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Below are the five obits for Obit writer C
Obit #1: Bruno Côté
Wilderness painter Bruno Côté could find colours in nature that most of us can't even imagine, such as the yellow that an early-morning sun could cast on water, the brown emanating from a threatening sky, the black off a cold lake and the blue in the diminished light inside a dense forest.
Côté died on June 30 in Baie-Saint-Paul, an area north of Quebec City popular with artists. He was 69 and suffered from prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones.
While he was a Quebec artist, he would never use that descriptor on account of his love for the entire country's natural beauty. Whether he was capturing the white-capped rough water of Newfoundland, a placid summer day in Nova Scotia or challenging a clichéd setting such as the Rockies, he always tried to find the distinctiveness of each place.
Côté's work was iconic, especially for those Canadians whose images of their country lie in the rustic representations of rocky inlets, glassy lakes, lonely cottages, bright autumnal colours and awe-inspiring skies.
"This was a renowned artist who was recognized all over the world. He was among those important Canadians who, in painting landscapes, shone a light on all that was beautiful across this land," Jacques Saint-Gelais Tremblay, director of Baie-Saint-Paul's Contemporary Art Museum, told Quebec City's Le Soleil newspaper following the artist's death.
"His paintings take me back," said Claire Scrivens, co-owner of Toronto's Hollander York Gallery, which has represented Côté for 29 of its 35 years, explaining that the artist's paintings remind her of childhood visits to her uncle's country house in La Tuque, Que.
Scrivens calls Côté "a master of colour" whose palette became brighter as he got older. While he had always admired the Group of Seven, his work, she said, was more modern and abstract than theirs. He later showed the influence of the Impressionists, with his use of turquoise and purple to display a deep lavender sky or a bright orange sunset. She says his work always managed to sell out at biennial Toronto exhibitions. "Nobody else paints like he did."
His Toronto visits were a testament to his gregarious personality, says Scrivens, especially in his responses to paintings that he liked. "Hah! This one's a painter," he would shout. At 6 foot 1 and almost 300 pounds, the redhead gave bear hugs to people he liked, offered lessons in observing a painting, chatted everyone up and partook in noisy restaurant outings.
While he was meticulous with his sketches and notes, and kept a neat studio, Côté attacked his work with enthusiasm. In fact, on his easel were carved four letters: EMTD. They stand for Enthusiasm Makes the Difference, a book by Norman Vincent Peale that Côté had read when he was a child. "It changed my life," he told Robert Genn in an online artist forum in 2007. Even when lacking inspiration, he still went to the studio. "I come in here and go for it. I work myself up," he told Genn. "I work very, very fast and get a lot done for every blast. If you're not enthusiastic, it's no good."
Besides visits to Toronto, Côté exhibited regularly in galleries across the country. Vincent Fortier, owner of a gallery in Ottawa, exhibited Côté a dozen times and published books and catalogues of his work. According to Fortier, former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney each bought a Côté. His paintings have been given as official presents, most notably to the Scottish Parliament from the Canadian government in 2008, and hang in several embassies in Ottawa, at the United Nations, in numerous corporate offices and in a smattering of museums, including the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
All that from someone who started painting professionally at the age of 38.
Bruno Côté was born in Quebec City on Aug. 10, 1940, one of four children of Raymond and Carmen (née Morency). His father was a sign maker and eventually owned three locations for his successful business. Bruno enjoyed nature at an early age, fishing and hunting in the region and developing a lifelong passion for the forest.
At 16, he began to work for the family business, Côté Enseignes, painting signs of all types on windows, billboards, vehicles and storefronts. He was even the illustrator of a print advertisement for a cookie company, called Biscuits Dion. The drawing had a young boy with a black eye, who had gotten into a fight because someone wanted to take away his Dion cookie.
As a commercial artist, Côté concentrated on lettering. He knew dozens of fonts by heart and eventually became the artistic director of the company. His graphic work did offer him some training that came in handy later, such as an eye for detail and a head for business. As an artist, he delivered what was promised and knew how to keep his brand strong, mostly by destroying a lot of paintings he did not like.
