Etiennette Alton’s Verdun Years

Imagine my surprise to discover that my ancestors lived in my neighbourhood more than three hundred years ago.

At that time, Verdun’s Crawford Park was a very different place than it is today. Today, the neighbourhood encompasses about 1000 people in about 20 city blocks between the St. Lawrence River to the aquaduct in the north and between the Douglas Research Institute and the borough of LaSalle to the west. In 2006, more than 20,000 people lived here.

When my ancestor Étiennette Alton lived here, however, the neighbourhood was known as the fief de Verdun and it extended further north through Angrignon Park and the St. Jacques Escarpment.

She moved here after marrying her second husband, Barthélémy Vinet dit La Reinte on Monday, June 13, 1672. She already had three sons and a daughter from her first marriage. Her fifth child, their first son, Martin was born a little later the same year.

The family were among 83 families in the neighbourhood, according to the 1681 census.

The census reads :

« Barthelemy Vinet 48; Etiennet Alton, sa femme 42; enfants : Pierre 20, Jean 16, Louis 14, Marie 11, Martin 9, Gunégonde 7, Madeleine 6, Guillaume 3; 3 fusils; 18 bêtes à cornes; 20 arpents en valeur. »

The couple had five more children in the following fifteen years. They could afford them. Her husband worked for Sieur Jean-Baptiste Migeon de Branssat, an attorney and later judge with the manor of Montréal.

At that time most men—including Vinet, Migeon, and Montreal Governor Francois-Marie Perrot—earned significant portions of their income from hunting and selling furs. The market for furs, however, was diminishing.

In 1676, a new law forced fur traders to obtain licences, although few bothered to do so.

A year later, Migeon was appointed judge and asked to create a public inquiry into the fur trade industry. During that inquiry, he discovered that most elite, including the Governor himself, were illegally involved in the fur trade. The Governor responded by accusing Migeon of breaking the same laws and putting him under house arrest to halt the inquiry before its results could be known.

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Education of a political neophyte

Four months ago, I gave up years of long-standing neutrality as an electoral observer, critic, and reporter  to take on a political life. On Sunday, 6,387 of my neighbours soundly rejected my offer and chose the Projet Montreal incumbent.

Congratulations Marie-Andrée Mauger!

Congratulations also to our new Mayor Valerie Plante, Verdun borough mayor Jean-François Parenteau, city councillor Sterling Downey and borough councillor Luc Gagnon.

I trust you’ll all represent Desmarchais Crawford needs in the best way possible because voters always make the right choices.

Despite a basic faith in a very messy democracy, I’m still crushed at not being able to serve with a great team for the next four years, full of gratitude for all the people in this wacky adventure, and at a loss to figure out how to serve now the election is over and my dreams are dashed. I have no role in Montreal’s political future. It’s not possible for me to go back to my previous neutral identity, nor am I satisfied with simple citizenship.

I’m not sure how to move forward, but I’ll begin by thanking the 3,620 people who voted for me.

Thank you so much for your trust and confidence. I really appreciate your support.

It was super fun to vote for myself too! Other than that, there are three big lessons I learned as a political neophyte:

  • family forms the backbone of any political machine,
  • political campaigns encourage friendship and fun, and
  • elections change candidates.

Family forms the backbone of any political machine

When people talk about a “political machine,” they actually mean people. Nothing happens without the most amazing group of people surrounding you all the time, and most of the key people consist of family members.

My family were involved in everything. From the moment Parenteau asked me to join his team until today when he texted to see if I’m alright, my husband has been the rock his name implies. He told me that although this was something previously unconsidered, the job seemed a perfect fit for a long-time political aficionado who loves her neighbourhood. He encouraged me to consider the offer seriously. He expressed so much confidence in my ability to get and fulfil the job if I wanted it, I couldn’t help but try.

Thank you so much Pedro for encouraging me to set out on a wonderful fun adventure. It was worth it.

Not only did family members encourage me to run, they also donated, volunteered and supported me throughout the campaign. They also forgave me for asking them for volunteer help and donations all the time. They were the ones I called to celebrate voting for myself. They were the ones with hilarious stories trying to make me laugh as I sopped up the tears last night and again today.

