Lorraine Gallant still remembers when the seed of the idea for a community care home in the Évangéline Region of P.E.I. was planted in her mind.
She was working as a nurse at a long-term care home in Summerside in the 1970s.
One night, a woman from Mont-Carmel who didn't speak English woke up and started yelling and making noise, Gallant said.
"You could hear her talking to herself and rattling the rails of her bed," she said.
Lorraine Gallant with copies of her new book, Les débuts du Chez-Nous. (Isabelle Gallant/CBC)
Gallant was working on a different wing, but another nurse who didn't speak French called for her to come and talk to the woman.
The woman in the bed was yelling out in French, "Open the gate! Open the gate!" said Gallant. She then told Gallant the cows were out in the field and needed to be brought in.
"I said, 'OK, I'll go get them. You stay here where it's nice and quiet and I'll go get them and I'll put them in the barn.'"
After the woman calmed down and fell back asleep, Gallant's colleague told her she should build a manor in the Évangéline Region so French seniors could receive care in their own language.
"That hit me," Gallant said. "I said, 'One day, one day.'"
Book of memories
That day came in 1993 when The Coopérative Le Chez-Nous opened its doors in Wellington.
Gallant has now written a book of her memories from those early days planning for and founding the Chez-Nous, called Les débuts du Chez-Nous (The Beginnings of the Chez-Nous).
The book is co-written by Raymond J. Arsenault.
The Chez-Nous community care home in Wellington, P.E.I., has now been open for 30 years. (Isabelle Gallant/CBC)
"I wanted the memories of how we began to be known," said Gallant, one of two women who began the campaign to create a community care home in the region in the early '90s.
"It was not for glory or so people [could] say I was smart or that — it had nothing to do with me. But I wanted the memory."
Gallant and her initial partner in the campaign, Louise Arsenault, ended up recruiting several other women to join an organizing committee to get the Chez-Nous built.
"We had to go from house to house to introduce it to the people and see if they'd be willing to come," she said.
The original residence had 24 beds, so Gallant and her fellow volunteers had to show that they could fill just over half of them in order to open. They canvassed the region to gauge interest in their idea.
"So I needed 13 names. When I [came] to the meeting I had 19 names. So it was a go from the beginning," she said.
Archives survived fire
To create the book, Gallant relied on her memories and her personal archives that were stored in her room in the Chez-Nous, where she herself now lives along with 46 other residents.
Those archives survived a fire at the home in 2021.
While looking through that material, Gallant said she shed a few tears.
"You go back and you say, 'Did that really happen? Were we that positive? Were we that pushy?'" she said.
When she and the other women started planning the home, she hoped her mother would live there, but she died before the idea became a reality.
Despite that disappointment, Gallant said there are other memories that sustain her, like a man from Cap-Egmont who didn't want to leave his home to move in at first, but was eventually convinced.
He later thanked Gallant for persuading him.
"He grabbed me by the hands and he says, 'I want to thank you for coming to get me,'" she said.
"He said, 'I'm so comfortable here … I just love it.'"