The day of our visit to the Jean-Talon Market, it’s Sylvain who’s tending the fresh fruit and vegetables cornucopia of the Trottier kiosk
. Michel, Jules and Luc, his brothers and partners, are on the road, meeting suppliers, or busy receiving crates of large, juicy oranges. Truth is, the Trottier brothers never stop!
In fact, these fruit and vegetable specialty retailers have been familiar faces at the market for decades. Sylvain, who’s now 58, figures that he’s been working on this family project for … 45 years!
Photo credit : Frédérique Ménard-Aubin
As a child, he already helped his father Jean-Paul Trottier run the same kiosk with his brothers and sisters – the whole 12 of them! “We didn’t really have a choice, but we didn’t mind,” says Sylvain with a wistful look.
“My father was one great man,” he continues. With a lump in his throat, he explains that his mother, Lucille, died when the youngest of the 12 children was just one-month old. Given the situation, it was only natural for the older children to help their father who had to look after 12 kids as well as run the family kiosk. In the end, he spent 40 years working at the Jean-Talon Market.
Decades later, it’s clear that the Trottiers never left what became the true family nest.
From One Generation to the Next
At the time, the family was selling local vegetables as well as apples from the small orchard on the family land in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, supplying their regular customers at Jean-Talon Market or smaller neighbourhood markets with top quality products.
“Little red potatoes were very popular 25 years ago,” recalls Sylvain. “We sold so much of them, we had to stock the stalls two to three times a week! Now, we sell barely 25 pounds a week.”
Families were much larger then. Customers were buying kilos of food – “20-pound bags of Cortland!” –, cooking large quantities and making preserves. Today’s customers favour diversity, going to the market several times a week to buy what is fresh and in season. They want beautiful avocados, crunchy cucumbers, sweet little clementines, exquisite mangoes and the ever-popular Québec strawberries.
The Trottier family witnessed the changes and evolution in food consumption habits of Québec families. At one point, there was too much pressure. “It became very demanding to produce our own fruits and vegetables while running a stand,” explains Sylvain Trottier. That’s when they decided to focus on finding the best produce available, both here and elsewhere.
“We chose to diversify. That way our customers can find all they want in our shop,” Sylvain says proudly. “The quality of the products we source from all over the world is flawless,” and their loyal customers are grateful for it. Over the years, the Trottiers have forged lasting relationships with wholesale buyers and with those who prepare their orders. Jules, one of the Trottier brothers, visits the warehouses every day to watch the comings and goings. He keeps an eagle eye on all the stocks, making sure he gets the latest arrivals to ensure consistent top quality.
Sylvain doesn’t hesitate when asked what motivates him to come to work every morning: “The wonderful human contact I have with my clients. They know us by name and check in regularly.” As an example, he mentions a kindly nonagenarian who comes to buy her blueberries every Sunday at 4:45 p.m. “Like us, this lady needs the human contact that comes with buying food. She doesn’t want to buy her blueberries at a self-service checkout. She wants to see a real face, a real smile.”
Their client base is obviously the most precious thing for the Trottier brothers, after the family, of course. “Let’s be honest, we work a lot. We average 12-hour days. My brothers and I can be here from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.” Hence the good fortune of working as a family: “There’s a beautiful understanding between us and mutual benevolence. There’s a great deal of trust as well,” says Sylvain, with a twinkle in his eyes as he talks about his brothers. The siblings never hesitate to help one another and take turns giving each other well-deserved breaks.
The 50-something shares a memorable recollection from his youth: “On rainy days, we were desperately hoping that our father would decide not to open the kiosk. Waking up, we’d ask him, ‘Are we going to open today?’ And of course, we did! Water was pouring over our heads, over our produce, but we were there, and so were the customers!”
“It taught me one thing: that the best days are not always the sunny ones,” he says, philosophically.
A few words to describe the Jean-Talon Market…
It’s my whole life.
What motivates you to come here every day?
The fact that I’m always happy to come to work and the connection we have with people.
A product you didn’t have before that is very popular now?
Avocados! We didn’t sell them back then. Now we have them year-round because they’re always in demand.
Text by Virginie Landry, magazine Caribou
Photos by Daphné Caron
Producers, merchants and artisans together make up the Montréal Public Markets’ extended family. For years, often for generations, they’ve been getting up early, experimenting, sometimes starting over, nurturing, harvesting and flourishing! Day after day, they stand proudly behind their stalls as if by their own dining-room table, inviting us to feast. They’re the heart and soul of the markets – their very essence – and the reason we keep coming back. The Family Portrait series aims to pay tribute to all the pillars of our public markets.
Ce projet a été financé par le ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation dans le cadre du Programme d’appui au développement de l’agriculture et de l’agroalimentaire en région.