Some of them even worked longer than I did yesterday! Huge special thanks to Paul, Arial, Christine, Ray, Stephanie, Ed, Kimm, John, Marco, Chico, Anna, Lorrey, Tony, Maria, Emi, Claude, Manny and Ben.

Thank you all so much! I’m so sorry to let all of you down.

 

Thanks also to the family members of my team mates. You are all so wonderful.

Campaigns encourage friendship and fun

The best friendships get made between team mates during political campaigns. Whatever happens in the future, the opportunity to cast votes for Ann Guy, Marie-Eve Brunet, Jean-François Parenteau and Denis Coderre last week was an honour and a privilege. You are all amazing people.

Special thanks to Guy and Brunet for welcoming me into your team and making me feel like family.

Ann, you are someone I’ve long admired for your continually community involvement, understanding and active communication about municipal affairs. Thank you for your mentorship and friendship.

 

Marie-Eve, I knew you were a wonderful person who has led the administrative process of a number of important projects for women and families when I joined you on your journey to take back Desmarchais-Crawford. Thank you for sharing your great risk with me. I’m sorry you lost.

Voters had other plans in the end, but this has been an extreme friendship-making experience. We three will be friends forever and I have the pictures to prove it!”

Verdun borough mayor Jean-François Parenteau is the best leader ever and he knows how to make everything fun. Door-to-door, driving from place to place, making phone calls—he always manages to make jokes and have fun.

JF, from the moment you asked me to run with your team until about 9 p.m. last night, I had a wonderful time. You encouraged me and my teammates all the way through this crazy journey. Thank you.

I liked my other teammates Pierre L’Heureux and Marie-Josée Parent and our tireless campaign manager Sarah Gagnon-Turcotte well enough at the beginning of this journey, but man, now they are forever friends too, as are Véronique Tremblay and Jean-Olivier.

I’m so going to miss all of you. Thanks so much for truly making me understand the value of teamwork.

From this day forward, I’ll never hear Bye Bye Miss American Pie or see a picture of that darn Agatha without smiling fondly.

To everyone on our team: I am so hurt not to get to work with you all over the next four years. Thinking about the lost opportunity makes me tear up.

It wasn’t just a group of new good friends this experience helped cement. Friends were nearby in one way or another every single day during this campaign in so many ways. They donated to my campaign, went door-to-door with me, helped put up campaign posters and made phone calls. A huge thanks to Ed, Josh, Li-Jian, Liz, Assaf, Rae, Barbara, Reford, Peter, Thomas, Gabriel, Charles, Ron, Jennifer, Diana, Dorothy, Janice, Barb, Claire, Sandra and Lucy.

You are all very precious friends.

Thanks also to all the new friends that I met who helped with our campaign also, including Andrée-Kim, Pascal, Ludo, Max, Ben, Francyne, Kathleen, Warren, Eric, Josée, Martin, Marie-Pierre, Lise, Laurent, Mélanie and the many many others I got to know so well.

I also really appreciated hearing from dear friends in the competing party who wished me well.

Thank you. Your support and unconditional friendship is so appreciated.

Elections change candidates

On joining this race, I had an incomplete view of how political involvement could affect me emotionally. For the past few years, I’ve been learning to become a social entrepreneur with differing summer and winter activities. In the winter, my key role included local journalism. Favourite stories were those that enabled someone to solve a problem. Ensuring payment for a senior to replace lost dentures, profiles on active businesses with a current struggle, tenants kicked out of housing units for only $5, a neighbourhood that needs traffic calming, etc. As it turns out, those are the kinds of issues councillors solve regularly, and we were able to solve several on the campaign trail, something that was extremely gratifying.

In the summer, I’m part of several urban agriculture and local sustainability projects, which I would have been responsible for at the borough level had I won the election. Early on, I assumed all my activities would continue as is if I lost. After I declared, but before the campaign began, a discussion began about whether elected officials should sit on non-profit boards that receive city funding. I do too much anyway, so I began transitioning out of those boards to ensure the groups could thrive without me. I still sit on two, but am in the process of leaving one and will leave the other in March.

What do  I want to do now? It’s not clear to me yet.

I was and remain happy to have served on Denis Coderre’s team, even though briefly. At the city level, I had been looking forward to working Cathy Wong, Steven LaPierre, Russell Copeman, Richard Bergeron, Réal Ménard and Elsie Lefebvre. Today, only Wong retains her seat.