In 1962, Côté married Micheline Larose. They had met when he was 13 and she was the 15-year-old sister of his friend Denis. At first Bruno would arrive at the Larose house to seek out Denis, but eventually he went to see Micheline. When he was 18, the friendship became a romance, and they married three years later.
In 1978, with two teenage children, Côté decided to sell the business that he and his brother ran, so that he could pursue art full time. He moved the family to Baie-Saint-Paul, where he set up his studio. His son, Derek, who was 14 by then, remembers one lean year, when he recalls wearing jeans with holes in them, but from then on Côté was able to make a good living.
His wife, who had worked in the provincial government before she married, became not only Côté's most trusted critic, but also his administrator, taking on several tasks, including bookkeeping and communications with the galleries, since her English was better than his. His own language skills gradually improved, mainly from reading Archie comic books, although he occasionally uttered a gaffe, such as the time he intended to say he wanted to set up his own exhibition, but said instead, "I am ready to expose myself."
Côté adored the light in the Charlevoix region, an area that the Group of Seven had visited and which was associated with Quebec icon René Richard, the godfather of the Baie-Saint-Paul artists. One of Richard's contemporaries, Arthur Genest, taught Côté some classes there in the late 1970s, but that was the extent of Côté's training.
Côté usually headed out at 3 a.m., in order to start sketching at sunrise. He loved the light at that time of day and knew that others who were out at 9 a.m. would not capture the trees, rocks, earth and encampments in the same way. That jump on his fellow artists was also evident in his storm outings, when he captured the brooding skies that fair-weather painters would likely not witness.
There were never any people in his compositions, with only the odd log cabin or canoe to offer a clue of human existence. Rather than hiding a message under the landscape, he would let a raging waterfall do all the talking.
Scared to fly, he travelled the country by train, car and boat. Those travels around Canada's wilderness sometimes led to encounters with wild animals. On one particular morning, he heard the crack of branches and spotted a bear in the distance. While the animal approached, he ran to the safety of his car, and then, relieved and exhilarated, sat there laughing as he relived the encounter.
Côté leaves his wife, Micheline Larose; his children, Derek and Brigitte; four grandchildren; and siblings Joan, Cora and Michel.
Obit #2: Catherine Potter
Musician Catherine Potter was born in Canada but dedicated her career to an ancient Indian flute. Sitting cross-legged on stage, she would play the bansuri and bring out playful soft sounds from the long bamboo woodwind. She first picked up the instrument in 1983 and immersed herself in Indian culture, eventually perfecting the technique and playing in numerous concerts, as well as recording two CDs and preparing for a third that was to be recorded.
Beginning in 1986, she began studying under India's undisputed master of the bansuri, Hariprasad Chaurasia, a relationship of guru and shishya (teacher and student) that would grow ever closer over the next 24 years.
She herself would eventually master the bansuri and play second flute to Chaurasia during several of his shows, a rarity for a woman, let alone one originally from Southern Ontario with no Indian heritage.
She would spend months at a time in India, studying and gigging with some of the best Indian musicians in the world. Back in Montreal, Indian art and cooking would fill her home; she would don Indian clothing and jewellery for her concerts.
"There were times in her life that she had felt more at home in India and closer to Indian culture than her own roots in Canada," said friend, Elaine Lafond.
Her Indian music would eventually get a good steeping in non-Indian influences, such as her jazz training at Concordia University and her many collaborations with African musicians. In 2002, she formed the Duniya Project, which became a meeting place for East and West, where those playing bansuri and tabla made music with others on upright bass, guitar and drums, and later the African cora. The genre reflected the diversity she saw in Montreal, as she eschewed the word "fusion," preferring to simply call it all "contemporary Canadian music."
In 2008, she brought her music to India on a 32-day concert tour she organized that also included some Canadian and European dates. Indians delighted in this Canadian masala, with audiences enraptured and the press all over her.
Potter, who died on Dec. 3 in Montreal from breast cancer at the age of 52, was respected for her contribution to Montreal's world music scene and admired for the hours of dedication she put into learning the bansuri, which requires precise fingering on its eight holes, which the player sometimes has to cover to various degrees. "It takes years to master it. But she did," said Subir Dev, who played tabla on her last CD and who has a track on his latest album featuring her bansuri.
