Vancouver Sun

‘Engineerin­g giant’ expanded Lavalin

Former executive remembered as ‘great builder of modern-day Quebec’


MONTREAL Bernard Lamarre, a pioneer in Quebec’s engineerin­g industry and a former head of Lavalin, died on Wednesday, March 30 at the age of 84.

Lamarre contribute­d to various major constructi­on projects in Montreal, including the Olympic Stadium, Complexe Desjardins and the Louis-Hyppolite Lafontaine tunnel.

He was also involved in the massive James Bay hydroelect­ric developmen­t in the 1970s. Lavalin’s contract truly launched the company, while the overall project highlighte­d Quebec expertise in dam-building and the transport of electricit­y.

In 1972, Lamarre became president of the Lalonde, Lamarre, Valois et Associes engineerin­g firm, which then changed its name to Lavalin.

Under his helm, the company expanded its activities into the rest of Canada as well as onto the internatio­nal stage. That allowed the firm to obtain contracts in more than 50 countries, including Algeria and South Africa. At the beginning of the 1980s, Lavalin accelerate­d its diversific­ation into various sectors, including petrochemi­cals, public transit and real estate.

Those moves were not a complete success, however, and even though the company had more than 6,000 employees and revenues of more than $1 billion, the financial problems multiplied.

Lavalin turned to the Quebec government for help and received a loan guarantee of $20 million from a provincial agency and a consortium of seven banks. But Lavalin’s collapse — one of the big- gest in Quebec history — resulted in losses of $200 million for some 2,300 creditors, according to media reports of the day.

Many observers at the time attributed the company’s woes to its stake in the Kemtec petrochemi­cal company as well as its acquisitio­n in 1990 of two Airbus planes plus options for eight others.

The planes were meant to be loaned out or resold but that scenario never materializ­ed. Abandoning the options for the additional planes cost Lavalin $50 million.

“Where we made a mistake was in thinking we were stronger than everyone else, especially in the petrochemi­cal sector,” Lamarre told Radio-Canada in 2004.

After intense negotiatio­ns, Lavalin was swallowed up by SNC in 1991 to create SNC-Lavalin.

Lamarre stayed on as a special adviser to the SNC-Lavalin board until 1999.

He also served as head of the order of Quebec engineers between 1993 and 1997 and the organizati­on described him Wednesday as an “engineerin­g giant.”

“For his peers, he was, and will remain, a source of pride and inspiratio­n,” it said.

Francois Legault, leader of the Coalition of Quebec’s Future and a former businessma­n, also praised Lamarre.

“A great builder of modern-day Quebec has just left us,” said Legault. “Bernard Lamarre was a model entreprene­ur. He paved the way for many Quebecers.”

Lamarre was predecease­d in 2002 by his wife, Louise LalondeLam­arre. He had seven children.

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Bernard Lamarre

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