Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Joanne Doucette
Meet Joanne. Many of you may know her from the Facebook. She’s a regular on several local groups where she posts her historical pics and stories of the area we live in. Or you may know her from her historical walks or simply from being a long-time resident of the area. Joanne has lived in the east end with her partner, Julia, for more than 30 years. Interviewing Joanne was a fascinating experience. It was the first time I nearly ran into the ‘3-hour’ mark and had severe writer’s cramp when I left her house. I couldn’t keep up/take it all down! She’s a veritable history book and a natural story teller. Before I even sat down I learned her house (1912) was built in the ‘open concept’ model, to provide air flow to prevent of TB, that next door was an original shack house (tar paper & shoebox shape), that the area was called ‘Shacktown’, and greedy Erie Realty bought up all the land west of Coxwell to Ashdale and named streets after himself, one of them, now Craven Rd., once named ‘Erie Terrace’. *If you meet Joanne one day, don’t forget to ask her why Craven Rd. only has houses on one side and why that long grey fence runs the length of the street.
Although born in Oshawa, Joanne’s roots go waaaaaay back to the Mi’k Maq ( a nomadic First Nation from the east coast) on her father’s side and the Cross’s on her mother’s side (as in Banbury Cross). Her forebears worked in the fur trade settling with the Metis (from the French, meaning to crossbreed; mostly aboriginal women and French men) communities. Despite her native roots, the French claimed sovereignty over a wide area of the St. Lawrence basin in the 1600-1770s. Joanne’s predecessors took on Catholicism and changed their names to French ones as a show of allegiance to France, who regarded the aboriginal peoples as allies, not subjects and who sided with France to fight against the Brits in the mid 1700s.
Joanne’s love of history came from both her parents who were storytellers. One of her current projects is going back in time to ‘verify’ the story her parents often told the kids about their ancestral ‘creation’. “It’s been a fascination with me for years and my passion about it has spurned this project”. Growing up, her family were poor, but not deprived. “We always had books, all of our toys were handmade, we went on walks with our parents, and had great conversations at our kitchen table”. She told me the story of the ‘creation’. Much too long to share here, it’s intricate and fascinating. “I have a photographic memory”. For someone whose first love is history that’s a bonus. “I’m scouring the Internet for anything I can find about the family and every day, it seems something new pops up. The stories were coming to life via technology and my parents were telling us the ‘truth’, down to the last detail”.
Despite not finishing high school, Joanne, the 2nd oldest of five, has had a very productive life. She worked as a clerk at SOCAN – Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada and then moved to London, ON to work for Manpower (anyone else remember that?), before being encouraged to go to university in 1973. She attended Western (Univ of Western Ontario), studying history and graduated Magna Cum Lauda – the highest honours. One of her profs was Gerald Killen, the award-winning author of Preserving Ontario’s Heritage: A History of the Ontario Historical Society. His revisionist approach to nature/history made a huge impression on Joanne. Unable to finish university due to a car accident, Joanne later entered Teacher’s College. However, fate had different plans for Joanne. She was again hit by a car and was unable to finish her studies. In 1982 she co-founded The Disabled Women’s Network. An early computer user, (I saw my first mouse in 1987 so 1982 was indeed pioneering days), she put her skills to use as program coordinator at a Women’s Centre, Press Secretary to the Minister of Finance, in Ontario’s NDP Government and for the last 15 years as Bond Administrator for the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association. Retired now, Joanne finds her skills are best used in research. She’s been researching for over 30 years; her family’s history, community history and combining her love of history with nature and spirituality. ‘History is storytelling based in fact. What matters is where we are, where we live, play, work in our daily lives. History is not outside of nature. I try to present history in ways that aren’t judgemental, and where people can connect right away. Sewing them back into the fabric so to speak, and my aim is to make it enjoyable, accessible and free”.
If you haven’t met Joanne, and want to be wowed, you should join her on one of her history walks. The next walk, ‘Get to Know Your Neighbourhood’ is October 8th 1-3pm, meeting at Fairford Parkette (Coxwell and Upper Gerrard/Fairford). Dogs also welcome – on leash. And/or pick up her recently released book: ‘Leslieville – Pigs, Flowers & Bricks’ available at Brickyard Grounds or directly through Joanne.
To learn more about the work she does and loves or to contact Joanne visit https://leslievillehistory.com/about-joanne-doucette.