The origin of the furniture industry in Canada can be traced to the time the colony was founded, since the first settlers were already making simple and practical furniture. Local carpenters later began making furniture for customers.
The first Canadian furniture-making company was established in 1930 in Berlin, near Kitchener, Ontario. The industry grew considerably in the early 19th century, especially in that province. The rise of the furniture industry in the province basically occurred after WWII.
QFMA’s founding in 1942
Why create a Quebec association when the Canadian Furniture Manufacturers Association had been in existence since the start of the century? Remember, in 1942, the planet was deeply plunged into a world war, there was a wage and price freeze, and the most skilled labourers were recruited to build submarines and airplanes. Furniture manufacturers got the idea of forming an association in an effort to hold on to the labour force. In doing so, the manufacturers also dealt with labour relations, the wage and price freeze, and problems pertaining to the supply of raw materials, including wood.
After the war came the boom: the baby boom, bungalow boom and furniture boom! The post-war resurgence was beneficial for the industry, to such an extent that, in 1946, the Association already had 50 members! But profit margins remained thin because furniture manufacturing required, and still does today, a lot of manpower.
Furniture of that era was small in size and made in a colonial or traditional style, but it combined style and functionality. Also noteworthy was the fact that manufacturers didn’t hire designers at that time; the furniture was a replica of American and Scandinavian models.
This era was also marked by major innovations which would change lifestyle and consumer habits. Mass production of furniture and the use of less durable material such as plastic began to occur at the end of this decade. It was also the time of the shift toward simple, so-called “modern” design, and the lowering of prices. Furniture imports from the United States reached an alarming rate for the Quebec furniture industry. It was also during this time period that the first designers were trained in Quebec schools.
In 1953, the QFMA incorporated. Member services included legal and labour relations counsel.
In 1954, the QFMA organized a 10-day furniture Show in January at the Showmart, on Berri Street in Montreal. The Show was a success and included a section devoted to chrome kitchen furniture, a new trend that created quite a stir!.
In 1957, after 15 years of existence, the Association had 110 members, and its activities were mainly related to manpower and labour relations.
The ‘60s were the years of all the revolutions.
Italian designers were prominent in this era, in terms of fashion as well as furniture. This was also the era of pop-art that challenged traditions and played up elements of popular culture. Teak-wood furniture was growingly popular with consumers.
Expo 67 left a lasting impression on the province of Quebec, with the building of the subway system and Place Bonaventure, the future site of the furniture show in Montreal!
The adoption of the metric system, which disrupted our habits and procedures in Canada, was a notable occurrence during this time period, as was the arrival of technological innovations such as the Intel microprocessor, which dramatically changed the business world.
In Canada, the ’60s and ’70s decades were the golden years in the furniture industry, as more than 100,000 people were employed in this industry. It should be noted that, at the time, the Canadian furniture industry was 97% Canadian family owned, both small and medium companies. Automation in the 1970s, combined with a big rise in inflation, accounted for the significant decline in jobs in this era.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Furniture Show was founded in 1972.
It was an era of upheaval, of boundaries being pushed, notably under Ronald Reagan’s ‘Reaganomics’ and by the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States. In 1989, reductions in tariffs on furniture ensured years of prosperity for the industry.
It was also the dawn of the High Tech era which put the emphasis on science and home technology: personal computers came into our lives. Raw materials began to appear in home decor, notably through the use of steel and metal. This led to an even more minimalist design.
After the personal computer, the Internet revolution arrived in the 1990s. Frank Lloyd Wright change our style of living in our homes by opening up our living spaces and creating the open-space concept.
In 1998, the QFMA offered more services and encouraged its members to band together so they could better manage health and job safety issues. Then, in 1999, the QFMA’s insurance group enabled furniture manufacturers to benefit from a program tailored to their needs and enjoy significant savings in the process.
The 21st century
Wireless telephone systems and social networks are taking over our daily lives and redefining our vision of the world, our way of interacting and, especially, our consumer habits. The QFMA and the Canadian Furniture Show are no exception to these social phenomena.
The industry has been under pressure from various factors since 2002, including the rise of the Canadian dollar, the emergence of products from Asian countries, that have low production costs, along with the 2008-2009 economic and financial crisis, which had a considerable effect on deliveries and exports.
Since 2013, the sector is growing again and our manufacturers are faring quite well, largely due to their passion, enthusiasm, and creativity.
From a furniture standpoint, the contemporary style of the 2000s combines influences, trends and new technologies from all over the world, without strictly sticking to a single design philosophy. Current trends include a blend of styles, textures, material and eras, while being mindful of a return to the roots linked to modernity.