Some of my encounters this summer have been very brief and somewhat feverish. For example, the one where Ginette moves her glasses away from her face to give me a “Têtes-à-claques” look! Other meetings took more time as they required a second meeting. These allowed, however, deeper conversations. This was the case with Jean-Pierre and Thérèse.
I first met them briefly in Montreal-North’s Pilon Park, at La Place de l’engagement (The place for commitment). We reconnected a few weeks later when I attended, at their invitation, the monthly luncheon of the Montreal North section of the Quebec Association for the rights of retirees and pre-retirees (AQDR-MN). The event was not only crowded with local pensioners, but also attended by the borough’s mayor, a city councilor and the assistant to a MPP, who were there to shake hands.
The program was pretty busy that day. Jean-Pierre, who is a former member of the executive, had a few minutes to talk about an upcoming 'croissants & coffee' event with people from the Dulcinea Langfelder company. As part of the tour of her dance-theater show entitled Victoria, Ms. Langfelder herself was to present her creative process and encourage participation to workshops on Alzheimer's and the role of caregivers and health workers.
The couple met in St-Donat. Originally from Joliette, Thérèse was then a member of the community of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Anger and working at a summer camp for young women in difficult situations. It was at a group’s outing that they got to know each other. At the time, Jean-Pierre, who is from Montreal, was working for the insurance company Les Prévoyants du Canada. He remained with this company for 39 years surviving the numerous changes in ownership and corporate names. Following her release from the order and the secularization of social services at the turn of seventies, Thérèse became a social worker.
Because of their common religious beliefs, Thérèse and Jean-Pierre initially started to volunteer in their local parish, St-Rémi. Longtime residents of Montreal-North, they now live in a modest postwar home built in the late forties. Believing in community mutual aid, they also participated in the Christian Workers’ Movement. Jean-Pierre, who is at ease with words and not afraid to speak publicly, often took the lead socially. Still, both spouses worked hand in hand in all their commitments.
Jean-Pierre has one piece of advice for people who plan to volunteer only after they retire: start young! This type of activity requires a certain form of culture which can only be acquired through practice. Most retirees however will certainly not have a schedule like theirs: they have been working as volunteers practically full time since their simultaneous retirement!
One of their important commitments came following a call from the director of Radio Ville-Marie, who had heard of Jean-Pierre and his social activities. This call led him to present three series of radio broadcasts over a period of three years. Their titles translate to: “Faith in movement”, “Witnesses and builders” as well as “The steps of wisdom”. The couple spent their weeks doing the research, preparation, interviewing and recording of the programs. I learned to my surprise that these broadcasts were prerecorded with the help of a single technician in a small room of the St. Benoit Church rectory on Fleury Street West. This modernist style church has been known as the Church of God of the Prophecy of Montreal-North-West since 2009.
Among the remarkable people they have met through their volunteer activities, Jean-Pierre mentioned Yves Lapierre of the Christian Movement of Workers and Claude Émond, who was for 27 years the musical accompanist of Fernand Gignac. Mr. Émond, who became their personal friend, passed away in 2013.
More recently, they met a young man, François Boucher, who was campaigning for the environment and thought inconceivable that Montreal-North was one of the few Montreal boroughs without an Eco-Quartier (as local center for environmental services to the citizens). With a group of 6 or 7 people, Jean-Pierre and Thérèse started ECONORD in 2009, a non-profit organization (NPO) that, at first, developed a program and raised the necessary funds so that young people could get paid to start environmental projects in Montreal-North. This NPO initiated by Jean-Pierre later became the local Éco Quartier’s fiduciary. Having for motto “The environment ... a treasure that must be protected”, its mission was to improve the quality of urban life for Montreal-North residents and to promote an ecological society.
The couple is still a member of this organization, which became a solidarity cooperative in 2014. Much of its actions now aim to improve access to fresh and healthy vegetables at affordable prices for low-income households. Public markets, seedling in a mini-greenhouse and maintaining a community garden are some of the recent initiatives of the ECONORD volunteers.
In addition to all this, Jean-Pierre and Thérèse regularly attend the activities of the Maison culturelle et communautaire de Montréal-Nord and go to shows in the cultural centers of neighboring boroughs.
Retirees like them have no time to get bored!