Tall, handsome, with an irresistible smile and a wicked sense of humour, anyone who knew Pierre Fortier remembers him with great fondness. A retired Glendon professor of French and French-Canadian literature, Fortier died after a short illness on January 30th, 2007 at the age of 75.
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. After teaching at Saint-Boniface in Manitoba and at Laurentian University in Sudbury for a few years, he moved to Toronto in 1966 and joined Glendon’s faculty in 1967, where he taught for close to thirty years and completed several turns as chair of the French and Canadian Studies Departments. Fortier retired in 1994, but as a professor emeritus, he continued to invest his considerable 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 the very end of his life. For over twenty years, he also devoted much time and energy to the volunteer organization Centres d’accueil héritage, which assists French-speaking newcomers in getting settled in Toronto.
Fortier was passionate about history and civilization. He had published extensively, in collaboration with Clermont Trudelle - another outstanding Glendon professor of French language and French-Canadian civilization - on the history and importance of Toronto’s French population. Fortier’s strong, sonorous 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.
On May 7th, a huge crowd of his friends and admirers gathered, first in Glendon’s rose garden, and then processed to the Albert Tucker Salon to remember Fortier and celebrate his life in a style that represented him so well. There was chamber music provided by the group Musique d’Antan (‘music of yesteryear’) – a group of Glendon and York professors who played on period instruments and sang French music of the 17th century by Lully, Loeillet and others – a period loved by Fortier. And there were the testimonials: one by one, his old friends and associates paid tribute to this man who made such a difference personally, professionally, and for the entire community.
Glendon professor of French and Women’s Studies Jane Couchman was the singer of Musique D’Antan and an M.C. of the event, along with Rolande Smith, currently president of the Société d’histoire de Toronto, who spoke of Fortier as a “…special friend and colleague, an extraordinary man”. Their praise was echoed by the chair of Glendon’s French Studies Department Yvette Szmidt, who read out the witty epitaph she composed for Fortier in the style of LaFontaine. Glendon senior scholar of history, Ian Gentles remembered Fortier’s many talents, his infectious humour, love of painting and music, his superb ability as a tennis player and a natural athlete. Gentles concluded with the epithet “excébeau” - a clever combination of excellent and handsome, as the best way to describe his old friend.
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 […] a great loss.” There was his former student Carole Thibeault who affirmed that for Fortier, “…all his students were his children”.
Actor and singer Robert Godin spoke on behalf of the Théâtre français de Toronto, with many of its members present at this event. He sang a beautiful, moving tribute to his old friend, followed by journalist and translator Chaké Chilingirian of the French-language weekly, L’Express de Toronto.
Fortier’s sister, Denyse Dolbec and his niece, Claire Dolbec thanked all those present for this very moving evening of remembrance and affection for a brother and uncle who was always a joy to them, someone who challenged them with new ideas and shared with them his great erudition. The final words of thanks came from his lifelong friend and colleague, Clermont Trudelle; but at the end of the speeches no one wanted to go home. It felt so wonderful to join in remembering and feeling the presence of this man who meant so much to all of them in so many different ways.
Article submitted to Y File by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny