Ahmed B.

In early December, I attended the public launch of the Société d’Histoire d’Ahuntsic-Cartierville (SHAC), an activity that ended with a tour of the Chabanel industrial sector. It was after this event that I contacted Ahmed, one of the administrators of this recently constituted nonprofit historical society. I visited him later at his home in Cartierville. He offered me tea and we chatted.

Ahmed is originally from Agadir, Morocco. This region of Arab-Berber culture has long been an agricultural center and a fishing port. However, it tends to become a major tourist destination. His family lived from commerce.

He began, in French, studies in Economics in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, were his family moved in the ‘70s. From there, he completed the procedures to immigrate to Canada. Ahmed arrived in Montreal in February 2002, unmarried, with a landed immigrant status, and then completed a BA in Accounting Sciences at UQAM.

During his studies, he took part in volunteer activities within the university. He participated in the organization of an intercultural week with the Student Services Department, the Centre d’écoute et de référence and UQAM campus student associations. He also contributed some of his time as public relations manager for the Club d’Entrepreneurs étudiants (EEC-UQAM) between 2004 and 2005. He took a liking to volunteering, a concept that was not sufficiently developed and structured in Morocco in his youth, he said. His years of studies also allowed him to develop a network of friends.

Although he enjoyed life in Montreal, he then returned to Morocco for a few years. He worked in the family business in Rabat, a general hardware store. During his stay of a few years, he married Aïcha, an acquaintance of his childhood. Their first two children, a girl and a boy, were born during that period

As he had kept a taste for the life here, he came back to Montreal in 2011 and undertook the necessary procedures so that Aïcha and the kids could join him the following year. If his children, through his paternity, are automatically Canadian citizens, it will take another two years before Aïcha gets her residency. As the couple now have a second son, Aïcha slowly continues her French courses, while caring for the three young children.

The eldest, now in first grade, ended her first semester as head of her class. Ahmed is proud of his daughter's school debut and already imagines her pursuing her studies in a high school with an international program in the north of the city or in Plateau Mont-Royal. For their part, the two sons are beginning their first steps in a day care center close to their home.

While talking with him about his career, I learned that he had first been employed as a treasury technician for a year and a half until the company made significant layoffs. I then realized that I had probably already met him with his current employer. He works periodically for the accounting firm I have entrusted with my tax returns for the past few years. It is Benoit, his employer that he considers a great boss, who referred him to Cité Historia, where he worked during the summer.

In his spare time, Ahmed practices Taekwondo at the Centre Communautaire Laurentien. He was recently awarded his black belt, which will allow him to teach this martial art to children under the supervision of two Canadian masters of Moroccan origin. Laout Ahmed, 7th Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo and university-trained in conflict resolution and nonviolent communication, and Mohamed Loutfi, black belt 6th Dan in Taekwondo, sociologist and psychosocial worker. These masters teach in this center attended by the Cartierville and St. Laurent Muslim communities, but also to a very different clientele at the Association sportive et communautaire du Centre-Sud. He appreciates their teaching methods which combine the practice of this martial art with animation, entertainment and self-control periods. He said he draws lessons for his activities with his own children. Recently, his daughter also started Taekwondo courses with kids her age.

If he follows with interest the developments in the situation of Cité Historia, a museum currently under restructuration by its management, Ahmed is still looking for a job offering better security. He is also considering undertaking graduate-level studies to obtain his Chartered Professional Accountants (CPA) title.

Talking about immigration to Canada, Ahmed said that "it's personal for each immigrant". Faced with a pitfall, some turn back, while others learn from the experience to persevere in their chosen path.

Ahmed at home

Mercedez S.-B. and Michel S.

I first met Eva Mercedes, better known as Meche, while we were both taking part in a co-design consultation day concerning the future inter-borough library at the limits of Montreal-North and Ahuntsic-Cartierville. This library is expected to open in 2020 on Henri-Bourassa Boulevard, west of St-Michel. A diverse group of citizens, librarians and actors of cultural and community organizations had been put together for the occasion to reflect on this new project. Meche was there at the invitation of the Café de Da.