But mastering the bansuri was not enough to persuade Canadian concertgoers and promoters to buy into what they saw as a more marginal genre of music. Gigs such as the Montreal International Jazz festival were a rarity, with small cultural centres and Indian associations being the norm.
Drummer Thom Gossage, who toured with the Duniya Project in India, believes Potter had more than just unfamiliarity with the music stopping her from landing more Canadian bookings. World-beat audiences in the West generally like their musicians to be born in the country where their music originated. "Exoticism sells," he said, adding that there were Indian-born musicians who may have been less talented but were seen as more authentic.
Paradoxically, it was in India where Potter's authenticity was widely recognized. Bangalore's Deccan Herald called Potter "more Indian than any Indian." There were numerous write-ups during the tour that embraced the woman who had eventually found a unique style that offered up a large amount of Hindustani, with flashes of flamenco, North African and Haitian music, supported by frequent improvisation and jazz grooves.
Catherine Potter and her twin sister, Carole-Anne, were born Dec. 25, 1957, in Guelph, Ont., the second and third children of William Alexander and Gwendolyn (née Dougherty) Potter. Their parents and then two-year-old brother Murray were away from their home in Windsor, Ont., on a Christmas visit to their mother's mother, when the girls arrived six weeks before their due date.
Her childhood musical influences included a grandfather who sang in a barbershop quartet and a father who liked to play for his kids the handful of songs he knew on the piano. Her grandmother, who had a grand piano that Catherine used to plunk around on, exchanged it for an upright one on which the twins would take their piano lessons that she paid for. Catherine and her young friends formed fantasy Beatles bands, in which she was Ringo, banging on pots and pans, and she and her sister sang in church and school choirs. In elementary school, she learned the recorder and, at nine, bought herself a fife at Expo 67.
As a teen she learned guitar, to play tunes from favourite singers such as Cat Stevens, Neil Young and Georges Moustaki and later became enamoured with Québécois music, especially the progressive folk-rock group Harmonium, whose music may have played a part in her buying a silver flute.
In her early 20s, she travelled for six months in Europe, and came back to study at the University of Guelph, feeling a lack of book knowledge for all the history, art, religion and politics she began to discover. But her wanderlust came back strong, first with travels around Canada and then, in 1980, on a trip to Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Burma and, two years into the trip, India, where she discovered the bansuri.
Within a month of arriving in the ancient holy city of Varanasi, she began weekly bansuri lessons. Living in a room that overlooked the Ganges River, she immersed herself in music. Walking through the city, she would hear slokas, or hymns, coming from speakers, calls to prayer from the mosques, chanting from temples, Bollywood tunes from car radios and music blaring from the cassette markets. She would attend and take part in all-night concerts from Indian masters.
"On the morning of my 25th birthday, I went to sit on the river's edge to watch the sun rise after one such all-night concert. I felt such a depth of happiness that I knew that I was sealing my fate with this music for life," she wrote in a short autobiography.
With her teacher off to Spain, she decided to return to Canada. It was on a stopover in Holland where she heard that Hariprasad Chaurasia, the Indian bansuri master, was playing in a local church. After the concert, she met him and asked if he knew someone in Canada who could continue teaching her the bansuri.
He said he could teach her and he did. In an e-mail, Chaurasia said that he will remember Potter as a devoted student of music, with a great faith and belief in Indian art and culture.
"A Canadian citizen learning Indian music and spreading it across the globe is a proud feeling for all Indians," he said.
Catherine Potter leaves her parents, William Alexander and Gwendolyn, brothers Murray and David and sister, Carole-Anne. A memorial will be held in January.
Obit #3: Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann helped ring in the golden age of paleontology in the early 1960s when many evolutionary questions were being answered about the vast unknown stage of life that existed before animals were capable of leaving behind a trace of themselves in fossils.
Although trained as a geologist, he spent his career searching for and finding evidence of early life in very ancient rocks. His discoveries helped the geological and paleontological world fill in gaps in the little-known Precambrian era, a time period that stretches roughly from 540-million to 4.5-billion years ago. His work had him delving into the micro-organisms that predated more advanced species.
Jokingly, Hofmann liked to compare his research to "being the window-washer in an underground parking garage," according to his former student Guy Narbonne, research chair in paleontology at Queen's University in Kingston.
The pioneering scientist, who taught at the University of Montreal for 31 years and maintained a research office at McGill University during the last decade, died of a heart attack in Montreal on May 19 at the age of 73.
He was considered by many to be Canada's most important paleontologist. Besides publishing more than 100 refereed scientific papers, delivering as many conference presentations and some 200 keynote addresses at scholarly meetings around the globe, he won several distinguished prizes.
With colleagues in Australia, he discovered 3.45-billion-year-old stromatolites, trace fossils of bacterial communities. They were the oldest known in the region and the paper about the discovery, for which he was the lead author, made it to the cover of the Geological Society of America Bulletin.
He found microfossils from 2-billion years ago off the east coast of Hudson Bay, fossils from 650-million years ago in the Northwest Territories, and discovered key reserves of fossils in Newfoundland, Ontario, northern Quebec and the northern Rockies.
Applying a scholarly rigour to a field that had often attracted over-confident scientists offering up dubious fossils, Hofmann used biology, chemistry and physics to analyze his own work and often to disprove other scientists' finds.
"He brought Precambrian paleontology out of the dusty 19th century," said Guy Narbonne, who began his career working as a postdoctoral fellow under Hofmann.
When Hofmann began to study paleontology in the 1960s, there was a century-old mystery that needed solving. Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, published in 1859, had acknowledged that no fossils had been found that dated back more than 500 million years. This lack of physical evidence made it harder for Darwin to prove his theory of evolution. In Darwin's day, the oldest fossils known were lobster-like organisms, with legs, feelers and eyes - all much too evolved to be the earliest forms of life.
Sir John William Dawson, one of the first principals of McGill University, was a noted geologist who had made his name with the discovery of early amphibians and reptiles in Nova Scotia. A steadfast creationist, he had written in 1865 about a fossil he had found on the banks of the Ottawa River that he claimed was more than twice the age of any life form previously found, leading him to claim it as a "special creation" and using it to disavow Darwin and his theory of evolution. (Dawson's fossil discovery was later proven to be a mere mineral structure.)
"It was Hans Hofmann who sealed the case," colleague Bill Schopf, a professor of paleobiology at UCLA, told attendees at Hofmann's memorial service in Montreal in late May. "He contributed more to the discovery and understanding of especially ancient, Archean, microbe-formed stromatolites than any one who has ever lived."
Schopf later explained that missing from Darwin's day was the fossil record of microscopic organisms such as tiny bacteria and cyanobacteria, often referred to as pond scum. And it was with those micro-organisms and the stromatolites they built, that Hofmann made his contribution.
Hans J. Hofmann was born on Oct. 3, 1936, in Kiel, a port town in northern Germany, the first child of Johanna and Willi. His father worked as a travelling bicycle parts salesman and moved the family to Frankfurt, where their apartment building was bombed during the Second World War, forcing them to move to Rumpenheim, just outside of Frankfurt. Hans's brother Frank was born in 1941. That same year, Willi had to leave to serve as an army mechanic on the eastern front.
In 1943, Johanna and the two boys moved to a nearby farming village, Eschenrod, where Hofmanns had lived since the late 1600s and relatives could offer them food and comfort. They found some peace in the pastoral landscape of rolling hills and red-roofed white houses along the Main River.
Hans discovered his love for the outdoors among Eschenrod's farms and orchards and began to collect butterflies.
Willi, who had arrived home safely after the war ended, became increasingly worried that his sons would be drafted into the German military. So in 1951, he emigrated to Canada to work and save money.
In 1952, the four were reunited in Montreal, but not for long. The two boys worked that summer on a farm in Quebec's Eastern Townships. By the fall, Hans was attending Rosemount High School in east-end Montreal, but with little English and an inherent shyness, his grades suffered. He was forced to repeat Grade 11, the final year of high school in Quebec.
The next school year, Hans focused hard on his studies and took part in an air cadets program. His commanding officer, Fred Legg, helped Hans and his brother Frank with their English on the weekends and displayed none of the anti-German attitude that was pervasive at the time.
In 1954, Hans he earned a scholarship to McGill and became the first German immigrant in postwar Canada to earn a pilot's licence.
