Want better education? Attend Verdun summit tomorrow

Is education important? If so, how can teachers, parents, school board officials, government leaders and community groups work together to help students succeed?

That’s what provincial and local leaders will discuss during a full day education summit taking place in Verdun tomorrow. While most of the day is geared to serving education insiders, they’re welcoming members of the public to join their ranks from 5 until 7 p.m. Parents and others interested in education can visit 25 different kiosks to speak with representatives from local schools and daycares, the health bureaucracy, city and boroughs, and community groups.

School success is a big issue in Verdun, where drop-out rates are extremely high. One of every two boys who register in local high schools doesn’t get a diploma. Drop-out rates for girls are slightly lower, but they still surpass 30%. Someone has to make schools more relevant for students, and that’s what all the education partners will discuss throughout the summit.

Verdun Mayor Jean-François Parenteau will speak just after 5 p.m., just prior to dance performances by students from Beurling Academy and École secondaire Monseigneur-Richard.


At 5:30, participants will be able to select one of three workshops on offer. The English sessions feature language development by the CIUSSS of Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, performance anxiety among adolescents by Dr Côté-Lecaldare from the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, and going back to school by the Literacy Foundation.Parents of teens (room 106)

A Circus performance by l’École de cirque de Verdun takes place at 6 p.m.

After that, there are two more workshops. The CIUSSS of Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal will talk about how parents of teens can make family life work better. The Charles-Étienne Lavoie group will present a session about managing stress to thrive.


Many activities have been set up to enable parents to bring them along. A daycare is offered for parents with young children. Older children will appreciate learning about cartooning with Jacques Goldstyn or perhaps coding with a group of computer experts.

If you go

If you want to discuss the future of education, join the summit from 5 until 7 p.m. at the Champlain Adult Education Center, 1201 Argyle Street.

March 14 Register for Referendum about Metro Bellemare

On March 14, from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., 249 citizens living close to the  Bellemare grocery store development in Verdun asked for a referendum about the project. Now the borough has to hold a referendum that they are likely to lose or the developer has to pull the project and perhaps submit a revised version for consideration again.

The process wasn’t easy and if Quebec Bill 122 goes through, this will be among the last times it happens.

This was a great example in which local government officials set up a city development project that went beyond what local citizens can stand. Locals are always concerned that a project fits in with its neighbours. They care that unit costs within a development aren’t too high, that parking remains available, and that traffic isn’t worsened. Developers and city officials are concerned with increasing the density in a region, building higher-priced units that generate more tax dollars and “beautifying” neighbourhoods, which almost always means gentrification.

With this project, the borough of Verdun was very happy with the project they negotiated, which expands a beloved grocery story and creates rental units rather than condos. Several proposed units are large enough to accommodate families, a big need in Verdun. The developer has also offered to contribute $150,000 to build social housing.

Neighbours were not happy at all. The worried about the potential traffic and parking headaches that the four-storey 67-unit mixed use building will generate. They know that the grocery store parking lot will be frequently used, but the major street next to it is one-way, so anyone who visits the store will have to leave by the smaller residential streets. There’s also a school right across the street from Metro Bellemare, so it will be children negotiating passage through the traffic. Parking is already difficult.

To try to lessen the project’s impact, residents living on  Claude, de l’Eglise, Evelyn, Galt, Gertrude, Gordon, Hickson, Joseph and Verdun had to negotiate a byzantine process that included verifying via a formal legal notice whether they had the right to participate. If they did, they went to Verdun borough hall, 4555, rue de Verdun, Salle du conseil, local 205, to sign a register for a referendum about the project. If they didn’t, they’re still annoyed.

Developer Robert Bellemare had things even tougher. He faced criticism, graffitti and hate while trying to present the positive sides of his project. He’s already spent a year negotiating with the borough’s local development committee. Then he spent several months trying to win over critics. His latest attempt occurred the morning of the register according to Radio Canada. That move was to create a citizen consultation committee to ensure his grocery store expansion is done in such a way that they will approve. There were other changes too, but according to my colleague’s story, they weren’t sufficient to keep residents from signing the register.

