HOMAGE | Fernand Lavoie

In 1995, Les Amis des Jardins de Métis was established as a not-for-profit organization to take on the challenge of managing Les Jardins de Métis and the foundation stone of an effort to incorporate the entire community in a collective effort to support the gardens in its new direction. No surprise, the first friend of the gardens was none other than Fernand Lavoie. He had the gardens tattooed on his heart, skin and gardener’s hands. He had forked over every one of the gardens’ flowerbeds, planted hundreds of its trees and overseen the protection of this horticultural paradise for more than thirty years. In my mother tongue, there is an expression for a person who has given his or her entire life to a company or organization – a lifer. Fernand Lavoie was a lifer. He dedicated his career, indeed his life, to the gardens. We admire this dévouement.

Fernand Lavoie was the second person employed by Les Jardins de Métis after they were taken over by the government of Quebec of Jean Lesage in 1961 and opened to the public in June, 1962. Fernand learned his trade from master gardener, Wyndham Coffin, head gardener to Elsie Reford for more than three decades. Fernand was proud to be part of this garden lineage. A gifted apprentice, Fernand Lavoie rose to take on all of the roles the gardens offered, assistant gardener, gardener, head gardener and director from 1984 to 1994. In each of these positions, Fernand Lavoie demonstrated his special talents: his savoir-faire, energy, respect, engagement and leadership. He rose to the top. An exemplary worker, Fernand often confided in me that he had given everything to the gardens, “j’ai tout donné,” he repeated with pride and a hint of regret. Giving everything, all in for his employer, meant making sacrifices. It was a subtle message and also an encouragement to find the right balance.

In my last visits to Fernand in the hôpital de Mont-Joli he would call me his “grand ami” (his great friend). I was always surprised to hear these words from his mouth. I had arrived late in his life in a difficult moment in his career when his life’s work was being privatized by the government. Fernand Lavoie was from here; I came from away. He was francophone, I was anglophone. Fernand had the hands of a gardener. I had the hands of a poet. I took his place and his desk. He had reasons to be bitter or vindictive. Instead, he became an ally. On each meeting and encounter, we came to admire each other and become friends united by or love of the gardens and dedication to them. He visited often, very often. He was discreet, camera in hand. He observed with care, encouraging everyone with a tap on the back, and making a sly comment with a smile. His suggestions were disguised as questions. He was respectful, never critical, always reassuring. His comments were those of a sage. Whenever he visited, the staff at the front gate would call the office, “Fernand is in the Gardens!” – as if the Pope or the Prime Minister had just arrived. It was one of many indications to confirm the respect Fernand had earned from his staff, his colleagues at the Rotary Club in Mont-Joli and around the morning coffee table at Tim Hortons.

It was easy to like Fernand, in part because he visited with two magnificent companions – Claire Jean and his 1960 Triumph TR3A. Each one had their own magic. Everyone loved Claire: her smile and happiness were contagious. Her love of Fernand was visible, her caresses, her mindful guidance, her concern for his well-being, her minute adustments to his Tilley hat to protect his gardener’s skin, damaged by too many hours in the bright sun. Claire, we are with you in your love of Fernand and the mourning of his loss.

And of course everyone loved his TR3A. In recent years, Fernand asked us to reserve a parking spot for him and his car. We were happy to grant his request. But we had to accept that even when parked next to a bed of roses on full bloom, it was his white sportscar that was the main attraction, so polished, so clean, its motor announcing its arrival long before it passed through our gates. Fernand and Claire and the Triumph were always welcome. They are always welcome. I salute my good friend. I salute this great friend of Les Jardins de Métis. He gave his life to this place and to its development. He was proud of his achievements; he was proud of our achievements. His visits gave us energy. We will miss them.

But his bench remains. It carries his name and the positions he held, Fernand Lavoie, jardinier and directeur. It is made of teak, an exotic wood that is both hard and resistant, but soft to the touch – a bit like Fernand. His bench will be placed in the gardens when the snow leaves. I invite you to salute Fernand Lavoie on your next visit. He would be so pleased to know that he brought you to visit his gardens, the gardens embraced by an entire community.