He took up geology, earning his BSc with honours in 1958. By the time he was 26, he had also earned his Masters and a PhD at McGill. "Geology was such a natural fit for my father and he had so much passion for it," his son Thomas said in a eulogy. "He loved to do research, collecting samples, taking photographs and sharing his work with others."
For Hofmann's doctoral work at McGill, his supervisor was the legendary T.H. Clark, considered by many to be Canada's greatest geologist of the 20th century. Under Clark, Hofmann focused on the stratigraphy and fossils of the Ottawa-St. Lawrence Valley. Soon after, he received his first academic appointment at the University of Cincinnati, but after three years could not get his green card and had to return to Canada, where he was hired in 1966 by the Geological Survey of Canada.
He travelled wide swaths of the country, working with geologists and making discoveries, often along the Canadian Shield. It was in the Belcher Islands, in what is now Nunavut, that he found the 2-billion-year-old bacteria beds.
"He discovered vast areas of the Northwest Territories. It was Precambrian heaven," said Schopf.
Hofmann's love for the outdoors held him in good stead in the difficult conditions he often had to endure on discoveries. On a research trip, he would spend extended hours carefully perusing thousands of rocks for clues and smashing through layers of rock bed. He would then work at night writing up his notes in a tent.
Narbonne, who collaborated with Hofmann in Precambrian research for nearly three decades, remembers in 1989 being with Hofmann, who was then in his early 50s, on Bluefish Creek, NWT. Narbonne was two-thirds the way up a cliff, with Hofmann directing him from the bottom to a bed where he spotted a telling surface under the overhang. Once Narbonne confirmed Hofmann's suspicions, his colleague, who was almost 20 years his senior, was up on that cliff in what he figured was 40 seconds. They made a discovery dating back about 640-million years.
On his trips, he loved cooking outdoors, not shaving and living in tents.
While Hofmann published prolifically in his career, he made a point of maintaining more than a two-decade boycott of Precambrian Research, the most important journal in his field.
He was protesting against what he saw as unfair subscription prices.
That boycott did not stop him from publishing, popularizing and sharing his research wherever else he could. For Schopf, Hofmann was a selfless researcher who never tried to push a dubious theory: "He would find evidence and interpret it honestly." He had just completed a paper on western Canadian Precambrian fossils before his death. It was submitted to the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences and is being steered through its review by Narbonne.
In 2000, University of Montreal's Geology Department closed, leaving Hofmann without a home. He was given adjunct professor status at McGill and the Redpath Museum, where he remained an active researcher for the rest of his life.
Hofmann leaves his wife Eva, daughter Wendy, son Thomas, brother Frank and grandchild Noah.
Obit #4: Jean Charpentier
The mandate for Jean Charpentier's job as Pierre Trudeau's press secretary in the late 70s sounds like an impossible feat: During a time of soaring inflation and sky-high interest rates, he had to elicit good press for a prime minister who would turn questions back on any reporter who dared to ask about his marital breakdown, come to near blows with those who would scrum him, and usually turn on his professor persona if a journalist brought up Quebec secession.
No matter the circumstances thrown his way and the challenges the Prime Minister's Office faced during Mr. Charpentier's 1975-1979 tenure, the man with the old-world manners and cool intellectual worldliness emerged unruffled. He usually addressed a reporter using an honorific, never raised his voice and always looked stress-free, even though he usually got out of bed a little too late for his colleagues' liking.
He was a bachelor until 1990 and, during those PMO days, the former television journalist had film-star good looks, spoke an elegant French and English, wore well-cut suits, drank lots of wine, lit his Gitane cigarettes with a gold lighter and drove an MG sports car.
He was also a contemplative person. "You would come into his office," remembers Senator Mike Duffy, a former journalist who covered Parliament Hill during Mr. Charpentier's days, "And, like Trudeau, he was happy to be in his own company. He'd be deep in thought and ask you what you thought about the Sandinistas and the theocratic role in the revolutions he was reading about. Everyone else was complaining about the latest snowstorm."