A few weeks later, I received an email from her offering me to meet her family at their home in Ahuntsic for my quartiersnord.photos project. How could I refuse such an invitation? This is how I got to know her husband Michel, their daughters Amélie and Adriana, and their dog Pelusa, who all warmly received us, my wife and I.

Meche is from the Rimac district, on the banks of the river of the same name, in the city of Lima, Peru.  For his part, Michel is from the Our Lady of Jacques-Cartier parish in the lower part of Quebec City, where the old local church, on Caron Street, now houses a social solidarity cooperative.  Meche and Michel first met in Peru, at a party held by mutual friends. Michel remembers the date: November 14th 1987. At that time, he was working in cooperation in Peru.

Later, the couple returned to Quebec, where they lived for several years. Their girls were born there. Meche did some community radio at Radio Basse Ville. There, she and her first good friend in Quebec, Myriam Gauthier, hosted a social and political news program on the countries of Latin America. Later, for one summer, she hosted a show devoted to Latin American music with her husband. I was entitled "Buscando América", a title inspired by a song of the Panamanian singer Ruben Blades.

Meche told me how surprised Myriam was when she invited her to move-in with Michel and her, even if they hardly knew one another. This natural disposition for hospitality seems common in Latin America. Many newcomers have indeed told me that they were surprised to have to wait for formal invitations to visit their friends in Quebec, while they entered without knocking in the house of their friends and neighbors in their home countries.

Among the other things she misses most here, she mentions the music and dances of Peru: huyano, festejo, marinera norteña. She notes that these are still practiced by Peruvian youths, while here folk dances are only perpetuated by a few enthusiasts.

Along with her Public Communication Studies in Peru, Meche learned some French at the French Alliance. In Quebec City, she completed a Certificate in French as a second language and one in French Literature, as well as a Masters in Communication at Université Laval. This allowed her to be a freelancer in the Hispanic sector of the CBC - Radio Canada International.

In 2001, the family moved to Peru to take up new challenges and to give their daughters a chance to know the Peruvian culture. They spent good years there, working again in international cooperation, this time with SUCO (an acronym that stands, for Solidarity, Union and Cooperation). The spouses are particularly proud of their participation in a project promoting the economic independence of small family farmers, many of them women, in the Andean highlands, the Puna. They contributed to the development of a family support program aiming to improve milk production, as well as its processing and marketing in local markets.

When the time came for the girl’s to pursue higher education, Michel first came back with the eldest, Amélie. The following year, Meche and Adriana came as well. Today, their daughters are respectively studying at UQAM and Concordia. They are not only trilingual, but grew up in two cultures.

Michel still works as Program Officer for SUCO in Montreal. He regularly goes to Haiti and Peru, where the organization supports local development projects, agrobiological production and rural entrepreneurship.

For her part, Meche worked for Oxfam-Québec after her return, until last this summer. She is now looking for a new job, while volunteering as an adoption counselor for the SPCA.

Mercedez, Amélie with Pelusa, Michel and Adriana

Raphaël R. + Raphaëlle D.

The young people that I introduce to you this time were not unknown to me. In fact, Raphaël is the son of a friend born in Portugal whom I met when we were both Fine Art students at UQAM. We were both young fathers, which distinguished us from other students. The first time I saw Raphaël, he must have been at most two years’ old. He got along very well with my son Mikaël as our two families met regularly at the time. Later, I lost sight of him for a dozen years or so, and of his father as well for that matter.

The first time I met his wife, Raphaëlle, the couple lived in the Plateau. With their two young daughters, Livia and Flore, they now live in Ahuntsic, where Raphaëlle herself  lived during her adolescence. The couple first met at CEGEP Bois-de-Boulogne where they were both studying.

