Bernard Lamarre, a builder who took Quebec engineering expertise to the world stage

April 7, 2016, 3:14pm

Many touching tributes have been written since the death of Bernard Lamarre, a pioneer of Quebec engineering who sadly left us on March 30 at the age of 84. An illustrious graduate of École Polytechnique Montréal (Po1952), Mr. Lamarre turned Lavalin into one of the largest engineering firms in Quebec and Canada. In 1991, Lavalin merged with SNC.

As President and CEO of Lavalin, Mr. Lamarre to a certain extent became the architect of modern Quebec. To his credit are such key achievements as the Olympic Stadium, Complexe Desjardins, Trans-Canada Highway, Ville-Marie Interchange and Louis-Hippolyte-Lafontaine Tunnel. But it was his first major construction project – the 1970s James Bay hydroelectric complex – that launched Lavalin’s expansion across Canada and abroad.

Philanthropist, builder, patron of the arts, exceptional business man, giant of Quebec engineering, engaging and thoughtful individual… People who had the good fortune to know him held him in very high esteem. I personally saw him as a role model, not only for engineers but for Quebec society as a whole.

Committed to the Montreal community and his alma mater

Mr. Lamarre’s career was exemplary, as was his commitment to numerous Montreal organizations. A lover of the arts, not only was he a member and later chairman of the board of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for 23 years, he also helped enrich its collections. A man of science and engineering, he spearheaded the creation of the Montréal Science Centre. Throughout his career, he remained very connected to his alma mater as a member of the Conseil de la Corporation de l’École Polytechnique from 1987 to 1992 and as chairman of the Conseil from 2002 to 2012. A respected philanthropist, he was also part of the honorary committee of the Campus Montréal major fundraising campaign.

The commitment of Mr. Lamarre to École Polytechnique went beyond a purely institutional attachment. He believed strongly in the upcoming generation and worked with students on a number of projects. His impact on these young people was evident in the testimonials voiced in a 2012 video tribute to him produced by École Polytechnique. “For us, Mr. Lamarre was the image we all aspire to as engineers, what we all dream of becoming. As undergraduates, meeting him, shaking his hand and seeing firsthand how genuine and thoughtful a person he was left a lasting impression on us,” says Katherine D’Avignon, a 2008 graduate and member of the Conseil de Polytechnique.

In addition to the recognition he received from his peers, Mr. Lamarre earned a number of other honours that attest to his stature. He was awarded 13 honorary doctorates from Canadian universities, including Université de Montréal, and was named an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec and the Order of Canada in 1985. In 2006, the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec presented him with its Award of Excellence in recognition of his overall achievements and his contribution to the profession.

A role model for all generations

Like Mr. Lamarre, I believe in the new generation. Today’s young people are citizens of the world. They are fluent in two or more languages, quickly learn how to work in a variety of environments, and are eager to immerse themselves in new cultures. They are the epitome of our slogan “Talents with a Global Reach .” The world is their playground. In an article in the spring 2012 issue of Magazine Poly, Mr. Lamarre said that the difference between the engineers of his day and today’s generation is that young people are now free to work wherever they wish, as the competence of Quebec engineers, notably graduates of École Polytechnique, has become recognized around the world. What he failed to mention was that this came about in large part because of him. I believe this represents one of his greatest legacies. In being bold and determined enough to open up borders, he not only paved the way for engineers seeking to work abroad, he also demonstrated that we have the talent to succeed anywhere in the world. For this reason he will remain a role model for society as a whole.

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