While the equally cool and intellectual Mr. Trudeau appreciated his discretion and his cerebral manner, the press corps seemed to require more. In the late 70s, earlier deference to politicians was tossed out with the fedora, and reporters would often confront them in the hallways and bait them on sensitive topics. The Liberals, who were on their waning days of what would be 16 years in government, were getting a rough ride.
Hugh Winsor, who was on the Hill for The Globe and Mail at the time, remembers Mr. Charpentier's relaxed demeanour being at times a liability, seeing the coolness as disengagement.
But Mr. Winsor admitted that Mr. Charpentier made things far better than they could have been, saying the atmosphere had deteriorated in those days and that the prime minister would likely have been even more confrontational had it not been for Mr. Charpentier's mediating skills.
"Jean was there on our behalf and would spare us from Trudeau's venom."
Jean Charpentier was born in Ottawa, the youngest of five children. Three of his siblings were from his father Fulgence's first marriage, which had ended in the death of their young mother. Not long after, Fulgence married Louise Dionne.
Fulgence Charpentier, who had earlier been a parliamentary journalist, was acting mayor of Ottawa when Jean was born. He would eventually work for the federal government as the wartime censorship director and hold a series of diplomatic postings, including one in Paris in 1948, under Georges Vanier, and the first Canadian ambassadorship in the African francophonie, in Cameroon in the 1960s. He died in 2001 at the age of 103.
It was during his father's posting in Uruguay in 1953 that Mr. Charpentier perfected his Spanish, a skill that would hold him in good stead during several journalistic stints in Latin America.
Mr. Charpentier worked for the French-language newspapers Le Devoir and Le Droit, and it was at the latter paper in the 1950s where his colleague Denis Gratton took a poke at his European courtliness and gave him the name The Count.
In 1961, he became a television reporter for Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of the CBC, where he would take up postings in Toronto, London, Lima and Paris. He also filed stories from Vietnam, Cambodia, Northern Ireland, Biafra, Argentina and Chile, where he was the first reporter to interview Augusto Pinochet after the 1973 coup. He temporarily came back to Canada in 1970 to cover the FLQ crisis.
He was known to be one of the few federalist journalists on Radio-Canada, and was tiring of the arguments with his colleagues. He had a connection to Mr. Trudeau by way of his father and two brothers, who were all in the diplomatic corps in the 1960s, but was scouted by then-minister Gerald Pelletier.
There was a bit of vanity that went into his decision to leave television journalism, according to Patrick Gossage's Close to the Charisma, his 1986 memoirs of working in that same press office.
"I did not think it was possible to grow old gracefully as a television journalist," Mr. Charpentier told him.
Mr. Trudeau also appreciated his discretion. According to Mr. Duffy, who remained friends with him, he never gossiped.
He was likely the person who had Mr. Trudeau write a letter on non-PMO stationery announcing his separation from his wife, Margaret, in 1977. (They were divorced in 1984.) "He made the point elegantly that it was a private matter," said Mr. Gossage.
Dick O'Hagan, who at the time was working on communication strategy for the wage and price controls porfolio, also thought that it was likely Mr. Charpentier who had been behind that. "Those kinds of subtleties were characteristic of him."
When the Trudeau government was brought down by Joe Clark's Conservatives in 1979, Mr. Charpentier moved to the Treasury Board as a communications consultant but according to Mr. Gossage, he was bored at the job. Mr. Duffy added: "He had a ton to contribute, but the system didn't make the best use of him."
In 1984, he was asked by the government to organize the papal visit to Ottawa. After that, he left government and worked for the rest of his career as a freelance translator.
Jean Charpentier was born on May 14, 1935, in Ottawa, where he died on Jan. 8, 2010, of cancer. He was 74. He leaves his wife Mary Mackay, her sons Dwayne, Shawn and Derek and her daughter Tina. He also leaves his siblings Claire, Louise and Jacques. He was predeceased by his brothers Georges and Pierre.
Obit #5: Michel Chartrand
It was a prison warden, not Michel Chartrand's lawyer, who successfully obtained an early release for the labour leader after one of his many incarcerations.
Word had gotten back to the warden that he could have a situation on his hands if he didn't act quickly. Chartrand, the inmate, had begun to help organize the prison guards. It seems they were unhappy with their working conditions and welcomed the union organizer's advice.
