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Aubert Brillant, 1926-2012

by | May 17, 2012 | Blog

Visionary, patron of the arts, husband, father. Born May 25, 1926, in Rimouski, Que., died March 10, 2012, in Montreal of cardiac arrest, aged 85.

Aubert Brillant died far from the spotlights that shone on his storied youth.

A fanciful financier

In 1967, Maclean’s magazine had featured him in a six-page article, describing him as a fanciful financier. His life was a true adventure story set against a backdrop of 1960s Quebec.

Aubert’s father, Jules-André Brillant, owned telephone, electricity, rail, transport and media networks in the Lower Saint Lawrence. When these assets were sold, Aubert inherited a considerable fortune.

In 1962, aged 36, the Harvard University graduate settled in Montreal, full of ambition and looking forward to a bright future.

An avid collector of contemporary art

In 1963, he founded the Galerie du Siècle, a springboard for a cohort of now-famous young painters, including Guido Molinari, Claude Tousignant, Marcel Barbeau and Françoise Sullivan.

The next year, he began managing Corpex (Corporation d’expansion financière) with assets of close to $100-million, and took control of Québecair.

He was an avid collector of contemporary art who showcased his passion on his office walls. “That wasn’t done in those days. People thought I was crazy,” Aubert said in an interview with Forces magazine last year.

In 1963, he helped playwright Jacques Duchesne create a small theatre to promote original plays from Quebec. He agreed to finance the project on condition the theatre be set up in Place Ville-Marie. The Théâtre de la Place was founded in the centre of the newest skyscraper in Montreal’s financial district.

He spent the summer of 1964 on his yacht, La Canadienne, in Rimouski with a team of divers looking for the Empress of Ireland. Fifty years after its tragic sinking, the divers recovered many objects from the ship.

A spectacular descent

Aubert’s descent was as spectacular as his meteoric rise had been.

The federal government assessed him for $6-million in taxes, and the provincial government claimed $7-million as a result of a court case concerning the purchases and sales of company assets.

Aubert ended up winning his case, but it took 10 years. His energy sapped, he didn’t blame anyone or try to recover his money.

“I never really found out what had happened, or why,” he said.

A newfound passion for horses

Aubert discovered another passion: horses. In 1966, he opened the National School of Equitation in Ste-Adèle, and two years later created the Popular Riding School on Nuns’ Island in the heart of Montreal.

From his passion for horses came a wonderful love story with his wife, photographer Debra Jamroz, as well as a deep friendship with lawyer, professor, publisher and former minister Gil Rémillard.

Aubert, the father of MarieLine and Frédéric, may not have conquered Montreal, but he was blessed with lasting love and unwavering friendships.

Yann Fortier is a friend of Aubert’s family.

> Published in the Globe and Mail, June 17, 2012