Chartwell resident shares legacy of female empowerment and achievement

Cécile Alexandre, 89, was a mother first and foremost, but also a hard worker, a pioneer and a symbol of female empowerment. Sadly, this exceptional woman, who was a resident at Chartwell Oasis-St-Jean in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu from 2013 to 2021, recently passed away. In honour of her memory, we wish to pay tribute to her incredible strength and compassion, which continues to inspire us.

Early beginnings

Born in 1932 in the St-Pacôme municipality of Kamouraska, in the Bas-Saint-Laurent region, Cécile was the second eldest in a family of 20 children. At the age of 18, she worked as a teacher at the Mansonville school in the Eastern Townships. A year later, she decided to change fields and became a nanny. In 1956, Cécile met Jean-Marc in St-Alexandre de Kamouraska, who soon became her beloved husband. Together, they had seven boys.

A dream come true

In 1966, Cécile and Jean-Marc moved to the big city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where she became a waitress in a canteen. Passionate about her new job, she decided to put her entrepreneurial mind to good use and started thinking about opening her own restaurant. Despite her husband's concerns, she invested in the personal project. Her husband was afraid that she might lose money, but for Cécile, nothing would stop her!

In 1967, thanks to her savings and a good investor, she bought "Ché Mi Cho," a canteen on Saint-Paul Street. At the time, it was a significant accomplishment for a woman to own her own business; after all, it was only in 1964 that women had been given the right to open their own bank accounts or take out bank loans.* Consequently, it was very difficult for a woman to own her own business. That's why for Céclie, this was one of her proudest achievements.

Dining alongside politicians

At her restaurant, Cécile met many public figures involved in politics, television, and cinema. Her new acquaintances urged her to get involved in municipal, provincial and federal politics. As a result, she participated in many activities that led her to sit on organizational committees and host English-speaking MPs who came to learn French at the Collège Militaire. On several occasions, she also had the honour of dining with federal MPs, such as Ed Broadbent, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, and many others.

At the heart of gender equality

Driven by her passion for social justice, Cécile was a pioneer in the fight for gender equality for many years. In 1967, she joined the Association féminine d’éducation et d’action sociale (AFEAS), where she held many important roles, including President. AFEAS was a women's association dedicated to defending gender equality; it also provided Québécois women with the opportunity to make their voices heard through pacifist and concrete actions*. Cécile had fond memories of her time in the association, and was very proud of what she had achieved.

A career in caregiving

Searching for a new challenge after thirteen years in the hospitality industry, Cécile decided to sell her restaurant and pursue a new career in caregiving. In 1980, she became a beneficiary attendant at the CHSLD Georges-Phaneuf (the former Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu Hospital) and worked there for two years. In addition to her career in caregiving, at the age of 46, Cécile enrolled at the University of Sherbrooke. In 1985, at the age of 53, she proudly obtained her diploma and became a recreation technician. It might sound cliché to say that it's never too late to learn or go back to school, but Cécile was living proof that once you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything.

Until the age of 89, this daring and caring woman with a unique background was an active participant in all the various activities offered at Chartwell Oasis St-Jean. We will always remember her community involvement and commitment to sharing her vast experience with others at the residence.

When asked what valuable advice she would like to give to motivate and support women who want to make their dreams become a reality, she told us: "Go for it! It might not always be easy, but I made it easy."