At just over 11,000 feet in length, 200 feet wide and 500 feet high, the new Champlain Bridge is truly a marvel (not to mention a refreshingly smooth delight to cross). Construction was a mammoth undertaking, given its location spanning the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and its southern suburbs, Quebec’s epic winters and the fact that its predecessor was still in use just a stone’s throw away.
“There were over thirteen hundred oversize pieces coming in from all over Quebec and from Spain, but no way to get them to the site,” says Alex Demers ’07, who was Director of Logistic and Material Management for construction company SNC-Lavalin, and Director of Procurement, Contract, Logistic and Asset Management for Signatures-le-Saint-Laurent, the consortium that led the project. Unforeseen constraints surrounding the transport of materials and equipment to the site meant that Demers and his team had to devise new ways to move materials to the site and establish a multi-model logistic strategy.
“It was like assembling a giant Lego set,” he says. “We had to use boats, barges, trains, modified trucks and unique cranes. And once we finished with the big Legos, we had thousands of trucks coming in with the smaller pieces. We needed to build a team of crazy guys who could work with crazy ideas.”
And work they did. Demers and his team managed to pull off a transportation miracle, coordinating the concrete prefabricated deliveries from Drummondville with the steel structure from Quebec City, Trois-Rivières and Terrebonne whilst handling the massive pier caps and main span pieces from Spain, and ferrying materials across the river.
It was a grinding challenge. A seemingly never-ending series of mishaps and problems. And one of the highlights of Demers’s career. “That bridge has brought me so much joy,” Demers says. “It’s a legacy I’m proud to be part of. My son was born halfway through the project. And now, as he grows up, every time he crosses that bridge it will be ‘Dad’s bridge.’ The amazing thing is that there were over 1,600 people working on this at one point in time, and for their families it will also be ‘Mom’s bridge,’ or ‘Grandad’s bridge.’”
Demers has always had a talent for getting things done. With a Bachelor in Business Administration (double major Management Information Systems, Marketing) and a minor in Economics, organization and foresight came naturally. He returned to Calgary following graduation and began working in logistic and warehousing. A short time later Demers was managing the logistic and warehousing team, and as well as taking on other warehouses. “I think they recognized the skill set that Bishop’s had given me,” he says. “I learned how to adapt to changing situations, challenge the status quo and find a balance between work and personal life.”
It’s been a steep upwards trajectory ever since. Demers participated in projects in Australia and Turkey before settling in Montreal to tackle the Champlain Bridge project. After working grueling hours without much of a break for over two years, Demers moved to Florida with his family and took one year off while looking for the next big adventure. “Just before moving, I was asked to assist on starting a project at the Montréal-Trudeau International Airport,” he says. “It’s essentially the construction of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM) airport station. The REM is a new integrated network linking downtown Montreal, South Shore, West Island, North Shore and the airport. It’s an interesting circle for me after the bridge, because it’s another entry point to the city.”
Demers remains connected to his roots at Bishop’s. He has fond memories of playing Gaiters rugby, and remains in touch with some of his former instructors. “It wasn’t just one professor who made a difference,” he says. “It was many of them. I’m still connected with them on Facebook or LinkedIn, and I know I could pick up the phone and reach them if I needed anything. They’re still very much active, directly or indirectly, in my life. You never hear about something like that at other universities. Bishop’s is unique in that regard.”
From the Bishop’s University Magazine, No. 53, Fall 2019.