Stéphane T.

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!

Two sides of Stéphane

Jean-Pierre G. & Thérèse M.

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!

Jean-Pierre and Thérèse at La Place de l'Engagement (the Place for commitement), Pilon Park, Montreal-North

Marie-Christine P.-M.

It was at La Place de l’engagement (The Commitment Place) that I met Marie-Christine P.-M.

She works as mobilization coordinator with volunteers 55 and older at the Centre d’Action Bénévole de Montréal-Nord (CAB-MN). She suggested that I attend the following week’s activities surrounding the 2015 Civic march, whose theme this year was Mobility and safe travel for seniors in Montreal-North.

The following Thursday, although I did not have the opportunity to attend workshops earlier in the afternoon, I caught up with the group gathered in front of the Borough Hall to present its claims. In a cheerful atmosphere, participants were listening to some speeches and singing songs of circumstance directed by three colorful ladies of the group les Mémés déchainées, the local Raging Grannies. You can see some photos of this event by clicking on the link at the end of the article.

Again, I only exchanged a few words with Marie-Christine, who had a very busy schedule at the time. With the Service d’accueil aux nouveaux-arrivants (SANA, a group helping out recent immigrants), she was participating to the preparation of a film-chat activity with a screening of the movie “Felix and Moira” in the presence of its director at the premises of CAB-MN. She was also contributing to the organization of a workshop and electoral debate with local candidates ahead of the federal elections at Habitations Les Boulevards.

It wasn’t until the next week that she could spare me a little time.

Marie-Christine is a native of Saint-Nicolas, now a municipal district of the city of Lévis, across the river from Quebec City. She began her studies at Cégep Lévis-Lauzon in New Media and Fine Arts, but eventually shifted to the humanities. She completed a BA in Cultural Animation and Research at UQAM in Montreal.

It is back in Lévis that she acquired her first professional experience in events as Project Manager for the Corporation de Dévelopment du Vieux-Lévis. As such, she spent a year preparing intergenerational events, including a special day with a soap derby, a skateboard competition, an antique car exhibition and a show with local artists. She was happy to put her creativity to contribution. As the income from this work was modest, she also worked part time at the SAQ (our liquor board). She kept this job for a few years, in addition to working as a waitress in bars and restaurants.

Feeling a need for renewal, she walked the trail to Compostela with her boyfriend of the time along the Camino del Norte, a path north of the usual routes, steeper and less crowded. She told me that walking was not exhausting in itself, but the lack of sleep due to the snoring of other walkers in the dorms could eat away one’s energy.

As she loves to travel, she also did an internship in Vancouver and worked there a while to perfect her English.

Later, it’s a job as communication agent at Développement économique LaSalle that brought her back to Montreal, where she contributed to the organization of the Québec Entrepreneurship Contest at the local level. A significant increase in the number of participants that year gave her a good challenge.

Marie-Christine then undertook a Specialized Graduate Program in Management at HEC, Montreal. She says she likes group dynamics and psychology, project management, as well as the creative synergies that allow carrying out shared ideas. She believes that there are no limits to what we can accomplish together.

Afterwards, she joined the Centre d’Action Bénévole de Montréal-Nord as mobilization agent for the 55+ age group. The CAB-MN has been active in Montreal North for 30 years. It creates bridges between people who wish to contribute to the improvement of their living environment through volunteering and organizations that require their services. It also aims to promote social inclusion and integration of newcomers, to support citizen engagement and to provide services to the population through the action and commitment of its volunteers.

Her first task was to form a nucleus of senior volunteers. Together with these trailblazers she was then able to consolidate and expand the group. This now allows Marie-Christine to act as mobilization coordinator.

Despite her young age, she feels good in the company of seniors and wishes to continue to work with them. She spoke fondly about a one-hundred-year-old and alert lady she had recently met, but also about the death of a member of the first nucleus which was a sad event for the group. Sharing and support activities were organized to help them go through their mourning.

This event prompted a reflection on death for that young woman in whom I sensed a deep spiritual activity. Confirming my feeling, she then mentioned that she practices meditation on her own.

On a recent trip, she visited Scotland where again she walked a lot and saw beautiful scenery. She dreams that, one day, she will be able to make a long trip around the world.

Marie-Christine at La Place de l'engagement

Daniel L.

It was Mathilde-Hasnae * who introduced me to Daniel during my meeting with her, on a late Monday afternoon at l’Accorderie de Montréal-Nord. While I was talking with Mathilde, Daniel was reading some documents near us at the long table in the room that serves both as a meeting and dining room. As he did not seem completely indifferent to our conversation, he inevitably joined it. So when the time came to take some photos, I suggested that he join us in the collective garden of the Ilôt Pelletier.

One thing leading to another, our conversation continued after the departure of Mathilde and ended at nightfall, at the entrance of a building where he lives in this residential complex developed by the Société d’habitation populaire de l’est de Montréal (SHAPEM). This housing project is located in a Montreal-North sector that has evolved positively in recent years, after having long been disturbed by the presence of criminal gangs.

Daniel grew up in the area. His parents settled around there at a time when there were still fields a few blocks from their home.

He worked 31 years as an operator of digital machines in a metal products factory in the eastern part of the borough. However, he lost his job three years ago, following a severe depression. Given his years of service, he received a modest severance grant. For this reason, when he was admitted as a single tenant, he had to pay the maximum rent for a 1 ½ room apartment. For months, he stayed between its walls, seeing virtually no one but the doctor and the social worker from the CLSC.

It was largely the insistence of this lady that led him to get acquainted to the people from local grassroots organizations, both to break his isolation and for health reasons. Some groups have their offices on the site of his residential complex; others are active in the neighborhood. He first got to meet the members of Paroles d’excluEs, a movement against poverty and social exclusion, and later those of the Centre d’Action Bénévole (CAB).

Today, he is a member of L’Accorderie, a cooperative that facilitates the exchange of services between individuals. He proudly showed me on the wall of the room some photos taken at a large community dinner held recently at the Calixa-Lavallée high-school. He appears in one of them with other participants. The main course for this meal prepared by the members of L’Accorderie was pasta with vegetarian sauce, which suited all diets, including that of people who eat halal.

As he is past his mid-fifties and since his Employment Insurance benefits have dried out without seeing him find employment, he fears not having the confidence or the morale and health needed to be competitive in the labor market. Now dependent on the meager budget granted by social assistance, he follows with interest the efforts of the Comité de suivi en sécurité alimentaire (CSSA) a comity concerned about food security for the poorest.

One of the services provided by L’Accorderie is a food buying group. Its member’s resources are pooled to obtain food at cheaper prices. Daniel also participated this summer in the collective garden of the Îlot Pelletier, whose crops are shared equally between the buying group and volunteer gardeners. Early in October, the garden was still productive.

Before we parted, he said he hoped to qualify for a subsidized housing program. This would enable him to move into a 3 ½ apartment. He would then have a balcony large enough to accommodate a bicycle. This will, however, require that a lot of paperwork be filled out before he is accepted.

Daniel, after the night has fallen, outside the lobby of the Îlôt Pelletier community housing complex