Day 102 - Ghislain (1st person I approached)
April 12, 2014 - I didn’t think I was going to get anything from Ghislain. He told me up front
“I’m not going to tell you my name. And we’ll see whether you’ll take my picture. No, you don’t need my picture. What good does my photograph do you?”
But each time I tried to leave the conversation, he asked me more. Finally, he said to me,
“You know what. I like this thing that you are doing. Sit down, let’s talk. I want to know what you want to know.”
Ghislain was born in Quebec, the seventh of eight children.
“Four boys and four girls. I have always felt blessed to be seventh. It’s such a good number, for prosperity and luck. If I had not been born seventh, I think I would have just asked my family to pretend I was. But of course, you can not change the order of these things,” he said.
When Ghislain was just five years old, his mother died from cancer.
“I remember the last time I saw her face. As clear as I look at you today. She died a few days after that.” All eight children went into an orphanage.
“The girls went to one section, and the boys to another. My father would come to visit us, but it wasn’t the same. The nuns were strict. He would bring gifts, but they wouldn’t let us keep many of these things.”
Ghislain told me that on special occasions all the children in the orphanage would go for walks.
“There were about sixty children there. It was a chance for us to be together again, as a family. There was a man that I remember from the Knights of Columbus. He was a person that made our time at the orphanage better. The Knights of Columbus would collect monies and toys for all the children. They made sure we had something at Christmas time, and on special occasions. He was a generous man.”
Ghislain stopped for a moment. I could see he was reliving some memory from back in his childhood. His eyes filled with tears and his voice quavered as he told me,
“I think of my poor Father. Losing my mother and then losing his eight children. It must have been extremely difficult for him. I am grateful everyday for everything our parents did for us.”
The Government of Quebec would later pay the siblings a lump sum of money by way of apology for separating the family.
“It was just money to make us be quiet. Nothing can change about what happened,” he says.
When he was 12 years old, he had to leave the orphanage, and went to live with an Aunt and a few of his siblings.
“The others were already out of the orphanage and living their own lives. At 12, you couldn’t be there anymore, too old. So I moved in with my Aunt, and I started working at a hardware store. I also had the first of many girlfriends at that time too. Yes, I was about 12 years old. I probably had between 22 to 25 girlfriends in my time. I finished my schooling at 17, and moved to Toronto.”
Ghislain moved to improve his English, getting a job as a nursing porter at the City Hospital in Toronto. Ghislain is uncertain whether the best girlfriend he ever had was in Toronto, or when he moved back to Montreal.
“Sometimes I think my brain is busy preparing for the youth of my next life,” he says as an explanation.
“I do remember that she was sitting just over there,” gesturing about ten feet away from us.
”She was so cute.”
I tell Ghislain that I am not surprised he had such good fortune with the ladies, as he’s quite the charmer.
“Not at all,” he says. “Women are a gift. Men are the children to the woman. It’s women who grow us into the men we are, or become. They are always so full of energy, and excitement and you never know for sure what they will do next. I know they are all special, and a gift from God.”
Ghislain moved back to Montreal, motivated to return for the World Expo in 1967. He got a job at the now legendary St-Hubert BBQ restaurant, in the original location on Saint Hubert Street.
“They put me upstairs cooking. Well, that lasted for about a week before they move me downstairs making the sandwiches. Everyone liked the way I made them because I stacked the meat so high,” Ghislain says, smiling with pride.
He worked there for three years before coming to Vancouver.
“I had a plan to move every five years to another province or country. My way to see the world. But the trouble is, once you come to Vancouver, you can’t leave. That was more than 45 years ago,” says Ghislain as he shakes his head.
He spent the rest of his working life as a security guard, working in transportation and hauling companies.
“The last two jobs I had were at Labatt’s Brewery in New Westminster and when that closed down, I went to work for Molson’s. I could have continued working, but I decided that the time to enjoy the rest of my life had arrived. I retired ten years ago at age 65,” he said.
He never married.
I asked Ghislain what he likes to do with his time.
"I like to watch television. I enjoy movies. But not ones that are all just conversations, I like action. Don’t tell me what you want to do, show me! I like movies about the war, things that are based in fact. Nothing that has been made up. Plus my Roman Catholic faith, I have always found comfort in this. I pray often and it keeps me grounded. I watch a lot of news as well. I’ve seen stories on CNN about people using other people's information. Really, I’m a nervous man and that’s why I wasn’t sure about speaking with you when you first asked me. I don’t often tell people things. Because I don’t think a lot of people are sincere when they ask questions. But you ask good questions. I’ve enjoyed talking with you. Maybe we could do this again sometime. I’m often in this neighbourhood.” #notastranger