Paul Desmarais | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Paul Desmarais

Paul Desmarais, financier (born 4 January 1927 in Sudbury, ON; died 8 October 2013 in Charlevoix, QC).

Paul Desmarais, financier (born 4 January 1927 in Sudbury, ON; died 8 October 2013 in Charlevoix, QC). Paul Desmarais was the son of Jean-Noël Desmarais, a Sudbury lawyer, and Lébéa Laforest, and the grandson of northern Ontario settler and lumberman Noël Desmarais, who gave his name to the town of Noëlville.

After earning a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Ottawa (1949), Desmarais attended Osgoode Hall Law School. He returned to Sudbury to run his father's bus company (Sudbury Bus Lines), turning the near-bankrupt company into an efficient operation. He married Jacqueline Maranger in 1953. The two had four children, Paul Jr., André, Louise and Sophie.

After living and working in Ottawa as owner-manager of Gatineau Bus Lines in the late 1950s, Desmarais operated Québec Autobus and moved his family to Montréal in the early 1960s. In 1961, he bought Provincial Transport, a sizable passenger-transport company based in Québec, followed by Gelco Enterprises (originally Gatineau Electric Co.) in 1964. In 1965, he bought Trans-Canada Corp Fund (TCCF), his first conglomerate, through which he gained control of La Presse (Montréal), the major French-language newspaper, as well as of CKAC, the major francophone radio station; Imperial Life, Toronto, a large assurance company; and several daily and weekly newspapers.

In 1968, Demarais took control of Power Corporation of Canada through TCCF and was chairman and CEO until 1996 when his sons Paul Jr. and André took over and were appointed co-chief executive officers. From 1996 until his death, Paul Sr. was chairman of the executive committee of Power Corp. One of the major conglomerates in Canada, the principal subsidiaries of Power Corp. include Square Victoria Communications Group (including Gesca, publisher of weekly newspapers), Power Financial Corporation and Power Energy Corporation. Power Corporation is also an important shareholder and has major financial interests in European, Asian and American holdings.

In 2010, Desmarais sat on the boards of several companies — most linked to Power Corp. — as well as Groupe Bruxelles Lambert S.A. He was founding chairman and honorary president of the Canada-China Business Council and chairman of the board and managing director of Pargesa Holding S.A. He also served on the Canadian advisory board of the Carlyle Group, a US-based global private equity investment firm.

Paul Desmarais was one of the 10 richest people in Canada and considered to be one of the country's most powerful men. He owned a 75-square-kilometre estate in Sagard, Québec, a French Canadian hamlet of 260 people located in the Charlevoix region. In 2005, Desmarais built the people of Sagard a yellow, wooden Roman Catholic church.

Desmarais was awarded numerous decorations and was appointed to orders of merit from Canada, France and Belgium. He was made a Grand Montréalais (1984), a Companion of the Order of Canada (1987), an Officer of the ordre national du Québec (1988), a Commander of the Ordre de Léopold II (1991) and Grand Croix de l'Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur (2008). In 1992, he became a member of the Privy Council of Canada. In 2007, he was the recipient of the University of Ottawa's Distinguished Canadian Leadership Award. A dozen Canadian universities bestowed Desmarais with honorary degrees.

A well-known philanthropist, Paul Desmarais' most notable philanthropies in Canada included the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion (1991), the Université de Montréal's Pavillon Paul-G.-Desmarais (1996) and the University of Ottawa's Pavillon Desmarais Building (2007).

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