Merci, Pierrette: Franco-Ontarian music has lost its greatest champion

·7 min read

On Sept. 7, the absolute worst day of Guy Madore’s life, he finally sat down to check his messages. He had 153 notifications on his phone.

That’s how beloved his wife, Pierrette Madore was; to her husband, to her hometown of Verner, and to the entire Franco-Ontarien community. So much so there is a documentary of her life in the works, and a tribute song soon to be released featuring veteran artists like Chuck Labelle, Michel Paiment and Marcel Aymer, as well as contemporary musicians like Edouard Landry, Eric Dubeau and Shawn Sasyniuk.

It’s easy to see why.

You see it in the sadness of her 21 nieces and nephews, and 11 grandnieces and nephews, who loved their aunt dearly.

You see it in her husband’s eyes, and the way she takes his breath away even as he speaks her name.

He tells the story of the night they first met, and though he is not one for fanciful words, it is very clear that it did not take long for Madore to become entranced by her.

“We met at a discothèque and I was going out with the boys, and Pierrette was going with her girlfriends. And they sat around a table, and we had no room, so I asked them if we could sit together. And the girl (Pierrette) said that we could.

“So I paid her first drink. Then she went to the bar and she bought me a drink; to show her independence. That's what I liked about her.”

More of her beauty is revealed in the fact that many, many Franco-Ontarien musicians have the exact same first memory of her: a woman who was so full of love it defied the physics of her tiny frame, a person so caring, nurturing and supportive that many in the industry didn’t consider beginning their festivals or performances until someone had announced the arrival of the Madores.

For instance, Franco-Ontarien actor and singer-songwriter Stef Paquette recalls, “She was the human form of genuine happiness. Her reaction when she saw you arrive at a show or festival, she would rush to you and first thing's first, her arms were in the air coming in to get that hello hug. With Pierrette you hugged first, then you talked.”

The first time he met the powerhouse that was Pierrette he was early in his career, launching his first CD with his first band, Les Chaizes Muzikales.

“This little lady came up to me so happy to see me, and addressed me as if we had known each other for years. I remember thinking that this was a bit odd, but hey, I guess she's a fan and wanted me to sign the album and get a picture with her and her husband. And then I started seeing her at other shows and other events, and she treated every artist with the same respect and love. A few weeks later, I received photos of our show in the mail from them.”

At the time, before cellphone cameras, Guy and Pierrette would take as many photos as they could at a show, and then have doubles printed of each one. Whichever artist was featured would be sent one set, and the other went into “the binders.”

For there is the beauty of Pierrette Madore, and then there is the beauty of the work she and Guy dedicated themselves to — simply out of passion for Franco-Ontarien culture, and especially music.

Now, 50 years later, the Madores have created the most comprehensive and lovingly created archive of contemporary Franco-Ontarien music ever known.

This is not simply setting a Google alert; this is clipping newspapers by hand — some of which no longer exist — and doing it so carefully so as to include the date and name of the publisher.

And these binders are not simply some shelved scrapbooks, but at Madore’s last estimate, between 150 and 170 five-inch binders filled with articles, photos and ticket stubs, not just the Madores’ life’s work, but that of musicians like Sudbury-born — but internationally renowned — Robert Paquette, and singer-songwriter Eric Dubeau.

You’ll find the story of the first time Dubeau met Madore familiar. It begins with Dubeau’s first foray to the big city of Ottawa from his small, very small town roots of Perkinsfield, Ontario (near Midland.) He’d won a contest and found himself performing at the National Art Centre (NAC) for the first of many times. And he was 16.

And then you hear that same story: the woman who is a heart with limbs.

“I'm walking into one of the big rooms at the NAC and about to do a bunch of interviews and meet a bunch of people, and this woman comes up to me running, like bouncing along, arms open wide, yelling ‘Eric!’ And she gives me — people will tell you this, you will hear this again and again — like tree-crushing hugs. End of the world, I will never see you again, hugs.”

He describes her giving the love of a mother whenever he met her on the road.

“At no time was she ever a stranger. It was like meeting a family member you've never encountered before.”

And for Dubeau, who in addition to being a musician is now a consultant and self-described “cultural policy wonk”, the dedicated archiving that Guy and Pierrette Madore built their lives around not only details the life of two passionate music fans and their storybook love for each other, but also a very specific and important period in Franco-Ontarien cultural history.

He believes that culture “is the most significant instrument to preserve not just cultural practice, but identity, language, cultural form. And she (Madore) had this living memory bank of every major performance from any significant Franco-Ontarien artist over the last 50 years.”

And the last 50 years has shown a great shift in Franco-Ontarien music. From traditional songs dating back to the first Francophone arrivals in Ontario, to more contemporary sounds.

“At the time that she started collecting these clippings, there was really an effervescence of artistic practice coming from the Franco-Ontarien artistic community, all disciplines, combined. So, musical theater, visual arts, publishing, was kind of exploding. And as it's happening, nobody's really taking the time to talk about the first Francophone from outside of Quebec to ever sign a record deal. She's got all that information,” Dubeau said. “From a historic, heritage, academic perspective, it's dizzying the amount of information that is there.”

For the information contained in the Madore archives could inform generations of musicians and cultural heritage groups about past successes, and history to build upon; the same way that contemporary musicians like Dubeau and Paquette have.

But for now, it stays with Guy Madore. It is too precious to him, and also contains a few lyrics that Pierrette wrote when she was feeling inspired by the music that surrounded her.

And that inspiration carries on into those who loved her. Not only the people looking to show the world the contributions she made through her life, but those wishing to send their love to her on her new journey, and sending it in the way she loved best.

Though it won’t be released for sale, keep an eye out for a new song, recorded by artists like Scott Aultman, Dan Sauvé, Serge Monette, Genevieve Toupin, Chuck Labelle, Shawn Sasyniuk, Marcel Aymar, Janie Myner, Anique Granger, Michel Paiement, Céleste Lévis, Édouard Landry, and Eric Dubeau.

Though her name will live on through her work, it will never be as powerful as the spark of her that lives in her family, and in her husband Guy. Sept. 30 would have been their 40th anniversary, one that he spent with her memory instead of her.

There are no words that will ever truly ease a loss. But if life is meant to be lived in pursuit of happiness, of love, and of a meaningful contribution to your community and the greater world around you, then Pierrette Madore lived a life so full that her legacy will live on forever — whether in the stories of the next generations, or in her dedication to heritage, to culture, and her support of all those young kids trying to make it on the road for the first time, who just needed a hug.

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Reporter at Sudbury.com, covering issues in the Black, immigrant and Francophone communities. She is also a freelance writer and voice actor. Contact her through her website, JennyLamothe.com.

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com