The history of the Canadian fire truck industry and the name Thibault go hand in hand. From humble beginnings in rural Québec, the Thibault family created a dynasty in fire truck manufacture in the province. Although Pierre Thibault Fire Trucks is no longer in operation today, the name Thibault is still found throughout fire departments across Canada and around the world.
In 1908, Charles Thibault started building hand pumps in Saint-Robert Québec. After a few years, he moved his operation to the nearby city of Sorel, where he built a variety of horse-drawn apparatus, some mounted on sleighs for winter use in small communities in Québec. In 1918, he built his first motorised unit, a Ford for Campbellton, New Brunswick. The twenties were apparently a quiet time for the company and the Great Depression didn't help matters. In 1938, Charles' son Pierre took over the operation and moved it to Pierreville, Québec.
During the Second World War, the company was extremely busy building crash tenders, trailer pumps and hose fittings for the Canadian government. After the war ended, the company expanded its efforts in selling fire trucks to municipalities. It started building its own line of pumps, similar to Hale pumps. In 1950, Thibault introduced a custom chassis (known as the WIT - likely an acronym) and the first unit, a pumper, was sold to Valleyfield, Québec. A cab-forward version (the AWIT - the "A" may stand for "avant," French for "forward") came in 1957 or 1958. In 1960, an aerial ladder was introduced. In a 1963 ad, Thibault boasted of the strength of its aerial by hanging a sling containing a Volkswagen Beetle from the tip. Fire departments appreciated this feature and this new product became very popular. In addition to aerial trucks built by the company in Pierreville, many aerial assemblies were supplied to American builders where they became part of new ladder trucks for communities large and small. For many years, Thibault was one of the few, if not only, Canadian company that could claim the complete manufacture of vehicles from start to finish - pumps, chassis and aerial ladders. Most Canadian apparatus manufacturers tend to assemble components purchased elsewhere. By the end of the 1950s, Thibault apparatus was spread across Canada. The 60s saw considerable expansion into the U.S. market and some sales in the Caribbean and Latin America.
In 1961, Pierre died at the age of 63. By this time, all of Pierre's nine sons were heavily involved in the company.
Gilles (1926- )
Yvon (1932- )
Réjean (1934- )
Guy (1937- )
As of February 1963, René was president, Marion Vice-President, Yvon secretary-treasurer, Réjean industrial designer, Gilles accountant, Pierre-Paul & Julien directors, Guy publicist and Charles-Etienne the plant superintendent. The company continued to flourish and the manufacturing facility was modernised in 1965. However, in 1968, a dispute arose among the sons. Some wanted to sell the old family firm, while others wanted to keep it going. Consequently, sons René, Julien, Marion, Charles-Étienne and Yvon sold their stakes in Pierre Thibault and opened a competing firm, Pierreville Fire Trucks Limited in nearby Saint-François-du-Lac. The remaining brothers sold their interest in Pierre Thibault (Canada) Limited in 1970 and the company was sold to interests outside the family.
For several years, both companies continued to manufacture fire trucks for the Canadian and international markets from the same town. However, all was not well with Pierre Thibault. As Pierreville expanded, the original company fell on hard times. In 1972, the old firm declared bankruptcy and was sold to Montréal interests. It was quickly resurrected as Pierre Thibault Canada (1972) Ltee. In 1979, the old company went bankrupt again and was put up for sale. The five brothers at Pierreville (plus assorted sons) decided to purchase Pierre Thibault and bring their father's company back into the family fold. It was decided that son René would handle the negotiations, and plans were made to consolidate the two operations. Material and orders were sent from Pierreville to the Thibault plant. However, it was soon learned that René had actually purchased the company for himself. Once the other brothers learned of this development, René and his two sons were quickly removed from Pierreville. René reformed the company as Camions Pierre Thibault Inc.
René's sons Carl and Léon continued to run the company after René's death in 1981. After Pierreville Fire Trucks went under in 1984, Thibault assumed most of the assets and assumed the crown of Canada's largest fire truck manufactuer. Despite this, and hundreds of rigs built in the 80s. Camions Pierre Thibault Inc. declared bankruptcy in 1990.
This was not the end of the story. In 1991, a group of investors led by a former Bombardier Inc. executive purchased the assets of the company and, with the assistance of the provincial government and the investment fund of the Québec labour movement, started Nova Quintech Corporation. The company continued to produce pumpers and aerials for domestic and foreign use, including the popular SkyPod and SkyArm platforms and SkyFive aerial ladders. It fulfilled a 21 pumper contract for the Canadian military and delivered several trucks to municipalities across the country and in the U.S. In 1994, Bombardier Inc., a huge Québec manufacturing concern with investments in the fields of urban transit and aerospace became a major investor in NovaQuintech. The company was a division of NovaBus, a large municipal transit coach manufacturer, at the time of the deal. In Spring 1995, NovaQuintech announced that it would cease producing pumpers and concentrate solely on aerial ladders and platforms. In 1997, the company sold its line of aerial ladders to Pierce Manufacturing of Appleton, Wisconsin, finally ending the saga of Pierre Thibault Fire Trucks.
While Pierre Thibault and Nova Quintech may no longer be in the business of manufacturing fire trucks, the legacy remains impressive. Several other companies carried the family name in the fire truck business. In 1985, brothers Marion and Yvon (along with Yvon's son Jean) formed Phoenix Fire Apparatus in Drummondville, Québec, but it folded in 1992. In 1979, brother Guy founded Tibotrac Inc. as a manufacturer of garden tractors. After determining that this market was too crowded, they began making utility bodies for Hydro-Québec. In the 1986, they entered the fire truck industry and built a large number of fire trucks for the Canadian and international markets before declaring bankruptcy in 1998. Today, Camions Carl Thibault (René's son) manufacturers pumpers and tankers for the Canadian market from their plant in Pierreville. In addition, C.E. Thibault (also of Pierreville) builds aerial ladder assemblies and portable pumps. C.E. Thibault refers to Pierre's son Charles-Étienne. His sons Stéphane and Sylvain run the company today. In addition, René's son Léon now operates Atelier Lafleurs Ltee, a manufacturer of rescue trucks. Finally, in an interesting twist for a family that started a company that exported Canadian fire trucks all over the world, a dealer called Thibault & Associates is the main Canadian outlet for products of Pierce Manufacturing.
As mentioned earlier, Pierre Thibault's companies left an impressive legacy. Thibault apparatus can be found in departments large and small throughout Canada, in every province and territory. The company also sold dozens of trucks in the United States. The Northeast was the most popular destination, particularly Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. Indianapolis, Portland (Oregon) and Pittsburgh were also major customers, and the City of Los Angeles bought a number of Thibault tiller aerials in 1972 and 1973. Several trucks were also sold in Washington state, Ohio, California and Minnesota. The US Army also ordered several aerials on Duplex chassis in 1983. In the latter part of the decade, the American military also ordered a number of Thibault aerials in conjunction with 3-D Manufacturing. In addition, several pieces of apparatus were sold to Jamaica, Columbia, Chile and a few to the Middle East. Coupled with the fact that Thibault manufactured many of their own components at one time or another, it's easy to see how this family made its mark in Canadian fire truck manufacture.
SOURCES - Baird, Donal. A Canadian History of Fire Engines. St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell Publishing, 2001. Durnford, H. and Baechler, B. Cars of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1973, 322-324.