Roger Perreault (1937 – 2021): Farewell to a Builder

We started working at Alcan at around the same time. After graduating from Saint-Jean Military College and Queen’s University in Kingston, he joined the Arvida team as a civil engineer for the Major Maintenance and Construction Group. He mainly worked on planning and coordinating the production unit shutdowns and the major modification and construction projects at Arvida Works. This was in the early 60s: Quebec nationalism was on the rise; Pierre Bourgault was making speeches and there was the Social Credit party. Things were changing, that much was clear. At Alcan, English was the language of work, and most of our managers were Anglophones. Their last names were Farmer, Coulthart, Mackenzie, Campbell, and some were Italian, like Santoni and Pereira. Our engineer teams were a mix of both: English speakers like Watson, Fox and Charlton worked with people named Pruneau, Fafard and Dorval.

It was never easy, and the competition was fierce, but we had fun. We were always busy, and time went by quickly. Our families were growing. Him, with Thérèse and two boys. Me, with Lise as a couple. Our first years of friendship consisted of family dinners, days at St-Gédéon beach on Lac-St-Jean, and time spent in the Veilleux’s backyard.

Now that you’re up to speed, where was our Roger in all this? He was very much there, I can tell you that much. Roger—given his military background where discipline was the law—was orderly and punctual. He was always one of the first to arrive at meetings. He had impeccable penmanship, which is rare for men but even more so for engineers. He was not a big talker, nor was he into making speeches. His comments were measured when he was dealing with something new. That was very different from his personal life.  

After five years in Arvida, we both went on different paths. He stayed in Saguenay and climbed the ranks there. As for me, my family and I went to South America, and then to the Headquarters in Montreal. We came back to Arvida five years later to reconnect with the gang, who had also moved up in the organization. We were both in senior positions, along with the other Francophones. For about ten years, it was quite the chaotic period.

There was a series of strikes, the Carnaval Souvenir, travelling dinners, the cocky club in Management, among other things. Like me, Roger was there for everything, and we always went to bed late—when we went to bed at all. One particular story comes to mind. After a party held for one of our colleagues who was being transferred, we wanted to finish the night somewhere else. With Riverin, Julien and PA, we were in a certain bar on Davis Street in Arvida when, suddenly, Roger had a brilliant idea. “Hey! Guys, it’s boring here. Let’s go eat some hot dogs at Julien’s chalet tonight… I’m driving!” I should mention that Julien’s chalet was in Monts Valin, nearly 1-1½ hours from Chicoutimi. Believe it or not, we did it. We went to JAT to grab some groceries. Hot dogs, relish, mustard, chips, a case of beer, and we were on our way. Alone on the road, with our Suburban, the trip only took 50 minutes. We even got a flat tire while going up and had to drive back on the rim in the early hours of the morning. That was typical Roger. Totally fearless, ready for anything and always in control, or so it seemed. Regardless of the party the night before, Roger was always back at work, fit as a fiddle, except for maybe a few scratches.

Then came a period of major projects, such as the construction of Grande-Baie Works and Laterrière Works. During that time, Roger was in his element. He was building something real—something people could see. He was the one who managed the construction teams on the project sites. Grande-Baie Works was a spectacular project, since it was built in less than three years from scratch—on a field inhabited by cows—and became an aluminium smelter with a production capacity of some 200,000 tonnes per year. Following this accomplishment, he was later appointed to manage the construction of Laterrière Works, which started ten years later. This plant was built on time and within budget, and Roger is among those who made it happen.

Roger is no longer with us, but I can assure you that he will not be forgotten any time soon. His impromptu exploits, which many of you know and love to remember, have not yet finished enlivening our gatherings.

Roger, you enjoyed your life, and now you can rest in peace.

Your friend sends you his regards.

Gilles Duhaime