Activist’s attention focuses on nature, anglo rights

Gloria Ménard is committed to protecting the mountain. (Photo: Irwin Block)

From her living room window, Gloria Ménard looks out over a rough-hewn section of Mount Royal’s southern flank. She sees the magnificent foliage. With a pair of binoculars, she can observe the birds and monitor her “pet peeve.”

Ménard loves the mountain and, as a founding member of Les amis de la montagne, has worked hard to fight for its integrity. Plus she’s angry with those who pollute it by not picking up after their dogs.

But she does more than watch out for what’s happening in her backyard: Ménard spends long hours tracking the challenges and accomplishments of health and social institutions that serve Quebec’s Anglophone communities.

For 30 years, Ménard has recorded the flow of services to English-speaking Quebecers, as well as structural changes in critical public services in Montreal. It’s the mandate of Red Feather Forum, the quarterly bulletin that she’s been compiling and editing since 1986.

The publication has no rivals as a complete and accurate record of the changing status of our cherished institutions. She edits a similar bulletin for the Community Health and Social Services Network in Quebec City.

Both publications are part of her work as the founder, researcher, and writer for GM&A Communication (Gloria Ménard & Associates), which she runs from her home office.

Born in Montreal, Ménard is a descendant of a soldier from Besançon in eastern France, who crossed the Atlantic with Montcalm “to fight the English.” Raised in the Maritimes by her Irish grandmother, she earned a B.Sc. at St. Françis Xavier University with a major in Chemistry and a minor in Physics.

After sojourns in Alberta and Ontario, and employment as a research chemist, she realized “this wasn’t my shtick,” and returned to Montreal to use her science background as a technical writer for Alcan.

“Then I struck out on my own and set up my own shop as a communications consultant,” she proudly

She worked for corporate clients, specializing in communication between management and staff.

In the early 1970s, with the beginning of the James Bay hydroelectric development project, Ménard became involved in the environmental movement that was getting off the ground. She produced documentaries and reported nationally on CBC Radio on the environment, natural resources and aboriginal issues.

When the Parti Québécois was first elected, Ménard was appointed to its Environmental Advisory Board.

And when the first referendum on Quebec sovereignty came around in 1980, Ménard got involved “in the trenches” on the No side.

“We demonstrated on the streets, we handed out pamphlets, and I made a small contribution to the committee that worked on a strategic plan,” she recalled, working with equal passion on the No side in the 1995 referendum.

Her first run in politics was for Jean Drapeau’s Civic Party in 1986, when she lost during the Jean Doré wave.

In spite of her admiration of Drapeau’s devotion to the city, she opposed his ill-fated plan to erect a tower atop Mount Royal.

Ironically, it was her critique of that project that caught the attention of the party whip, and Drapeau asked her to run. It was her last electoral bid, but in the process of working with Peter Howlett and others she co-founded Les amis de la montagne. Its mission, stipulated on its website, is to enhance and protect Mount Royal through community involvement and environmental education. Along with a watchdog, research and lobbying role, the group makes financial contributions to improve, renovate and restore the park.

Among the big issues facing the site is the future of the Royal Victoria and other hospital buildings being abandoned and merged into the new MUHC superhospital.

“McGill has made a very strong case for taking over the Royal Vic buildings and they have incorporated, into their proposal, very strict respect for the greenery and ways of improving it,” Ménard says.

As for Hôtel Dieu on Pine and St. Urbain, Ménard likes “a very interesting proposal” by the Old Brewery Mission to set up shop there because its premises on St. Antoine St. are to become part of an expanded Palais des congrès.

“Of course, Les amis wants the greenery maintained. Everybody is against any kind of commercial
private development there.”

The Shriners Hospital is privately owned, but Ménard says “Les amis and Heritage Montreal are all opposed to any high-rise development there. The building would be ideal
as a senior residence. The average citizen is really conscious that Montreal is about their mountain.”

In the same year she helped create Les amis de la montagne, Ménard was commissioned to compile and publish the Red Feather Forum. The name refers to the umbrella fundraising campaign for the
Anglophone Protestant social and philanthropic organizations that started in 1922.

It united fundraising efforts that began in 1815 and sustained senior homes, orphanages, and the Montreal General Hospital. In 1962, Red Feather joined Catholic Community Services and major Francophone charitable organizations to become Centraide of Greater Montreal.

If you want to keep track of the intricacies in the latest changes imposed by Bill 10, which came into effect April 1, the March issue of Ménard’s Red Feather Forum is a must read, providing highlights of the Quebec government’s complex re-organization to save $220 million.

Despite fears that Anglophones were losing control of their historic institutions, Ménard concludes in her review that “Anglos fare well so far.”

Ménard credits “Herculean efforts” by Eric Maldoff, Sara Saber-Freedman, Michael Udy, Richard Walling, Jim Carter and “other super activists worked tirelessly. They didn’t go in stomping their feet like angry-phones. They came up with logical solutions, and lobbied everybody, including opinion makers in the francophone community.”

Under the heading “Massive move under way,” Ménard writes that the Montreal region will be served by five Centres intégrés universitaires de santé et de services sociaux (CIUSSS) (integrated university health and social services centres).

There is a guarantee of English-speaking representation on the boards of every integrated centre across Quebec.

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