Duchastel-Légaré, two inspiring women who are busy cultivating a long-standing entrepreneurial tradition.

Fourth-generation entrepreneurs

When asked what taking over the reins of the family business has meant to her, Jocelyne Dallaire-Légaré, President of Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA, replies thoughtfully: “Now, it’s a source of pride. But at the beginning, I was a little ambivalent because my values were more ‘hippie’ than financial or business-oriented. I had very different—more artistic—personal interests. Selling funeral services didn’t strike me as terribly sexy. And it still doesn’t, but there is a lot of sense to it.” Becoming a businesswoman was also a feminist challenge for her: “Traditionally, women didn’t take over businesses. My mother played a prominent role in the company; she made decisive decisions that affected its success.” But her function was never official.

Her daughter, Julia Duchastel-Légaré, shared that same initial ambivalence: “No young person would ever think they’d want to work in the funeral business.” As she progressed in her career, Julia came to realize that what she wanted was to devote herself to a human-sized business. “I couldn’t picture myself working in a huge organization,” she says.

For both of these women, it’s the way the company carries out its mission that gives meaning to their professional commitment: “Our work has so much scope for creativity and reflection; it’s a blend of psychology and sociology. We develop and create funeral rites,” explained Julia.

From mother to daughter

For both mother and daughter, it was life circumstances that led them to dedicating themselves to their parents’ and grandparents’ business. In Julia’s case, the process was accelerated by health issues. “I’d been working in the company for a while when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. Along with others, I was prompted to get more involved and make key decisions for the company. I realized I was capable of taking over while my mother was gone.”

As Jocelyne explained, any transition in a company is a learning process: “No one really talks about it, but learning the ropes is a must. And the learning can involve both success and failure. This is one of the most difficult aspects: as the head of a company, it’s hard to accept other people making mistakes. And it’s all the more difficult when it’s your own child making the mistake. It’s one of the challenges of transitioning a business.”

Tradition and innovation 

Today, Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA defines itself as an innovative company that constantly strives to find new ways to meet its clients’ needs. “In our line of business, the needs have changed radically,” says Jocelyne. “In the past, Catholic traditions dictated how things were done. Now, we live in a more diverse society thanks to immigration and the evolution of spiritual beliefs.”

The company has reinvented itself to meet these changing needs: “My mother made a first wave of changes by renovating the premises into modern, open spaces, some of which have even won prizes for their design,” says Julia. In addition to the revamped facilities, the company’s products, rites, practices and support services were reviewed. Special focus was placed on ecological rites, with the creation of an ecological garden, The Garden of Memories, to offer clients a ceremony in keeping with their values. “What we have realized, by working with anthropologists, is that with the loss of traditional practices, families need an intermediary presence and support.”

In both Jocelyne’s and Julia’s opinion, being a family-run company is what allows Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA to better understand the needs of the people it serves and to meet these needs effectively: “We’re firmly rooted in our community, in our city, in our country.” This deep-rootedness allows them to offer support on a human level throughout the grieving process, for instance by way of free psychologist consultations, discussion groups and art therapy.

The challenges facing family-run companies

While flexibility and solid community roots are valuable assets for family businesses like Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA, such enterprises nonetheless have their fair share of challenges. For Quebec SMEs, this includes having to compete daily against foreign multinationals. “There’s been a lot of consolidation in the funeral services sector, notably in the 1990s,” explains Jocelyne. Many family-run businesses were bought out by a large U.S. company and now operate under a single banner, Dignity Memorial. “We can see we’re up against a giant, so we have to stay agile,” says Jocelyne.

Another challenge facing family businesses is defending their interests to the government. “The heads of Quebec SMEs are silent,” as far as Jocelyne is concerned. “They’re all busy with their businesses, while big companies are able to hire lobbyists to defend their interests.” Faced with a bill containing provisions harmful to SMEs in her industry, Ms. Dallaire-Légaré launched forth to raise awareness among political decision-makers of the bill’s negative impacts. “SMEs are a stability factor in the economy. Governments should respect their ecosystem,” she explains.

For Julia, the different levels of government should concern themselves with the tangible reality of SMEs and family-run businesses. “Political discourse is showing a bit more sensitivity but pragmatism is sometimes lacking,” she says. For instance, Montréal’s road work could upset the operations of a company like Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA. She considers taxation another critical element that government should review in order to keep businesses in Quebec: “When you acquire a family business through succession, it’s considered a deemed sale,” which involves a substantial tax assessment. “For SMEs, this is a difficult challenge,” she concludes.

A story that continues to unfold

After more than 80 years in business, Alfred Dallaire MEMORIA is a resolutely forward-looking family business leveraging long-standing tradition to reinvent itself. Being part of a long line of entrepreneurs gives Jocelyne Dallaire-Légaré and Julia Duchastel-Légaré a particular perspective on their company: “We have a long-term outlook; we are an enduring company that sees itself persevering over several generations.” That’s precisely their strength: being able to embrace both their history and their potential, their past and their future.

Learn more: Planning for Success[ion]

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