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SMITH, JULIAN CLEVELAND, engineer and businessman; b. 7 Oct. 1878 in Elmira, N.Y., son of Howard M. Smith and Mary Elizabeth Joslyn; m. around 14 June 1909 Bertha Louise Alexander, probably in New York City, and they had two daughters and two sons; d. 24 June 1939 in Westmount, Que.

The environment in which Julian Cleveland Smith spent his childhood and youth was not that of the upper middle class. Shortly after the birth, in 1878, of Julian Cleveland and his twin brother, Joslyn Zara, the Smiths left Elmira and moved to Buffalo. In 1890 their father, who was a small-scale coal merchant, died, leaving the family in a precarious financial situation, with the result that Julian would bear the burden of supporting his mother from the start of his professional life. As a young man, he displayed a keen interest in science. After attending Central High School in Buffalo, in the autumn of 1896 he enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca with his twin brother, who died in January the following year. Julian decided on a career as an electrical engineer. At that time the Niagara Falls power plant was under construction. Connected by a transmission line to the distribution grid in Buffalo, it would be considered the first truly modern hydroelectric station.

In 1900 Smith graduated in mechanical engineering with a speciality in electricity. At first he worked in Buffalo for the West Manufacturing Company as a draftsman for electrical machinery and as a member of the electrical engineering team at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. He then became assistant engineer to Wallace C. Johnson, whose firm of consulting engineers was in charge of projects at Niagara Falls and, later, at Shawinigan Falls (Shawinigan), Que., for the Shawinigan Water and Power Company (SWPC). Smith eventually found employment with the latter firm, where he would have a brilliant career. In 1903 he was appointed company superintendent. He became general superintendent in 1906, chief engineer in 1909, and vice-president in 1915. By then he was a key figure in the senior management of the SWPC, which was involved in several of the great hydroelectric projects of the day in Quebec, including the power station at Les Cèdres, near Montreal, those of La Gabelle and Rapide-Blanc in the Mauricie region, and the one at L’Isle-Maligne in the Saguenay area. He would also initiate the first integrated watershed management project – known as the Gouin dam and reservoir – in the province, for which he came to be regarded as “the architect of the Saint-Maurice.”

Smith, who became a naturalized citizen on 19 July 1924, concurrently had a large number of responsibilities in the many subsidiaries created at that time in fields such as public transportation, engineering, electrical-equipment construction, the production and distribution of electricity, and chemistry. In 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, he became president of the SWPC, an office he would retain for the rest of his life. Under his management the company, then one of the most important in Canada, not only succeeded in getting through that difficult period, but also adopted strategic directions that provided the basis for its subsequent robust growth. In 1939 the capital invested by the SWPC would reach some $235 million, including $180 million for the electricity sector alone. In the field of chemistry, for example, the research financed during the economic crisis made it possible to develop new processes, which, in the 1940s and 1950s, would make Shawinigan Chemicals one of the leading companies in North America.

As well as advancing professionally, Smith became a prominent member of the upper echelons of bourgeois society in Montreal and the rest of Canada. Apart from carrying out his responsibilities in the SWPC and its subsidiaries, he sat on the boards of directors of the Royal Bank of Canada, the Dominion Bridge Company Limited, and the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company, among others. In 1928 he was named president of the Engineering Institute of Canada. Because of his high position in the SWPC, Smith was called upon to meet with eminent Quebec politicians such as Louis-Alexandre Taschereau* and Maurice Le Noblet Duplessis*, although he shied away from speaking in public. He was asked to help resolve difficult situations (such as the sharp tensions between the Duke-Price Power Company Limited, which in 1926 had raised the level of Lac Saint-Jean without prior warning, and the people of the Saguenay region [see Honoré Mercier]), to put forward the position of the major electricity producers on sharing the hydraulic resources still in the public domain, and to obtain government support for forming and consolidating regional monopolies.

Smith had received several distinctions, including two honorary doctorates: one in 1922 from Queen’s University and the other in 1928 from McGill University, which had also appointed him to its board of governors in the early 1930s. In 1939, shortly after his death, a commemorative fund was set up to provide financial aid to the children of employees of the SWPC and its subsidiaries who wished to pursue technical or scientific studies. From 1963 this fund would be administered by the Engineering Institute of Canada and made available to engineering students enrolled in Quebec universities. The Julian C. Smith Medal, which was also established in 1939 and awarded annually for achievement in the development of the country, would be considered the highest honour granted by the Engineering Institute of Canada.