The rest of us will surely find new ways to contribute to Montreal, but I’m sad Denis is no longer mayor.

In the past four years, Denis changed the face of Montreal, both economically and physically. The unemployment rate, at 8%, is lower than it’s ever been since I moved here in 1993. In the past year alone, Montreal has created 51,000 jobs, more than half of which are full-time. Over the past four years, our credit rating went up from A + to AA-. Infrastructure is being completely overhauled. The Bonaventure Highway has been redesigned. New public squares are being created. Overall, 5,100 kilometers of roads and water pipelines are being redone to remove lead, minimize leaks and improve design.

I also admired Coderre for his ability to attract smart people who liked getting things done. He started his mandate with only 27 of 65 seats, but managed to recruit opposition members to get a majority on council. Transparent governance, dropping our debt cost, lessening corruption, building trade links and expanding Montreal’s municipal powers are good for the city and I still wish he had another four years to see the transformation through. He made important moves in favour of reconciliation with First Nations, combating climate change, increasing Montreal’s natural diversity. All these issues are important to me, so it stings that voters handily rejected him. Even worse that some insult him rather than thanking him for his accomplishments.

Thank you Denis. It was an honour to work with you for four months. I wish it had been four years.

For now, my vision remains linked to a Denis Coderre win and now that that has been decimated and his contributions thrown aside as though they don’t matter, I’m left with empty resolve and an understanding that a huge wave of positive love and emotion are directed at another leader whom I don’t know, although I am gratified that Montreal has its first woman mayor.

For now, nothing remains of my election hopes, so there’s nowhere to put that pent up energy. It’s like being left out of a party happening next door.

All I can do now is remember a wonderful journey of hope unrealized.

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Campaign 2017: Alors, que se passera-t-il après le 5 novembre?

En votant pour moi comme conseillère d’arrondissement dans le district Desmarchais-Crawford, plusieurs choses vont se passer! Vous pourrez compter sur une élue qui adore travailler en équipe pour trouver des solutions créatives à nos défis collectifs. Vous aurez à votre service une femme prête à renforcer la résilience de nos quartiers de manière à ce que les gens, la politique et la nature se renforcent mutuellement. Je suis passionnée par la nature et sa diversité, la communication et la bonne gouvernance. Je serai à l’écoute de vos espoirs et de vos préoccupations.

Coderre Team in Verdun

Idéalement, vous voterez pour toute notre équipe. Nous savons comment collaborer avec les citoyens, les entreprises, les employés de l’arrondissement et le reste de la ville de Montréal afin de continuer à bâtir Verdun en s’appuyant sur ses forces et ses atouts, y compris ses vastes espaces verts, ses multiples emplois en soins de la santé et sa scène culturelle dynamique. Les élus seront intégrés à la structure administrative de Montréal, pour que vous puissiez obtenir rapidement des informations et des solutions à vos problèmes. Ensemble, nous allons faire de Verdun un quartier modèle dans un Montréal durable!

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Yoshua Bengio: the man leading Montreal’s Artificial Intelligence movement

If Montreal’s prominence in the evolution of an artificial intelligence industry in the past five years is primarily due to the leadership of Yoshua Bengio, we are all lucky he became a father and is a beloved son.

Two main things changed me,” he says. “Relationships with women taught me a lot about humanity and emotions, and my children: they really transformed me. I mean it was like a part of my heart hadn’t opened yet. You know having to take care of somebody and knowing that that person depends on you is really a transformative experience. When I was in my late 20s, it was a big thing.”

Today, the University of Montreal professor is a sought-after collaborator. He’s founded or cofounded five different institutions and has been a key ingredient in both Google and Microsoft setting up artificial intelligence centres in Montreal. He recently became the scientific director of a new non-profit linking his current school with his alma mater, McGill. That organization will be publicly launched once it finds a CEO.

He’s also the co-founder of Element AI, an entrepreneurial start-up dedicated to showing companies how artificial intelligence can help businesses run more effectively, save costs or both.

Indirectly, both of those efforts stem from two research laboratories founded by Bengio in the early 1990’s: the Laboratoire d’Informatique des Systèmes Adaptatifs (LISA), and the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA).

MILA has been called “the largest concentration of deep learning researchers in the world.”

Read more in the September 2017 issue of the Montrealer.

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