Jules-André Brillant, businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist (born 30 July 1888 in Assemetquahan, QC; died 11 May 1973 in Mont-Joli, QC). Brillant was the founder of Compagnie de Pouvoir du Bas-Saint-Laurent, Québec-Téléphone (today TELUS Québec, a subsidiary of TELUS) and the stations CJBR and CJBR-TV.

Childhood and Early Career

Jules-André Brillant, son of Joseph Brillant and Rose Raîche, was born on 30 July 1888 at the Assemetquahan Mission (now Routhierville) in the Matapédia Valley. He spent part of his childhood in Saint-Octave de Métis and completed a business course at the Université Saint-Joseph de Memramcook (now Université de Moncton) in New Brunswick. In 1907, he was hired as a junior clerk at the National Bank of Canada in Beauceville. He worked there for a year before he was tasked with opening a branch in Matane.

In January 1910, a promotion led him to Amqui, where he worked as an assistant manager before he fell ill with a pulmonary illness. After a year of convalescence, he questioned his career path, resigned from his position and left sedentary life behind him. On 26 July 1911, the Compagnie d’électricité d’Amqui hired him to sell company shares. In April 1913, he became company manager and director.

Electricity and Telephone

Under his leadership, the company spread throughout the Matapédia Valley, reaching its production limits. In search of capital, he moved to Rimouski in 1920. There he discovered that the needs in Rimouski and the Lower St. Lawrence were similar to those in Matapédia. An idea began to take shape in his mind: buy the Grand Métis Falls and construct facilities that would meet the region’s electrical needs. With the help of partners, he bought the Falls in 1922 and founded the Compagnie de Pouvoir du Bas-Saint-Laurent. This company went on to acquire several smaller electrical companies and launched the first construction projects at the Grand Métis Falls. The company ran out of capital in its development efforts. Brillant was forced to sell the company to US interests, but remained at the helm.

In the meantime, in 1927 he bought the Compagnie de Téléphone National and founded the Corporation de Téléphone et de pouvoir du Québec, which in 1955 became Québec-Téléphone. Finally, Brillant waited until 1932 and took advantage of the difficulties the US owners found themselves in after the Crash of 1929 and bought back the Compagnie de Pouvoir du Bas-Saint-Laurent.

The Brillant Empire

Brillant also invested in other economic sectors in the region. In 1929, he bought the Compagnie de navigation Rimouski Saguenay limitée in Rimouski and the Heppell Transportation Company Limited in Matane. He merged them, creating the Compagnie de Transport du Bas-Saint-Laurent, which ferried cargo and passengers between both shores of the St. Lawrence River.

In 1923, he also became interested in the media sector. That year, he became the owner of the Progrès du Golfe, Rimouski’s only newspaper. Then, in 1937, he founded the CJBR radio station. He was looking to promote culture, education and economic development. In 1947, he acquired the last key piece in his regional economic development plan when he bought the Mont-Joli-Matane railway. In 1954, he expanded his interests into television broadcasting and created CJBR-TV (see Radio and Television Broadcasting). By the early 1950s, Brillant controlled the main economic sectors of the Lower St. Lawrence and his interests extended from Québec City to Gaspé Peninsula and the North Shore.

Political Power and Philanthropy

Brillant was the main political organizer in the region for the provincial Liberal Party (see Parti libéral du Québec) and also at the federal level. Thanks to his network of contacts, he had influence on the regional political class, namely in the control he had in patronage practices and partisan appointments. He was also a major philanthropist in Rimouski, particularly in the field of education. He funded the École d’arts et de métiers, used his political influence to set up a maritime engineering school (today the Institut maritime du Québec, affiliated with the Cégep de Rimouski), supported the creation of a business school and in the 1940s put forth the idea of a rural university in the region, something that unfortunately did not come to pass.

Brillant also held an important role in the world of finance, sitting on boards of directors and holding executive positions in various financial institutions and businesses. Most notable among them were Sun Trust, the Banque Provinciale du Canada, the Alliance Nationale, a mutual life insurance company, the Dominion Steel & Coal Corporation Ltd. (DOSCO) and the Dominion Coal Company Ltd. During the Second World War, he was director of defence communications, then coordinator of the reconstruction committee in Ottawa. From 1939 to 1942, he was director of the Banque centrale d’hypothèque and from 1939 to 1945, he was president of the Conseil d’orientation économique du Québec.

Legacy

In the early 1960s, the Brillant empire began to slowly break apart. His electrical company was bought out by the provincial government as part of electricity nationalization in 1963 (see Hydro-Québec, Electric Utilities). Brillant’s sons, who began managing the family assets after his retirement, did not appear to have inherited his talents. In 1966, US giant GTE took control of Québec-Téléphone (today TELUS Québec). As for the media division, it was sold to Power Corporation of Canada in 1969. At the time of his death on 11 May 1973, there was very little left of the Brillant empire.

Awards and Distinctions

Honorary Doctorate in Law, Collège Saint-Joseph de Memramcook, New Brunswick (1942)

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1944)

Honorary Doctorate in Business, Université de Montréal, Québec (1943)

Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great (1949)

Honorary Colonel, Fusiliers du Saint-Laurent (1951)

Knight of the Order of Malta of Canada (1954)

Honorary Doctorate in Social Science, Collège Saint-Louis, New Brunswick (1955)

Honorary Doctorate in Business, Université de Moncton, New Brunswick (1967)