American stone selected for Quebec Citadelle restoration violates contract, experts say

The American stone the Canadian government has OK'd for the Quebec City Citadelle fortress — originally built with a sandstone still readily available nearby — could threaten the integrity of the centuries-old building, according to local engineers.

Studies find use of American stone instead of original Sillery sandstone could threaten structure

The Citadelle of Quebec was built in the 1800s with Sillery sandstone, a local rock, but the Department of National Defence accepted a contract which uses an American stone. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

The American stone the Canadian government wants to use to restore the Quebec City Citadelle fortress could threaten the integrity of the centuries-old building, according to local engineers.

National Defence's decision to use American bluestone is now being criticized because two reports have found that choice violates the technical requirements of the contract.

The fortress is made of Sillery sandstone, which is readily available at a quarry in Lévis, across the river from the Citadelle.

Martin Anctil, the engineer who operates that quarry, has been outspoken against the use of the bluestone. He commissioned the reports.

The first study was conducted by Laboratoire d'expertises de Québec (LEQ), a consultant company specializing in the engineering of soil and building materials.

"The bluestone does not meet most of the technical requirements of the specifications," says the report, signed by Charles Tremblay, a geological engineer and the president of LEQ.

Martin Anctil owns a quarry which excavates Sillery sandstone in Lévis, across the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

"Some of the stone's properties could have a significant impact on its performance and durability."

Anctil asked another Quebec laboratory, called EXP, to look into the file.

EXP geologist Alain Blanchette came to a similar conclusion, saying "the bluestone doesn't meet any of the technical criteria … and is therefore classified as non-compliant."

Anctil was interviewed by Helen Mann on CBC's As It Happens Monday. You can listen to the interview here.

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Replacing original material with another 'very dangerous'

The findings echo criticism of the project by François Dufaux, an architecture professor at Université Laval in Quebec City.

"It's very dangerous to replace one building material with another. You create a chemical reaction that is really unpredictable," Dufaux told Radio-Canada earlier this week.

He said there have been cases where original material was replaced "and the walls exploded years later."

Pennsylvania Bluestone, left, is being used to restore a section of the historic Citadelle fortress in Quebec City, but the original material, Sillery sandstone, is readily available nearby. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

The restoration work will be conducted on the King's Bastion section of the Citadelle, built between 1820 and 1850.

At least two companies submitted proposals that included the use of Sillery sandstone, the one available in Quebec.

The company that will use American stone submitted the lowest bid for the contract, estimated at $16 million. 

Dufaux says that bid was only "marginally" lower than the others. He questions the motivation behind overlooking the green sandstone.

"Who benefits from that decision?" he said.

File to be reviewed

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said he seriously questions the bidding process the contract underwent. (Radio-Canada)

The federal minister responsible for Quebec relations, Jean-Yves Duclos, said earlier this week, saying he'd speak to his National Defence colleague, Minister Harjit Sajjan.

In a statement sent to Radio-Canada, National Defence said the Pennsylvania bluestone "meets all the requirements of the contract."

However, Lt.-Col. François Lagacé, commanding officer of Quebec real property operations unit, said he'd be reviewing the file on Radio-Canada's Première heure Wednesday morning.

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume said he wanted Duclos to do more. 

"He's got to do his job!" Labeaume said during a news conference Monday, adding that he had questions about the bidding process.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Maxime Corneau