At the monthly luncheon of a Montreal-North retirees’ association, I had bought, from the hands of its author, the book "Montréal-Nord raconte 100 ans, 1915-2015 ". It included a bookmark announcing an activity of the Montreal North History and Genealogy Society taking place the following Monday at the Charleroi Library. It was a conference entitled "Let us tell you about Montreal-North."
I went to the library on that day and attended the event with a group of roughly seventy-five citizens. This is where I met Stéphane.
Author of this conference, he is an historian by training. Stéphane completed his baccalaureate at UQAM. He is a storyteller, as well as lecturer, columnist, guide and facilitator in History. Much of the audience was made up of white haired folks who had lived through a significant portion of the centenary of the municipality. At the back of the room, a group of youths was also present at the initiative of the local Centre Jeunesse-emploi.
I quickly realized that Stéphane was well known to the senior part of the public and that he could not pass them any inaccuracies on the local events of the past 50 years. He could, however, afford some familiarity with them and switch between gruffly and humorous attitudes tinged with irony and bonhomie. The conference took place smoothly with many verbal exchanges with participants, who overall, were captivated and attentive. Stéphane even managed to maintain the interest of the younger crowd.
His lecture began with the first visits of the French to the Island of Montreal in the sixteenth century. He presented the outline of the Sault-au-Récollet village and parish history, from the French regime until the partition of a section of its territory called "Bas-du-Sault” (Lower Falls) which became the City of Montreal-North. For those who do not know, the Rivière des prairies allowed to move further upstream around the Island than the St-Lawrence River did. The Sault-au-Récollet historic village core is located at the foot of the rapids, where canoers where stopped by the current. Since the parish’s houses, mostly occupied by farmers, were scattered along what is now the Boulevard Gouin, a greater number of buildings from the French regime remain in this area of the Island than in Old Montreal. In the historic center of Montreal, the proximity of the buildings has meant that many of them were destroyed by large fires or were victims of real estate development and road construction.
Stéphane is a native of Montreal-North. He attended primary school at St-Vincent-Marie Strambi. He grew up in a family of four children. Their home was located near the Forest Shopping center, the first of the municipality, built in 1957. However, he spent his teenage years on the other side of the river, in St-Vincent-de-Paul, a neighborhood where his father, a contractor, owned land. He has been living for several years in the Plateau Mont-Royal, but maintains ties with the neighborhoods where he grew-up. He collaborates to the activities of various historical societies in the north of Montreal, in Laval and the North Shore. His activities range from storytelling evenings to guided tours of heritage buildings. Some of you may have heard him during activities organized by Cité Historia or private groups.
If he held some jobs as facilitator and mediator in cultural institutions, such as the Chateau Dufresne Museum for example, he quickly realized that he was not meant to operate in a rigid framework. If I understood correctly, the gruff side he showed at times during his talk was not entirely faked. He can sometimes be bad-tempered or, at best, hard-headed. Being self-employed for many years now, he has a preference for activities requiring direct contact with the public and some acting skills.
For eight years, he has co-produced a radio program entitled "Dans les griffes du loup” (In the claws of the wolf) at CISM 89.3 FM. The show focused on history and folklore. At one time, he recruited, with the help of social workers, some street youths to speak or hold roles in skits for the show.
Stéphane addresses audiences of all ages. He regularly does animation for school groups. The difficult negotiations between government employees and the Liberal government, which is determined to impose its austerity program, leaves him in a difficult position this fall as school visits are suspended for the time being.
Until the situation is clarified, you can track his activities on his website. This fall, he is hosting a series of storytelling nights at the ancestral Brignon-dit-Lapierre house, a historic residence on Gouin Boulevard, just east of the Pie-IX Bridge. Some evenings, he will even be the storyteller himself.
Don’t hesitate to go. It will surely not be boring!