Outside of the Hydro-Québec Building on boulevard René-Lévesque is a bust of none other than René Lévesque. Sculpted in bronze by Hungarian artist Paul Lancz (sculptor of, among other things, the John F. Kennedy bust on avenue Président-Kennedy, and one of many saved by Raoul Wallenberg during the Second World War), the bust is not just because the Hydro-Québec building is located on boulevard René-Lévesque. The second nationalisation of Quebec’s hydroelectricity was spearheaded by the then-Liberal minister of natural resources, René Lévesque.
Lévesque had his finger on the pulse on the state of electricity in the province, which at the time on life support due to a myriad of different private companies, abusive rates, and indifference to government initiatives to try and regulate these aggressive sale tactics. Even though the Godbout government had nationalised electricity into Hydro-Québec in the 1940s, it still had competition from rather nasty private corporations. Lévesque tabled the idea of nationalising Quebec’s hydroelectricity companies into one big one where prices and service quality could be regulated. The overarching concept of the nationalisation of hydroelectricity was that of “maîtres chez nous”, the nationalistic battle cry of the Lesage government for the emerging Quebec consciousness of the 1960s. Hydro-Québec acquired more than eighty electricity companies in about three years, a process completed in 1963 costing 604 million dollars.
Around the same time, the Hydro-Québec building was built. With a twenty-seven floors and a total height of 110 m, it is a bit shorter than the RBC Building in Montreal’s former financial district on rue Saint-Jacques. Completed in 1962, when it first opened, not all of the employees were able to occupy the floors and they rented out the unused floors to other people; however, now they can’t fit everyone inside! The building’s architect, Gaston Gagnier, designed the construction in the International Style of architecture, similar to that of Place Ville-Marie, with steel being its main building material. The interior of the building features an ever-changing mural of colour and light by artist Jean-Paul Mousseau.
Visit the Hydro-Québec Building at 75 boulevard René-Lévesque Ouest. While you’re there, take a free tour of the facility (details here).