The borough also faced lots of criticism during the project, especially after the Mayor told the developer which zones they opened, allowing him to open additional spots and raise the number of residents who had to sign the register. (See this story in the Metro and this one on Radio-Canada).

In the end, 249 people of the 2,294 who live near the project signed the register. This was just a few more than the 243 people that were required . The borough can now hold a referendum about the project or the developer can pull the project, make the changes citizens demand and resubmit the project to the city again.

As tough as the process is for everyone involved, its advantage is that it keeps neighbourhood development in the hands of the citizens who live there. Everyone would prefer something easier. On the ground, citizens say they should be involved earlier in the process, when a project developer is beginning to present his project to the borough.

Quebec’s provincial government has a different idea. They prefer to remove all citizen clout entirely with Bill 122. If it goes through, citizens will have no say over what happens in their neighbourhoods.

Verdun’s First Seedy Saturday Lots of Fun

Yesterday, the temperature dipped to minus 15, a real shocker after Thursdays two degrees above zero and Friday’s minus five. So imagine our surprise when tons of people began streaming into the Verdun municipal greenhouses for the borough’s first ever Seedy Saturday.

In the end, we counted 357 visitors to Seedy Saturday, though probably more came given that busy volunteers used the click counter.

What a great day! The sun and conversations with amazing people kept us toasty and comfortable all day.

Tons of conversations took place throughout the day. Typical topics revolved around practical tips to grow healthy food, ensuring food security and entrepreneurship and jobs.

Seedy Saturday asks: can you grow healthy food in the city?

Many of the tips emphasized how to take advantage of small spaces and combating wildlife. How can you keep the squirrels from damaging and eating all your crops? Use small and large caging to keep them out.

Which seeds provide the best-tasting fruits and vegetables? Heritage seeds for sure, although getting people to give up nicer-looking fruit and vegetables for better taste can be a challenge.

How do you plant them to make sure they produce? Choose the right time and the right medium for each variety.

Proper planting time

Lots of workshops took place at Seedy Saturday, but one-on-one conversations contained the best tips.

Which seeds should I plant now? Tomatoes, cucumbers and basil.Which ones go direct in the garden? Beans, carrots and peas.  When? Peas go in as soon as the ground can be worked, while beans get planted after last frost at the end of May. Kale and carrots benefit from either treatment, although they should be staggered over the summer.

There were some diverging opinions on all points, and since I had the worst growing summer ever last year, I tried to listen more than I spoke. Not sure that worked though. I talked a lot.

Food Security

Food security and using local entrepreneurship to build abundance formed the backbone of many conversations. Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that yesterday’s Seedy Saturday was organized by Grand Potager. Grand Potager is a nonprofit organization that includes many of the Verdun-based organizations who are trying to use urban agriculture to ensure that no one in Verdun goes hungry.

Verdun Farmers’ Markets

Our urban agriculture solidarity coop CAUS is a member of Grand Potager, and our main focus remains building a local economy via markets. We now have spring markets, our farmers’ markets from July until October, and our winter markets.

Our next market takes place Saturday, April 8 at the Church of the Epiphany, 4322 Rue Wellington, Verdun from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Four Generations Grow up in Weston

Granny, nanny and my mom on the porch in Weston

Granny, nanny and my mom on the porch in Weston

One of my earliest memories has me travelling by bus to the Weston library with my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. For some reason, the Carnegie Foundation in New York provided a grant to build the stunning structure in 1914 despite its Ontario location along the Humber River.[1]

I’ll always be grateful.

Recent visits to the location feel peaceful somehow, as if several generations of residence in that spot left traces in my DNA.

Our family moved to Weston sometime between the 1871[2]  and 1881[3] censuses and stayed there until the late nineteen sixties.

An Irish ancestor at last!