Chartrand had a knack for organizing, persuading entire industry sectors in the 1950s to unionize, but his philosophy was that the rights they were fighting for could also benefit non-union individuals and actually better society.
Chartrand, who died on April 12 in Montreal, was an impassioned speaker who almost single-handedly transformed Quebec unions into more political animals. He helped put social justice issues on the table by convincing leaders that their responsibilities went beyond wage negotiations.
As president of the then 75,000-member Montreal council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions from 1968 to 1978, his leadership was seen as radical.
Forging common fronts between previously single-issue trade unions, he gave the Quebec labour sector a stronger voice in the province.
Having ostracized the right, the common front's evermore left-wing membership was taking up causes close to Chartand's heart: unemployment insurance, pay equity, co-op businesses, credit unions, Quebec sovereignty and workplace safety, as well as international workers' rights and other causes, including Chilean democracy and Palestinian rights.
He had a gift for rallying people; there were many protests and public meetings that were amplified by Chartrand polemics. If his speeches were dishes, they would have been stuffed with indignation, cooked with a good deal of humour and peppered with swear words.
"He was the first superstar of the union movement," said one of his biographers, Paul Labonne.
Just as he pressed for unions to become more politically engaged, the labour leader pushed himself to break the mould of union organizer and began working in organized politics, putting his name out, often as a fringe candidate, the last time in 1998 at the age of 81, in then-premier Lucien Bouchard's riding. Despite his commitment to sovereignty, he loathed the Parti Québécois for what he saw as its centrist policies.
While he was certainly a populist, his convictions sometimes took him to the more odious side of politics, such as when he supported the FLQ manifesto.
When the War Measures Act was enacted during the 1970 October Crisis, he was put in detention for four months for sedition after supporting the demands of the Quebec terrorists and saying publicly that he thought then-mayor Jean Drapeau should have been the person kidnapped. The charges were eventually dropped.
While he never regretted his remarks in support of the group that killed Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte during that time, according to his daughter Suzanne Chartrand, he did think they went too far. "He said no death was justified."
His political anger has been imitated by comics and mocked by opponents who knew that one could always count on a good tirade blowing in from his direction. His story, and that of his politically engaged wife, Simonne Monet-Chartrand, has been told in many forms by those who knew how well-liked and respected he was by the populace, and who saw in him an uncompromising advocate.
Joseph Michel Raphaël Chartrand was born Dec. 20, 1916, in Outremont, a well-heeled enclave of Montreal. Despite the address and having a father working as a civil servant, the 13th of 14 children witnessed his parents, Louis and Hélène, having to be very frugal. The family was also religious and, at the age of 3, Michel announced to his parents: "I want to be a monk."
That early wish came true and in 1933, having tired of the classical colleges, where he had excelled, he joined the Trappist monks of Oka, Quebec, and became Brother Marcellin, living in almost complete silence. The life was difficult physically, working in the fields and making cider, feeding pigs and tending to fruit trees. While there, he developed a hiatus hernia that bothered him his whole life. "That's the reason why I can't keep anything inside," he would quip.
But the life was also spiritually fulfilling and he found himself thinking more profoundly about the love of his family, his sense of nationalism and his sense of purpose. He had to leave after two years, his hernia preventing him from fulfilling his duties.
A year later, he would learn about political injustice first-hand after his father was fired by the provincial liquor board. He had blown the whistle on internal corruption, and in the middle of the Depression, he was let go from his job of 44 years. His father hid the fact from his family for three months, until he was discovered in the park one day by one of his daughters.
Chartrand père et fils then established a printing business, with Michel becoming a typographer. He enjoyed the life and through a Catholic workers' association began to get involved in debates on workers' rights and social justice.
In 1938, he became a member of the Action libérale nationale, a reform-minded group, and was involved in provincial political organizing. Four years later, he married Simonne Monet, a judge's daughter who was a pacifist and an early feminist, and with whom he became involved in many political causes, one of the first ones being the anti-conscription protests of 1944.
According to his friend, Gérald Larose, a former president of the CNTU, it was 1949, where his political awakening came. The Quebec asbestos workers' strike attracted many supporters of the pickets, who were striking against the largely American owners.