The Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul’s extensive network has been offering transitory help and support for more than 170 years.
In 1833, Frédéric Ozanam was studying law at the Université de la Sorbonne in Paris when he, along with five of his friends, creates the entity which would eventually become the Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul. Thanks to its members, the SSVP deploys its efforts in the city’s impoverished neighbourhoods, carrying out home visits to help the very poor. This model would develop rapidly and, within ten years, the Société’s membership numbers more than 6,000 volunteers in several European countries.
Following a trip to France, Quebec City physician-surgeon Joseph-Louis Pincheau creates the Notre-Dame Conference,* which becomes the first Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul in Canada.
Hubert Paré, a merchant and philanthropist, becomes president of the Montreal Conference.* Expansion of the Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul de Montréal expansion follows the development of the city and springs up wherever need is felt. Pioneering the notion of social services before they existed, the SSVP makes up for the shortcomings of the system prevailing at the time. Apart from its direct and indirect actions to help Montreal’s needy, the SSVP gets involved whenever a catastrophe or tragedy strikes.
1850 – 52
In response to the fires that sweep through Montreal in 1850 and 1852, special relief committees are set up to ensure transportation and distribution of goods coming in from campaigns.
The Maison de Saint-Vincent de Paul is established to serve hot meals. The following year, the Société opens numerous soup kitchens, called fourneaux économiques (thrift ovens) at the time. In addition to food aid, clothing, furniture, medication and coal for heating are provided.
The Société co-founds the Saint-Charles Hostel to help the homeless. The shelter still operates today, now named the Accueil Bonneau.
* The word “Conference” comes from the Société’s first name – Conférence de Charité (Charity Conference). Its founder, Frédéric Ozanam, had borrowed the name from the “Conférence d’Histoire”, a discussion group which first came up with the idea of making home visits and providing material support to destitute people. The term “Conférence” was retained to designate the Société Saint-Vincent de Paul points of service.
A few facts and highlights
Between 1848 and 1895, the SSVP helps more than 44,000 families.
The very first Guignolée is organized. Participating volunteers—called guignoleux—go from door to door to collect food and funds for Christmas baskets to be distributed to the poor. This tradition lives on throughout Quebec, it returns every year as the holiday season begins.
The SSVP is particularly concerned about children. Its contribution to the construction of the Saint-Arsène Orphanage demonstrates this. Later, it becomes involved in the Goutte de lait (Drop of milk) childcare centres and partners with the Montreal Catholic School Board, to determine how many children are skipping school because of their lack of clothing and to remedy the situation.
During the First World War, our volunteers boost the morale of the troops by providing them with the necessary supplies to write to their loved ones and by sending parcels to soldiers on the front.
In 1918, the SSVP plays a major role in the fight against the Spanish flu pandemic, which would claim the lives of more than 3,500 Montrealers.
During the Great Depression of the Thirties, the Société significantly broadens its network. Some soup kitchens serve up to half-a-million hot meals per year. In response to government requests, it takes charge of direct support to the population; this program eventually gives birth to what is now known as Employment Insurance.
In 1934, the SSVP creates the Grenier du pauvre (Pauper’s attic shop). Volunteers start collecting old furniture, to be refurbished, then given to people in need. Nowadays, a similar workshop serves as the basis for our back-to-work program.
To this day, the Société remains a trusting resource when disaster strikes. Our team sees to the efficient management of large relief operations and participates in the effort anyway it can. Examples include our efforts during the “Red Weekend” in November of 1974, the 1996 Saguenay floods and the ice storm crisis in 1998.