Julian Cleveland Smith can be regarded as an exemplary representative of the new generation of professional managers that emerged in Quebec during the first decades of the 20th century. Equipped with a solid scientific and technical education, they would experience an economic and social rise that would greatly alter the face of the business community and of capitalism.

Claude Bellavance

Julian Cleveland Smith wrote several articles, including “Some lightning phenomena,” Sibley Journal of Engineering (Ithaca, N.Y.), 19 (1905): 237–40; “Some experiences with lightning protective apparatus,” American Instit. of Electrical Engineers, Trans. (New York), 24 (1906): 935–44; “Design of high voltage transmission lines,” Canadian Soc. of Civil Engineers, Trans. (Montreal), 26 (1912): pt.I: 318–34; and, in collaboration with F. T. Kaelin, “New hydroelectric plant of the Shawinigan Water & Power Co.,” Electrical World (New York), 59 (1912): 953–59.

In 1997 Julian Cleveland Smith Jr, engineer and professor emeritus at Cornell Univ. in Ithaca, edited, with D. L. Brook, the biography of his father, “Family history: Julian C. Smith, Sr., Buffalo, N.Y., and Montreal, P.Q.” He provided the DCB/DBC with a copy of this unpublished document.

LAC, “Naturalization records, 1915–1951”: www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/citizenship-naturalization-records/naturalized-records-1915-1951/Pages/introduction.aspx (consulted 16 Feb. 2016). “Brooklyn Standard Union”: bklyn-genealogy-info.stevenmorse.org/Newspaper/BSU/index.html (consulted 23 Feb. 2016). Cornell Alumni News (Ithaca), 10 Oct. 1900. Cornell Daily Sun (Ithaca), 3 Feb. 1897. Le Devoir, 26 juin 1939. Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press (Elmira, N.Y.), 8 Feb. 1897. La Patrie, 26 juin 1939. Shawinigan Standard (Shawinigan Falls [Shawinigan, Quebec]), 22 Nov. 1933. Christopher Armstrong and H. V. Nelles, Monopoly’s moment: the organization and regulation of Canadian utilities, 1830–1930 (Philadelphia, 1986). Claude Bellavance, “L’état, la ‘houille blanche’ et le grand capital: l’aliénation des ressources hydrauliques du domaine public québécois au début du XXe siècle,” RHAF, 51 (1997–98): 487–520; “Patronat et entreprise au XXe siècle: l’exemple mauricien,” RHAF, 38 (1984–85): 181–201; Shawinigan Water and Power, 1898–1963: formation et déclin d’un groupe industriel au Québec ([Montréal], 1994). J. B. C[hallies], “Julian Cleveland Smith,” Engineering Journal (Montreal), 22 (July 1939): 331. J. H. Dales, Hydroelectricity and industrial development: Quebec, 1898–1940 (Cambridge, Mass., 1957). Clarence Hogue et al., Québec: un siècle d’électricité (Montréal, 1979). Instit. de la Statistique du Québec et Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux, Consolidated index of marriages and deaths from MSSS-ISQ-SGQ from 1926 to 1996 (CD-ROM, Quebec, 2000). M. W. Langford, “Shawinigan Chemicals Limited: history of a Canadian scientific innovator” (phd thesis, Univ. de Montréal, 1988). D. [P.] Massell, Amassing power: J. B. Duke and the Saguenay River, 1897–1927 (Montreal, 2000). National reference book on Canadian men and women with other general information for library, newspaper, educational and individual use (5th ed., Montreal, 1936). J. C. Smith Jr, “An early sonar device” (Working paper 15/2003, prepared for the Engineering Inst. of Can., April 2003): power.eng.mcmaster.ca/findlay/eicweb/archives/EIC%20H&A%20WP%2315%20high%20res.pdf (consulted 29 Feb. 2016).

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Cite This Article

Claude Bellavance, “SMITH, JULIAN CLEVELAND,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 29, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_julian_cleveland_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smith_julian_cleveland_16E.html
Author of Article:   Claude Bellavance
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2019
Year of revision:   2019
Access Date:   September 29, 2023