Fortin, Sifroy-Joseph (baptized Joseph-Sigfroy, he also signed Sifroy), civil engineer and civil servant; b. 6 May 1867 in Saint-Sébastien, Lower Canada, son of Jules Fortin, a farmer, and Sophie Roy; m. 14 June 1894 Maria Lalonde in Montreal, and they had two sons, one of whom died at birth; d. there 16 May 1937.
Sifroy-Joseph Fortin began his studies at the Catholic Commercial Academy of Montreal, cradle of the École Polytechnique de Montréal [see Joseph-Émile Vanier], where he subsequently enrolled. During his years at this francophone school of engineering, which was then run by Urgel-Eugène Archambeault*, he was one of its top performers and won the silver medal awarded to the most deserving third-year student. After graduating in 1889 he immediately set up on his own to practise as a civil engineer in Montreal. At the time when Fortin was a young engineer, many graduates of the École Polytechnique were starting their careers either as independent practitioners or in federal-government departments. Fortin’s career, however, took a distinctive turn in 1890, when he decided to leave the country and follow his profession in the United States, where he specialized in structural steel. From 1890 to 1899 he worked for engineering consultancies such as the Levering and Garrigues Company and C. O. Brown in New York City and American Bridge Works of Chicago, all known for their expertise in the construction of steel bridges and skyscrapers, which marked the beginning of the age of the great modern metropolises.
In 1899 Fortin became a representative for the New York City engineering firm Milliken Brothers, a job that took him all over the world. Fortin had a role in building, among other projects, a sugar refinery in the Hawaiian Islands, where he lived for two years; the arsenal in Port-Arthur (Lüshun, People’s Republic of China); and, for the Russian government, the central post office. After completing buildings in the Philippines and Japan during a two-year period, he went to Mexico, where he lived for 11 years and worked on the construction of the national theatre and the legislative building. This experience afforded him the opportunity to learn about soil mechanics and to develop a special foundation system suited to subsoils composed of volcanic ash.
Fortin returned to Canada in 1914 to take up a position as an engineer in the Department of Public Works in Ottawa. He was assigned the task of constructing bridges, jetties, and various hydraulic works. In September 1918 he was recruited by the city of Montreal as assistant to both the director of public works and the chief engineer. His duties placed him in charge of the road, water, and sewage services of the Canadian metropolis. He was also responsible for authorizing all steel or reinforced-concrete construction projects, such as bridges, tunnels, and buildings. At that time French Canadian engineers were actively involved, from within civil-service departments, in developing large-scale infrastructure. The governments of the province of Quebec and the city of Montreal were then professional working environments that were becoming increasingly attractive to engineers.
In Montreal during the 1920s, Fortin played a strategic role as an intermediary between the technical field of civil engineering and the political world of a city that was experiencing rapid growth. In 1921 the Technical Commission of Montreal was created, but it would not be set up until nine years later. Fortin was its head during the two years of its existence. He also served on the waterworks board. In 1930 he became a consulting engineer attached to the executive committee and, three years later, chief engineer of Montreal’s Town Planning Commission. The latter appointment is more understandable with the knowledge that in 1924 he had written an article in the Revue trimestrielle canadienne on the importance of establishing a town-planning commission for the island of Montreal. Moreover, he took advantage of this public forum to state that engineers should concern themselves with issues related to urban planning, an activity that, in his opinion, was an integral part of their profession. His career ended in 1935 when, at the age of 68, he experienced health problems that led to his retirement. He died two years later, just after his 70th birthday.
In an age when a growing number of engineers became the heads of large public bodies, the career path of Sifroy-Joseph Fortin well illustrates the technocratic process that was promoted by engineering associations such as the Corporation des Ingénieurs Professionnels de Québec, the Engineering Institute of Canada, and the Association des Anciens Élèves de l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, in all of which he held executive office while participating in other activities.
Sifroy-Joseph Fortin is the author of, among other works, the following articles: “Novel system of foundations used in connection with the federal legislative palace, Mexico City,” Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans. (Montreal), 30 (1916), pt.i: 136–46, and “Considérations sur un projet d’organisation et sur les fonctions d’une commission d’urbanisme de l’île de Montréal,” Rev. trimestrielle canadienne (Montréal), 10 (1924): 254–69.
BANQ-CAM, CE601-S1, 14 juin 1894; CE601-S51, 16 oct. 1869, 19 mai 1937; CE604-S15, 7 mai 1867. VM-SA, VM001, S21 (corr. et doc. administratifs). Gazette (Montreal), 18 May 1937. La Presse, 17 mai 1937. N. R. Ball, “Vision, cœur et raison”: l’ingénierie au Canada de 1887 à 1987 (Ottawa, 1987). BCF, 1924. Michèle Dagenais, Des pouvoirs et des hommes: l’administration municipale de Montréal, 1900–1950 ([Montréal et Kingston, Ont.], 2000). Robert Gagnon et A.‑J. Ross, Histoire de l’École polytechnique, 1873–1990: la montée des ingénieurs francophones (Montréal, 1991). Robert Mayer, “Les ingénieurs-entrepreneurs canadiens-français et canadiens-anglais à Montréal” (mémoire de ma, univ. de Montréal, 1968). Joseph Vavasseur, L’émigré Julien Fortin (1621–1687): sa famille au Vairais & en Canada (Le Mans, France, [1932?]).