Paolo Oliveira is still numb a month after learning of the gruesome deaths of his mentor and friend Daniel Langlois and the latter’s partner, Dominique Marchand, on the Caribbean island of Dominica.
The bodies of Langlois, 66, and Marchand, 58, were discovered in the charred remains of a vehicle not far from the luxury eco-tourism resort they owned in Dominica. Two men have been charged in the deaths of the couple.
An artistic visionary, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Langlois was the founder of the pioneering Montreal software firm Softimage, which was later bought by Microsoft. Softimage laid the groundwork for 3D special-effects technology as seen in blockbusters like Titanic, Jurassic Park and the Lord of the Rings series.
“It was so shattering to hear about their murders. I just couldn’t believe it at first, and I still can’t,” says a sombre Oliveira, owner of N.D.G.’s popular Melrose Pizza. “Nothing could have ever prepared us for Daniel and Dominique to be taken away so horrifically like this.”
Oliveira will attend the Sunday memorial service for the couple at the Excentris complex, which Langlois created. The city’s most state-of-the-art film venue, which opened in 1999, has special significance for Oliveira: He partnered with Langlois for 15 years on the now-closed resto Café Méliès on the Excentris site.
“I was just so privileged to have been his partner and to have learned so much from him,” Oliveira notes. “Few have done for this city what Daniel has done. Few have done globally what he has done, be it in arts, ecology or philanthropy. He had been working on this incredible eco-resort project in Dominica for the last 20 years and had finally opened it after dealing with so many setbacks with hurricanes and COVID. He was so attached to the island and the locals.
“For Daniel, money was just the tool to make the lives of others better for generations to come. It wasn’t ever about him acquiring creature comforts. The same for Dominique. She was an incredible woman and beyond brilliant as a visionary as well. Their relationship was a magical one made in heaven.”
Oliveira’s connection with Langlois was pretty magical as well.
The eighth of 13 children born to Portuguese immigrants living in the Plateau, Oliveira left school at 14 to deliver groceries by bike — year-round — for a dépanneur in the ‘hood. His goal then was to make it in the karate world. But after earning his black belt, a serious injury in the dojo dashed all that. Soon after, Oliveira achieved local fame on a wholly different front, becoming one of the city’s premier Elvis impersonators.
But crooning Elvis wasn’t enough to cover the rent. So Oliveira branched out into the local restaurant scene, starting as a busboy and working his way up to managing the now-defunct Cafeteria on the Main. That’s where fate intervened.
“Daniel was a frequent customer. I used to serve him, but I didn’t know who he was at first. He was very low-key and we rarely talked. Then out of the blue, he introduces himself to me and says he has a restaurant project he’d like me to get involved with. In my head, I’m going, ‘What would a guy like that want with a 31-year-old kid like me?’ I had no idea what the project was all about.”
Langlois went on to explain that he was building the Excentris complex and that he wanted to create a bistro called Café Méliès — named for the legendary French filmmaker Georges Méliès — with a similar buzz.
“We worked three years on this and I’m this kid who is now involved in one of the biggest creations on the cultural scene anywhere. I was pinching myself. But Daniel always made me feel so comfortable. He liked my personality. Technology can be cold, so he felt you had to warm it up with people with character.”
In making him a partner, Langlois wanted to know if Oliveira would invest in the project. Langlois was spending nearly $3.5 million on the café.
“But all I was able to put together was about $25,000. But it wasn’t about the money for Daniel. It was about the commitment. So he accepted that and gave me the same number of shares as him. If I told him all I had was $300, he probably still would have made the deal.”
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Café Méliès was to become a hot spot on the Main, catering to filmgoers and celebs from around the city and beyond. Langlois and Oliveira also collaborated on the compilation album Café Mélies, which sold more than 150,000 copies.
“Thanks to Daniel, I met some of the most incredible people on the planet — David Bowie, U2, Radiohead, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Sean Penn. Excentris was such a magical place at a time when the city was really humming.
“But the point is not what Daniel did for me, but for so many others in so many other fields. Forget about his money — he and Dominique were such inspirations. The world is now a much poorer place without them.”
A memorial ceremony honouring Daniel Langlois and Dominique Marchand takes place Sunday, Jan. 14 from noon to 5 p.m. at Excentris, 3536 St-Laurent Blvd. The commemoration will be live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube.