Memorable Manitobans: Jeanne Perreault (c1919-2008)
by W. H. Loewen
Jeanne Perreault’s life is made up of enough careers to fill half a dozen lives. Her determination to fulfill her many pursuits never faltered even to the end of her 89 years.
My first contact with Jeanne occurred in the mid 1970s when she was a school trustee. St. Norbert was in need of additional school facilities. Creating an all-French school was a dream of Jeanne’s and with her usual determination, that is what happened.
About that time a developer wanted to take over the property owned by the Oblate Fathers for a housing development. A majestic building that had stood on the property since the early 1900s was to be torn down. In a gesture of conciliation, the developer offered to place the belfry on a stand at the entrance. Enough opposition was generated that the developer withdrew. Subsequently the property was sold to an organization for a substance abuse treatment facility.
Not long after another character building—a former bank—disappeared virtually overnight. That was enough. Jeanne, Jim Cameron and I formed Heritage St. Norbert with the objective of protecting the unique heritage and culture of St. Norbert. Jeanne has been president of that organization and provided active leadership throughout its 28 years of existence. She presided over its most recent meeting in March  three weeks before her death. The agenda included a cairn commemorating the lives of over 1,100 early settlers (mostly Métis) in the St. Norbert area, maintenance of the Trappist Monastery ruins, potential archaeological study and establishing a bursary at College Universitaire de St. Boniface for students. All these projects will be carried on with the same kind of determination Jeanne has demonstrated.
The list of other accomplishments of Heritage St. Norbert thanks to her leadership is truly impressive. Among them is the retention of the Oblate property for community use. On this property now exist:
An organization (The St. Norbert Foundation) was formed to manage this property. Heritage St. Norbert appoints three members to the board of directors.
To retain the French character of St Norbert, Heritage St. Norbert has insisted that street names commemorate the pioneers of the area. That effort applied to one development in the area resulted in an article in Macleans magazine headed ‘Street Fighting in St. Norbert.’
To maintain the St. Norbert name for the area was retained, Jeanne lobbied hard to save the Post Office with its bilingual staff. As usual she succeeded.
When the Trappiste Fathers left their St. Norbert monastery for quieter surroundings in Holland Manitoba, Heritage St. Norbert undertook efforts to find a use for the structure. Unfortunately the main building was destroyed in a fire. The project then became one of stabilizing the ruins and saving the nearby Guest House. Lobbying of the city and provincial governments and the property developer resulted in the developer turning the Monastery ruins over to the province and it is now a provincial park. The Guest House and property were purchased by a not-for-profit organization. It was later turned over to a new community organization called L’Hotelliere St. Norbert Guest house Inc. Thanks to the efforts of many the building was renovated and has become widely known as the St. Norbert Arts Centre. Over the years it has been the site of many outstanding performances. They range from outdoor operas by R. Murray Schafer an opera by a group of Tibetan artists, a community pageant depicting St. Norbert history and plays by the Shakespeare In The Ruins company. It has served as an artists’ retreat, permaculture centre as well as a workshop for the building of authentic Red River carts. Jeanne was a director of this organization throughout most of this time.
One project she left incomplete was her attempt to have the official version of our national anthem sung in French and in English.
Jeanne’s leadership has contributed enormously to all of these projects. Always proud of her own heritage, her interest was equally directed at retaining and enhancing our physical, cultural and linguistic assets of the Province and of Canada. As one member of Heritage St. Norbert said, she herself is a piece of our history. She will be remembered along with the history she sought to preserve.
The contribution to St. Norbert in monetary terms has been enormous. In political terms no politician will make any proposal affecting St. Norbert without checking with Heritage St. Norbert. As for retaining the identity of St. Norbert no one thinks of St. Norbert as just a part of Winnipeg, which in reality it is. It is firmly established with its own distinct identity, just as Jeanne wished. She liked to say we started out as a small canoe but now we have become an ocean liner.
As mentioned in the beginning, her work on heritage projects was only one aspect of a lengthy, active life. She had many stories of her experiences as an educator. She was active in the Liberal party and was made a life member. She was a volunteer with Pregnancy Distress and collected articles for its Thrift Shop where she also worked as a volunteer. No doubt there are many stories still to be told of this remarkable woman.
Page revised: 18 May 2008