Knowing Raphaël's parents are respectively a painter and a musician, you may be surprised to learn that he recently defended his doctoral thesis in mathematical physics at Université de Montreal. I had the pleasure and honor to attend the event at the invitation of his father. According to the definition given by the University "Mathematics as a science is the study of quantities, orders, spaces, numbers and figures". I retain from it that his field of study leaves some room for creative thinking. His academic career has even brought him to collaborate with researchers in Rome, where he went twice. He has been teaching mathematics for a couple of years at Collège Ahuntsic.

For her part, Raphaëlle is also currently completing a doctorate in Marine Resource Management at UQAR (Institut des sciences de la mer, ISMER), in Rimouski, Qc. She is particularly interested in marine governance. More specifically, she examines how the decisions are linked to the livelihoods of local communities and their traditional lifestyles. She questions the participation of residents in the process of work organization and resource management, as well as the contribution, positive or not, of local and national governments. She talked to me about the realities of coastal communities of West Africa, as her studies led her to do two internships in Cape Verde. She was just back from this country at the time of our meeting.

It was through her mother, a native of France, that she was first interested in the oceans. Her mother’s family owns a property acquired while tourism was not yet developed in La Ciotat on the French Mediterranean. As a kid, she often went snorkeling, and later, scuba diving, near the house where she still returns occasionally with her family.

Raphaëlle's mother arrived in Quebec in the late sixties. Her father is a Quebecer. They met in left wing groups and have remained militants since that era. It is through conversations with his stepfather that Raphaël gradually acquired a taste for political action. The two men are now active members of Québec Solidaire (QS). Raphaël first participated to QS meetings in Mercier, and then took part in militant activities in this constituency which elected Amir Khadir as MNA. He is now part of QS’ coordination committee in Crémazie and recently participated in the National Council of the organization. He appreciates the dynamic between militants within the party and spoke with a certain admiration of his colleague, Bernard Gauvin. This gentleman is one of the spokespersons of the Moncton student protest of 1968 that were central in the documentary film "L'Acadie, l'Acadie?!?" by Michel Brault and Pierre Perrault.

If Raphaëlle also supports his positions and occasionally participates in Raphaël's activities, she does not have the same patience for group activities. She does defend her principles nonetheless. I have seen her on a podium in 2010, during a demonstration against dirty energy, as the Montreal World Energy Congress was opening and major global energy companies were gathering to multiply their business opportunities. She was defending the perspective of Attention FragÎles, a NPO that contributes to the environmental responsibility of the people of Îles-de-la-Madeleine, on behalf of their official spokeswoman who could not be there.

They both strive to put their beliefs into practice. They have made the choice not to own a car and travel by bicycle and public transport. Mid way through town this summer, I ran into Raphaëlle on St-Denis Street on her way to pick-up Flore at a day care in the Plateau, because they still haven’t found a place in a local Early Childhood Center. Earlier this summer, as I was leaving my meeting with Philippe and Christiane of Journaldesvoisins.com, I also saw Raphaël and Livia, each riding their bikes.

In their house I saw a cello, a guitar and a piano. It is Raphaëlle who is the musician. She has taken for some time classes at the Conservatoire in Montreal, but she was not willing to subject herself to the rigorous discipline of classical music. A strong musical current flows in her family. She even has an aunt and uncle who are respectively violinist and cellist of the Alcan Quartet.

When Raphaëlle will have completed her doctorate, the family will possibly be facing a dilemma. Everything will depend on the type of job Raphaëlle will find. Montreal is an island, but it is far from the sea!

Raphaël and Raphaëlle

Mélanie D.

My meetings since the beginning of this project have sometimes taken unexpected paths. It was the case with Mélanie. At the inauguration of the temporary Park Stanley Avenue pedestrian project, I had unsuccessfully approached two young men hired by GUEPE, the body responsible for the animation of this stretch of pavement. In November, during an information session on the outcome of the project, one of them was sitting behind me with some colleagues. We exchanged a few words. Then, in December, came an email from Gabrielle, the director of that organization. An appointment was finally agreed with Mélanie.

