fraser, alexandre (baptized Joseph-Romuald-Alexandre, he also signed Alex. and Romuald-Alexandre), civil engineer, civil servant, and professor; b. 8 May 1881 in Cap-Saint-Ignace, Que., son of Samuel Fraser, a farmer, and Emma Fraser; m. 17 June 1913 Berthe Lamoureux in Outremont (Montreal) and was survived by two daughters; d. 11 June 1932 in Laval-sur-le-Lac (Laval), Que.
Of Scottish descent, Alexandre Fraser grew up in a Roman Catholic family that was fully integrated into French Canadian society. He did his classical studies at the Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière from 1894 to 1905. Unlike most college graduates of the time, Fraser then chose a career in civil engineering and enrolled in the École Polytechnique de Montréal just as that establishment for French-speaking engineers was inaugurating its new building on Rue Saint-Denis [see Ernest Marceau*]. He received his civil-engineering diploma in 1909 and began his professional career with the federal Department of Marine and Fisheries, where he took part in the excavation of the St Lawrence channel between Montreal and Pointe-au-Père (Rimouski).
In 1911 Fraser left the federal civil service to take a job with what would become the province of Quebec’s Department of Roads. This body was placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture in 1912 [see Joseph-Édouard Caron*], but it became an autonomous ministry in 1914 [see Joseph-Adolphe Tessier*]. Until 1918 Fraser was in charge of constructing the first major roads built for automobiles in the province of Quebec, including the Edward VII Highway leading from Montreal to the United States by way of the region of Montérégie, and the Montreal–Quebec Highway on the north shore of the St Lawrence. The expertise he acquired on site subsequently led to his appointment as assistant to the chief highway engineer.
In 1923 Fraser took up an important position in the Quebec provincial civil service, which was then undergoing a major expansion: that of chief engineer in the Department of Roads. He would hold the office for the rest of his life. In this capacity he opened up career opportunities in the civil service for a number of graduates of the École Polytechnique and gave them the chance to participate in building modern Quebec. The construction, repair, and maintenance of the province’s roads were indeed carried out by several of these alumni. Fraser, who in 1915 had been one of the founding members of the Quebec City branch of the Association des Anciens Élèves de l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, and who had become its president four years later, also taught at that school, where he gave future engineers the benefit of his expertise in road construction. In this context it is readily understandable that he would encourage the roads department to employ graduates of his alma mater, to which he remained deeply attached. At the same time, he undeniably contributed to the rising status of francophone engineers in the province of Quebec.
Fraser also had a major influence on the professionalization of civil engineering in Quebec. He was an active member of the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, which, in May 1918, changed its name to the Engineering Institute of Canada, a body that represented Canadian engineers. From the office of the Quebec section, one of the most vocal of the regional divisions demanding professional status for engineers, he campaigned vigorously for legislation by Canadian provinces to regulate the profession. Throughout the 1910s, along with other French-speaking engineers, such as Albert-Roch Décary, Arthur Surveyer, and Ernest Marceau, he played an important role in obtaining legal recognition for the title of engineer and the exercise of that profession. On 14 Feb. 1920 the Corporation des Ingénieurs Professionnels de Québec came into being [see Adhémar Mailhiot]. Fraser was one of the eight engineers who formed the first board of directors of the new association. He also continued to take part in the activities of the Engineering Institute of Canada and became vice-president of its Quebec City branch in 1921.
Fraser was, therefore, a man who held firm beliefs. In the course of his career he belonged to many other clubs, groups, and professional and university associations, such as the Royal Automobile Club of Canada, the Canadian Good Roads Association, an American road-building association, the Province of Quebec Safety League, and the Cercle Universitaire de Montréal.
On 11 June 1932 shortly after his 51st birthday, while playing golf at the Club Laval-sur-le-Lac in suburban Montreal, Alexandre Fraser died suddenly. All in all, his career had been a typical example of an engineer’s professional trajectory in the province of Quebec. Fraser had worked in the provincial civil service at the time when it had become an employer of choice for graduates of the École Polytechnique. His management position in the most important recruiting centre for engineers within the civil service, the Department of Roads, set him apart from his colleagues. Furthermore, Fraser had been actively involved in the principal organizations representing engineers, both nationally and provincially, thereby becoming one of the leading spokesmen of this emerging professional group. In 1934 the Quebec government would honour him by naming a township in the James Bay region after him.
Alexandre Fraser is the author of the article “Practical advice to road superintendents and municipal councils,” Canadian Engineer (Toronto), 36 (1919): 532–34.
BANQ-CAM, CE601-S51, 14 juin 1932; CE601-S246, 17 juin 1913. BANQ-Q, CE302-S1, 4 avril 1864, 8 mai 1881. Le Devoir, 13, 14 juin 1932. La Presse, 13 juin 1932. N. R. Ball, “Vision, cœur et raison”: l’ingénierie au Canada de 1887 à 1987 (Ottawa, 1987). BCF, 1920. J.‑P. Charland, L’enseignement spécialisé au Québec, 1867 à 1982 (Québec, 1982). Robert Gagnon et A. J. Ross, Histoire de l’École polytechnique, 1873–1990: la montée des ingénieurs francophones (Montréal, 1991). Adhémar Mailhiot, Les succès des anciens de polytechnique (Montréal, 1931). Robert Mayer, “Les ingénieurs-entrepreneurs canadiens-français et canadiens-anglais à Montréal” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1968).