Glendon celebrates the life of Professor Pierre Fortier

Tall, handsome, with an irresistible smile and a wicked sense of humour, anyone who knew Professor Pierre Fortier remembers him with great fondness. A retired Glendon professor of French and French-Canadian literature, Fortier died earlier this year on Jan. 30, after a short illness, at the age of 75.

Right: Pierre Fortier

A native of Quebec, Fortier studied the classics at the Collège des Jésuites in Montreal and subsequently completed his studies at l’Université de Montréal in French literature and philosophy. He joined Glendon’s faculty in 1967, where he taught for close to 30 years and completed several turns as Chair of the French Studies and Canadian Studies Departments. Fortier retired in 1994, but, as a professor emeritus, he continued to invest his energies into promoting Toronto’s francophone community in a multitude of ways. He had co-founded the Société d’histoire de Toronto (Toronto Historical Society) with film producer Danièle Caloz in 1984, an organization in which he was active until his death. For over 20 years, he also devoted much time and energy to Centres d’accueil héritage, a volunteer organization which assists French-speaking newcomers in getting settled in Toronto. 

Passionate about history and civilization, Fortier published extensively, in collaboration with his Glendon colleague Clermont Trudelle, on the history and importance of Toronto’s French population. Fortier’s voice was well-known by thousands of listeners of numerous programs on Radio-Canada and TFO (Ontario’s French-language cultural and educational television network). He received many awards from the provincial and municipal governments for his significant contribution to the francophone community of Toronto. In 2004, the lieutenant-governor of Ontario presented him with the Prix d’excellence for senior citizens, recognizing his contribution after the age of 65 to the French community.

Above: Pierre Fortier’s colleagues, friends and admirers gathered in the Glendon rose garden to remember him

On May 7, Fortier’s colleagues, friends and admirers gathered, first in Glendon’s rose garden and then in the Albert Tucker Room in York Hall, to remember him. Chamber music was provided by the group Musique d’Antan (music of yesteryear) – a group of Glendon and York professors who play on period instruments and sing French music of the 17th century by Lully, Loeillet and others – a period loved by Fortier. And there were testimonials delivered one by one by his old friends and associates. They paid tribute to a man they felt made a difference, both personally and professionally, to the entire community.

Glendon professor of French and women’s studies Jane Couchman, a singer in Musique d’Antan, together with Rolande Smith, current president of the Société d’histoire de Toronto, acted as masters of ceremonies for the event. Smith described Fortier as a “special friend and colleague, an extraordinary man”. The praise was echoed by the chair of Glendon’s French Studies Department, Yvette Szmidt, who read a witty epitaph she composed for Fortier. Professor Ian Gentles, from Glendon’s History Department, remembered Fortier’s many talents, his infectious humour, his love of painting and music, and his ability as a natural athlete. Gentles concluded by describing Fortier with the epithet “excébeau” – a clever combination of the French words for excellent and handsome, as the best way to describe his old friend.

Right: Rolande Smith (left) and Jane Couchman

The speakers continued to line up at the microphone: Isabelle Girard of the Centre d’accueil héritage; Isabelle Routhier of Radio-Canada, who paid a moving tribute to Fortier’s importance as “an engaged and great communicator and a passionate pillar of the community.” His former student Carole Thibeault affirmed that for Fortier, “all his students were his children."

Actor and singer Robert Godin (left) spoke on behalf of Théatre français de Toronto (Toronto French Theatre), with many of its members present at the event. He sang a beautiful, moving tribute to his old friend. Following Godin’s performance, journalist and translator Chaké Chilingirian of the French-language weekly, L’Express de Toronto, paid tribute to Fortier. Fortier’s sister, Denyse Dolbec, and his niece, Claire Dolbec, thanked all those present.

The evening ended with Fortier’s lifelong friend and colleague Clermont Trudelle thanking all those who took part in the emotional and heartwarming event.

This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.