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Dr. Angus Bruneau from Greenland in 2005. (The Bruneau Family)
Dr. Angus Bruneau from Greenland in 2005. (The Bruneau Family)

in memoriam

Engineer Angus Bruneau led multibillion-dollar utility Add to ...

Angus Bruneau, the academic, engineer and business executive whose foresight, indefatigable spirit of inquiry and socially oriented moral compass made him a powerful agent of change, died on Feb. 19 in St. John’s. He was 81 and had suffered from bladder cancer and Parkinson’s disease, according to his family.

Dr. Bruneau, who was the founding dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial University (MUN), also helped create the Centre for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering (C-CORE) to explore cold ocean technology, and established Fortis, one of North America’s top utility companies. He was also known for his philanthropy.

Dr. Bruneau thought not just outside the box but around corners, and his influence and legacy were enormous.

When Dr. Bruneau arrived at Memorial in 1968, the university had a diploma program in engineering; he introduced a BSc program in 1969 and built it into a PhD program by 1971. He also introduced one of the first engineering co-op programs in Canada.

In 1975 he started C-CORE, a world-renowned research organization in remote sensing, ice engineering and geotechnical engineering. In 1982, EnRoute magazine called Dr. Bruneau the “godfather to Newfoundland’s new-found future as a world pioneer in the field of cold oceans engineering … the science of solving the unique engineering problems you smack up against whenever you try to do almost anything in the forbidding, frigid oceans and the hostile polar regions that account for about one-quarter of the earth’s surface.”

Newfoundland has more kilometres of coastline than Canada has of the Trans-Canada Highway, enRoute contributor Stephen Kimber noted, and was strategically positioned in the North Atlantic. Yet in those preoffshore-oil-development days, no one was particularly keen on cold ocean engineering – even Memorial only included it under naval architecture courses. But Dr. Bruneau could see the potential. To a cold oceans engineer, “Newfoundland is the centre of the world,” he said. And besides, Dr. Bruneau liked being a pioneer. “I wanted to do something different,” he said.

One challenge was the great peril of icebergs. What if an iceberg threatened to crash into an oil rig? In 1971, Dr. Bruneau helped develop and demonstrate a procedure – which at the time seemed preposterous – of capturing and pulling an iceberg to a new, harmless trajectory. With the loan of the Percy M. Crosbie, an Arctic supply ship, he towed seven icebergs in 18 days.

In 1980, he left academia for entrepreneurship and consulting, establishing Bruneau Resources Management Ltd., and in 1987 founded Fortis Inc. Following a major U.S. acquisition last year, Fortis became one of the top 15 North American public utilities ranked by enterprise value, with an estimated value of $42-billion. The company operates across Canada and the United States as well as the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos and Belize.

Dr. Bruneau prospered, and he shared his prosperity. Together with his wife, Jean, he made a series of million-dollar donations, frequently to Memorial, in areas ranging from engineering student leadership to choral music. In 2011, a building on the Memorial campus was named for them.

“Angus had a career that made most of us look like mere mortals,” long-time family friend Ian Baird said at Dr. Bruneau’s funeral. When asked if he’d had a master plan, Dr. Bruneau would say, “I’ve just always left myself open to new discoveries, new opportunities to learn.” Mr. Baird also called Dr. Bruneau “one of Newfoundland’s greatest teachers.”

Angus Andrew Bruneau was born Dec. 12, 1935, in Toronto, to Earl A. and Lois M. (née Gordon) Bruneau, who did ministry and mission work. He had two sisters and two brothers. At 16, he visited Newfoundland as part of a tour of the Atlantic provinces sponsored by the T. Eaton Company. In 1967, Dr. Bruneau would move there permanently.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Toronto, a postgraduate diploma from Imperial College London, in England, and a PhD in physical metallurgy from the University of London.

He then taught at the University of Waterloo, Queen Mary’s College, Imperial College London and Trinity College, in Hartford, Conn.