It is on a gray autumnal Wednesday that I met with her. Mélanie is responsible for the educational services of GUEPE, a French acronym that could be literally translated as “WASP” but actually stands for United Group of naturalist-educators and environmental professionals, a nonprofit partner of the City of Montreal that provides services aimed to young people, but also to the general population.

Mélanie is a city girl. She grew up in Rosemont. It was while studying in Natural Sciences at Collège Ahuntsic that she got to know this borough. Together with her husband, a Franco-Albertan native of St-Isidore, a hamlet in the northwest of that province, she settled in the CEGEP neighborhood at the end of her university studies. The couple now has two children, a two-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. They love to practice outdoor family activities in the Nature-Parks, but also in the Laurentians and on both sides of the Ottawa River.

Melanie completed a BA in Biology and a Masters in Ecology of Animal Behavior at UQAM. She was initially headed for basic research and was interested primarily in the evolutionary processes that make the animals live each in a way preconditioned by their physiology. She however realized that she would miss the contact with people and some more practical aspects of work.

From her first student job onward, she showed talent for animation and pedagogy. She has done animation for tourists Downtown.  She also worked for an animation firm where she gave Hip-Hop workshops to toddlers, among other things. Gradually making her way to jobs more closely related to ecology, she worked at the Granby Zoo, as an educator at the Centre de la Nature de Laval animal farm, and as an adoption consultant for the SPCA.

She is with GUEPE since 2009. Now a permanent employee, she oversees the development of educational projects with the team of naturalist-educators. The GUEPE organizes tailor-made activities for schools from 13 different boards, as well as for many Day-Care Centers and the Montreal Nature Parks’ network. I thought GUEPE was a purely local project. If its scope is mainly the territory of the Greater-Montreal, Mélanie told me, to my surprise, that it has received mandates for animation activities from a Sept-Îles organization. Activities can take place both in childcare and educational institutions, as well as in the Nature Parks’ network, mainly those of Bois-de-Liesse, Île-de-la-Visitation and Pointe-aux-prairies.

GUEPE's offices are located in the Peninsula Area of the Bois de Liesse Nature Park, where the boroughs of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Pierrefonds meet. In its premises live a few representatives of the animal world. I saw snakes, turtles and a rabbit. They are also home to a small collection of stuffed birds and specimens of butterflies and insects native of Quebec. The Maison du Ruisseau, next door to GUEPE’s offices, can accommodate groups for meetings or nature stays at the city’s doorstep. The site borders the Ruisseau Bertrand, near the Rivière des Prairies.

December being a quiet time for animation activities, the office was pretty calm on the day of my visit. As much of the staff was on site to do office work, the place was a little crammed. This explains why I saw Genevieve working with her laptop among the stuffed birds and Anaïs sitting on the floor in front of a large window in the process of coloring props for future educational activities! You may see a small photographic report of my visit by clicking on the link under the article.

GUEPE acts as a consultation service for its customers. For example, it designs educational activities and documents, creates educational components and interpretation panels for trails and does the conception of interactive walks. It is also fairly independent financially since it offers its services to a very diverse clientele. Nonetheless, the team must ensure that it remains creative for its income flow to continue.

Mélanie for her part feels particularly comfortable in activities for young preschoolers. With her family, she is also preparing for winter. As she prefers cross-country skiing to skating, she is planning to go to the upcoming GUEPE used ski equipment sale to equip her children. Indeed, handling the rental of skis and snowshoes in the Nature Parks of Montreal is also part of GUEPE’s mandate.

As you see, these people hold activities throughout the year. You will find links to their newsletters on the GUEPE’a Facebook page. 

Mélanie at GUEPE's offices