Sunday, May 21, 2006


Soon after arriving here, I went to a building construction meeting. I was blown away. The conversation at the table toggled between French and English constantly. This guy spoke only in French. This one only in English. And a couple others were well-versed in Franglish switching every other word. And everyone understood what the other said. It was fascinating for me who had just gotten off the boat.

But there was something else. As with any building project there are the main players. The owner, the contractor, the architect, and the consulting engineers (structural, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing). So they got around to talking about those items applying to the consulting engineers. They said stuff like: "This is where hydro enters the building." and "This is the room dedicated to hydro." They were refering to the company Hydro Quebec. At these meetings you generally phase out for those parts not applying to you, but that last sentence made me wonder. Buildings have mechanical penthouses full of air handling equipment. They have electrical rooms where the circuit breakers are kept and the power is distributed. You also have switching rooms where the phone lines are distributed. But this was the first time I had heard anything about a room where the water is distributed. It seemed a bit strange and I just assumed it was a local thing.

Then I start hearing about them on the news. Hydro Quebec's profits are declining and they are threatening to raise the rates. Raising water rates? Water rates are peanuts compared to all the other utilities. I kept hearing more and more about Hydro Quebec. They even have this big building downtown with that cool logo with a lightening bolt. Finally I got called out to do a job at Hydro Quebec's research facility on the south shore. And it was like: "Why does a water company need a research facility?"

Arriving there I encountered this huge black Corten Steel Building with power lines leading away. They had a few fenced off areas with some sci-fi power conducting equipment with power lines, generator, and transformers. Stuff that would super-cool in a movie. And apparently they filmed a Highlander film there. Then inside it was more of the same. More electrical equipment that would bring an army of Frankensteins to life.

It was then that our client clued me in. Hydro Quebec is a power company. The Hydro part of their name acknowledges that almost all the power in Quebec is generated by hydraulic dams. Some smaller ones down here, and some huge ones up by St James Bay. So all the power is hydroelectric. They generate so much power that they sell some of it to the US. And electric heat is very popular here.

But even after the years living here, there are times when it takes a couple seconds to remember: It's the electric company!

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