Dr. Bruneau felt that education was vital, but so was the ability to apply it: Learning should create “somebody who has the antennae out, who knows where to look for the signals, can interpret what’s going on and understand the actions we should be taking,” he told the St. John’s Evening Telegram in 1993.

Among the appointments and positions on his extensive CV, he was president and CEO of Newfoundland Power, where “he changed what was a very traditional utility [Newfoundland Light and Power] into an exciting employee-, customer- and community-focused company which provided many of us a fulfilling career,” colleague Earl Ludlow wrote in an e-mail.

He was one of the 44 founding engineers of the Canadian Academy of Engineering and became its president from 1995 to 1996. He held many directorships including with Petro-Canada and Inco, and served on both the board and investment committee of Sustainable Development Technology Canada. “He cared about new ideas, and people who drove them forward, but all encapsulated in integrity and logic,” Michael Brown, who was appointed to the SDTC in 2001, wrote in an e-mail. “As time went on, his opinions became facts, because we all trusted how he thought before saying anything. He was conservative and careful in his approach to people, but not afraid to take his own risks, and devote his energy to projects he really cared about. … And he had a passion for our collective future, one where Canada has to transit away from a carbon-based economy.”

Dr. Bruneau was also actively involved in research, innovation and science policy with groups including the Canadian Coast Guard, Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, Fisheries and Oceans, the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council and the Science Council of Canada.

“The 1976 Science Council of Canada report The Conserver Society that he worked on with Ursula Franklin and others captured ideas that would come into the mainstream a decade later,” wrote Anthony Hodge, who first met Dr. Bruneau in 1969, when Dr. Hodge was an engineering student at UBC. “They still stand today.”

His honours include three honorary doctor of engineering degrees (from MUN, Dalhousie University and Waterloo). He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1983 and admitted to the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2011. Dr. Bruneau was also the honorary consul for the Netherlands in Newfoundland and Labrador for more than 20 years.

In his free time, Dr. Bruneau, who was tall and boyish looking, was also a talented painter, photographer and cabinetmaker. For example, he designed, constructed and installed a choir loft for St. David’s Church.

He was so deeply committed to singing in the choir there that he arranged his out-of-province travel around his Thursday rehearsals. Music was important to him. Among other activities, in 1997 he helped found Festival 500: Sharing the Voices, an international celebration of choirs. In 2013 the Bruneaus gave $1-million to fund the Bruneau Centre for Excellence in Choral Music at MUN.

Dr. Bruneau’s “respectful and caring way of dealing with people, his grace, his commitment, his energy, his vision, his drive, his fun, his spirit, his ability to listen and to hear, his powerful intellect, his love of music, his respect for learning from history” were all worth remembering, Dr. Hodge wrote.

“But beyond everything, the most moving part of Angus was his love for his family. In a 2006 letter to me he exclaimed, ‘And my sons are my best friends!’”

At his funeral, Dr. Bruneau’s brother John recalled a canoe trip they took as young men; it was summer, but they encountered unexpectedly cold temperatures and snow. But Dr. Bruneau had packed baby oil to warm bare skin under snowflakes, and brandy for another kind of comfort. “Who thinks like that?” John Bruneau asked. “He was thoughtful, with a spirit of looking out for the other person, and prepared for so many eventualities.”

“One day we drove from Ottawa to Mont-Tremblant, and talked for many hours due largely to getting lost [Angus’s driving, it turned out, was about the only erratic part of his life],” Mr. Brown said. “To me, he was a mentor without parallel, truly a national treasure.”

Dr. Bruneau leaves his wife, the former Jean McInnis, who he met when she was a nurse at Wellesley Hospital in Toronto, a colleague of one of Dr. Bruneau’s sisters. The couple married in 1959. They had three sons, Peter, Ian and Stephen, whom Dr. Bruneau leaves. He also leaves five grandchildren.

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