MONTREAL — Bernard Lamarre, a pioneer in Quebec's engineering industry and a former head of Lavalin, died on Wednesday 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 biggest 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 (TSX:SNC).
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 a model entrepreneur. He paved the way for many Quebecers."
Lamarre was predeceased in 2002 by his wife, Louise Lalonde-Lamarre. He had seven children.
Julien Arsenault, The Canadian Press