Founded in 1973, the Women's Centre of Montréal was at its outset a mere information and referral centre for women. Concerned with the changing and specific needs of the Montréal area female population, it developed over the years a variety of services and broadened the scope of its activities to respond as effectively as possible to the specific and everchanging needs of Quebec-born women and women of cultural communities.
One of the initial women’s groups to settle in Montréal, the Women's Centre of Montréal has grown and evolved over the years to become what it is today, an exclusive resource towards which more than half a million women have turned, to empower themselves with the tools necessary to achieve self-sufficiency and lead productive and fulfilling lives.
In its role as pioneer, this grass-roots organization continues year after year to make a significant difference in the lives of thousands of Montréal women and their families, its status being recognized at the local, provincial, national and even international level.
Awards & Honors
2012: On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of employment of Johanne Bélisle, Executive director, making her the most senior permanent staff member in the history of the Centre. In honour of this occasion she received the medal of the National Assembly of Quebec from Mr. Jacques Chagnon, MNA for Westmount Saint-Louis and President of the National Assembly of Quebec.
2006: Johanne Bélisle, executive director, received the Prix Gilles Cousineau, awarded to an employee of an organization funded by Centraide who demonstrates outstanding social commitment and involvement and exceptional quality in his/her work.
2005: Mention orange, Prix Orange, awarded to the Foundation of the Women’s Centre of Montréal and the Nomade firm by “Save Montréal”, an organization devoted to safeguarding Montréal’s heritage, for the attention given to architectural detail during the work carried out on the over 150 years old Centre building.
2001: Johanne Bélisle, executive director, received the award prix Catégorie Cadre ou professionnelle, non-profit organizations on October 17, 2001 in the category Quebec Business Women awarded by the Réseau des femmes d'affaires du Québec.
1998: Johanne Bélisle, executive director, was awarded the Helen Prize , an international award recognizing the accomplishments of women.
1997: Prix de la relève was awarded to Johanne Bélisle, executive director, at the 30th edition of the Salon des femmes in the category “community involvement”.
1996: The Centre received the Agnès C. Higgins Prize from Centraide for its innovative and progressive approaches.
1994:The minister of Health and Social Services of Quebec awarded the Centre the Prix Persillier-Lachapelle, honourable mention in the category “community organizations who support our more vulnerable citizens”.
1994: The Centre received a Prix du rapprochement interculturel mention of honour from the minister of International Affairs, Immigration and Cultural Communities of Quebec.
1993: Francine Grégoire, Optionelle’s coordinator, received the CIAFO award from the Conseil d'intervention pour l'accès des femmes au travail (CIAF) for her contribution to the advancement of immigrant women in the area of employment.
1991: Mona Forrest, founder of the Centre received a Civic Merit Awardfrom Multiculturism and Citizenship, Canada and the same year she received the Citizen Merit Award for her commitment to the community.
Centre & Premises
Since its construction in 1857, many members of the Montréal bourgeoisie have lived in this house, among them, the Honourable Trefflé Berthiaume one of the early owners of the “La Presse” newspaper and Mr. Joseph Odilon Dupuis, owner of the «Dupuis et frères» store. As well, Victor Morin, the famous author of «Procédure des assemblées délibérantes», better known as the “Code Morin”, acquired it in 1911 and lived there for 40 years with his large family.
In 1950, Ste-Jeanne d’Arc Hospital, facing the house, bought it back and transformed it, along with the neighbouring building, into a school and residence for future nurses of the Hospital. With the school closure in 1970 and the creation of CEGEPs, the buildings at 3585 and 3595 St-Urbain were emptied and abandoned.
Four years later, the Women’s Information and Referral Centre of Montréal (WIRC), which later became the Women’s Centre of Montréal, took up residence in the premises at 3595. A while later, the Hospital decided to demolish both buildings to build parking spaces. To demolish the house of Victor Morin, who was a precursor of the groups devoted to the defence of Montréal’s urban patrimony was simply scandalous, according to the founders of the Centre, Mona Forrest and Jacquie Manthorne.
The Centre mobilized and raised public opinion. Not long after, the house at 3595 was devastated by arson. The Centre then decided to « move » into the building located at 3585 St-Urbain and a long legal battle ensued.
While the Centre was fighting to save the St-Urbain Street buildings, the whole neighbourhood was at the centre of one of the greatest urban battles that Montréal has known, that of the Milton-Parc community.
Finally, in 1976, the Superior Court of Quebec issued its judgment, which quashed the notice of expulsion that the Hospital had sent to the Centre.
The house was in a sorry state: flooding, electrical problems, burglary, vandalism and arson had thoroughly disfigured it.
In 1978, the « Société d’Habitation du Québec » bought the building from the Hospital and resold it to the Centre on August 8, 1983 for $52,000.
In 1984, as a result of a fundraising campaign under the honorary presidency of Jacqueline Vézina, the Centre raised $500,000 as part of Phase I of its campaign, which served as a basic fund for the construction of a new 9,000 square feet wing at the back of the building.
Ten years later, despite this expansion, the original house dating from 1857 was showing obvious signs of aging and had become too small to meet the current and future needs of the Women’s Centre of Montréal.
In order to ensure its own survival, the Centre had to renovate the old portion of the building dating back 140 years and construct a second addition to 3585 Saint-Urbain Street.
Thanks to the perseverance of its executive director, Johanne Bélisle, who had been cherishing this big dream since her appointment in 1994, in 2002, the Women’s Centre of Montréal Foundation undertook a targeted fundraising campaign under the co-presidency of Christiane Bergevin, president, SNC-Lavalin Capital Inc. and Diane Veilleux, of the Affinity Market Group at TD Meloche Monnex. As a result of the combined efforts of the co-presidents, the members of the campaign cabinet, the Quebec Government, the corporate sector, various family foundations and certain individuals, this campaign raised the $3,500,000 necessary to carry out the expansion and renovation work at 3585 St-Urbain Street.
This work also earned the Women’s Centre of Montréal and the Nomade firm a mention as part of the Prix Orange, awarded by Save Montréal, for the particular attention given to architectural considerations.
In June 2005, the Women’s Centre of Montréal team reclaimed “ITS” Centre, now more spacious and entirely renovated, which will allow it to implement its one stop multiservices program to provide women and families with the services they need, in a global approach perspective and all at a single location.