The 1871 census shows great granny’s mom Kezia Charlotte McMaster, who was then 12 years-old, living with her family in 130 Mono Cardwell. Her mother was a 54-year-old Irish immigrant named Ann McMaster. Other family members included 24-year-old Andrew, 20-year-old Alexander, 16-year-old James and 14-year-old Ann Eliza.

Summer wedding

Seven years later, at the age of 22, Kezia married 38-year-old John Paul Charboneau on a summer day in August. The marriage licence describes him as a Francophone Church of England man working as a cooper building barrels and utensils out of wood.

Their son Paul, my great great great uncle, came along on March 13, 1888.[4]

His sister Charlotte, my direct ancestor, was born in Orangeville seven years later.

Charlotte and Arthur

I don’t know how they met, but great grandma Charlotte married British Immigrant Arthur Johnson in Weston on February 9, 1917.[5] Before the wedding took place, they had to sign a “degrees of affinity” document to confirm that they were not blood relatives.

Like her mother, she was 22 years old at the time.

The wedding took place close to her home on Cross Street. His parents, William Johnson and Mary Young attended, as did hers. Their witnesses were Albert and Aimie Johnson who lived nearby on Fife Avenue.

Given their last names, it’s likely these witnesses were also ancestors.

Charlotte and Arthur remained in Weston from then on. Their daughter, her daughter and I all grew up in the village.

The couple only left Weston in their nineties to move in with their daughter in Midland during the last decade of their lives.



[1] http://welcometoweston.ca/about-weston/history-of-weston, accessed February 22, 2017.

[2] Canada Census, 1871,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M47F-Q6P : 13 November 2014), Kezia Mc Master in household of Ann Mc Master, Mono, Cardwell, Ontario, Canada; citing p. 40, line 10; Library and Archives Canada film number C-9959, Public Archives, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm 4,396,686.

[3] Canada Census, 1881,” database, Library and Archives Canada film number C-13249, Public Archives, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm Reference: RG31 – Statistics Canada, Item Number: 3601574.

[4] Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F2F8-X6G : 27 November 2014), Keziah Macmaster in entry for Paul Charbonneau, 13 Mar 1888; citing Toronto, York, Ontario, 13 Mar 1888, reference cn 901245; FHL microfilm 1,872,230.

[5] Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database with ages, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:278P-XTC : 10 April 2015), Keziah Mcmaster in entry for Arthur Johnson and Charlotte Charboneau, 09 Feb 1917; citing registration , Weston, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2,130,929.

My Yolande James cover story in the Montrealer this month!

My feature on Yolande James is the cover story in The Montrealer this month!

Just as we were going to print, Mme. James announced that she is indeed going to seek the Liberal nomination in St. Laurent, as announced by the CBC.

Here are the quotes from the story:


“When things are not going the way that you think that they should, that’s when your voice should be heard. It’s not a time to step away. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, it’s time to step in, whether that’s marching or whatever. Of course, you should vote. Your voice needs to be heard.”

“A lot of who I am is because of Montreal. Growing up in the community where I grew up in and being French and English at the same time. I don’t know anywhere else where that’s possible. It’s really the privilege of diversity. I understand that it is a privilege to live in a place that’s diverse in so many levels, not just in colour but in culture and language and everything. That’s a privilege to live that. You realize that when you have a chance to connect with someone who hasn’t had that privilege.”

“I remember setting up this program to help get young immigrants work experience. This was something that hadn’t existed before and I remember seeing them afterwards and hearing how much it meant to them. Those are the moments that really count.”

“What I try to do is to make issues as clear as possible so that people can make up their own minds. It’s a constant effort on my part to connect whatever is going on in Quebec City and communicate about whatever it is that affects you.”

“I’m no longer the youngest of anything. I will be 40 in November. It’s a big year. This last year was a lot about reflecting where I am and where I want to go. I like that because it forces me to do the inner work about what works and what doesn’t. In my continual work, I keep thinking that I have so much to be grateful for. When I turned 30, if I had fast-forwarded to my life now, I couldn’t have.

Yolande James Montrealer Story page 2

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