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Volunteer remembered for her passion

Volunteer, former Gazette reporter dies at 93

By: Susan Jones

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 03, 2014 06:00 am

STRONG IN COMMUNITY – Funeral services were held Wednesday for Florence Lefebvre, a St. Albert businesswoman respected for her character and love of St. Albert and the people in it.
STRONG IN COMMUNITY – Funeral services were held Wednesday for Florence Lefebvre, a St. Albert businesswoman respected for her character and love of St. Albert and the people in it.
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Funeral services were held Wednesday for Florence Lefebvre, a St. Albert businesswoman, who with her husband Roland, owned a watch repair shop in Grandin mall and later founded Les Tournesols Playschool. She was also a reporter for the Gazette during the late 1970s and early 1980s and throughout her life in St. Albert, honoured the community’s rich French heritage. She was 93.

Florence was born in Laurier, Manitoba and lived in St. Paul, Edmonton and St. Albert. In 1962 Roland, a watchmaker, was asked to move his shop from Edmonton to set up business in Grandin mall when it opened. For the first eight months after the new shop opened, Florence commuted by bus from Edmonton with her four young children, to help Roland when needed. Once they moved into their own home in Grandin, however, Florence adopted St. Albert with a sense of joie de vivre that her family and friends all say was infectious.

“She had a wealth of knowledge about St. Albert’s history and she was a troubadour when it came to French rights and preserving French heritage,” said Eric Oddleifson, who knew Florence all his life because his family and the Lefebvres were neighbours. He also served with her as a Friends of the Musée Heritage Museum board member.

In 1984 Florence became a charter member of the Friends of the Museum and was very active in all aspects of fundraising and in preserving artifacts.

Florence was often the “idea” person when it came to planning, Oddleifson recalled.

“She was engaging and very present in the moment. She would tell stories and she was full of ideas. Not everyone has that skill,” he said, as he remembered fun activities with her, such as selling pumpkins at Grandin mall to raise funds for the museum.

She made history come alive with her writing and tried to get others to share her passion as she rolled up her sleeves to help organize big events such as the 125th anniversary of the Grey Nuns in St. Albert.

“She organized the Founders Day event for a number of years. She also wrote a play Nancy, which was in reference to one of the orphans that the Grey Nuns brought with them to St. Albert from Lac St. Anne,” said Ray Pinco, of the St. Albert Historical Society.

Like Oddleifson, Pinco remembered Florence’s advocacy on behalf of her French heritage.

“Whenever it came time for me to speak at some function, or to introduce something, she would admonish me to say a few words in French. She said in St. Albert especially, because of its French heritage, that was important, so I did. I still do it, and I remember her when I do,” Pinco said.

In a 1991 Gazette profile about her, Florence said that she had two careers: helping her husband in the watch repair shop and later as the owner of the bilingual Les Tournesols playschool, which she operated for five years during the early 1980s. After she retired and sold that playschool, she continued to tutor students in French.

Florence’s granddaughter Michelle Gatien believes her own love for her French heritage was instilled by her grandmother, when she would go with her to events at the museum.

“As a child it was about spending time with my grandmother but her gift to me was to understand the importance and the value of history to a vibrant community,” Gatien said.

Florence received many honours for her work. In 1987 she was presented with the Life Commitment Award from the Alberta Museums Association in honour of her significant contribution to the preservation of material important to Alberta’s heritage. In 1988 she was presented with the Alberta Achievement Award in the service category for her contribution to St. Albert’s history. In 2011 she was honoured with a St. Albert Community Recognition Award.

“She wasn’t very tall – just four feet 11 inches – but she was a little dynamo when it came to her love for St. Albert,” Gatien said.

Florence Lefebvre is lovingly remembered by her daughter Therese (Ron) Gatien; her son, Laurent (Suzanne); her son, Martin; and her son Leon (Nathalie); her grandchildren: Angele, Tim, Michelle, Dennis, Lindsay, Joy, Andrew and Nicholas; great-grandchildren: Karli, Sarah, Lee, Steven, Eric, Lucca and Alora and by her sisters Lucille and Therese.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that memorial donations be made to the Youville Home, 9A St. Vital Avenue, St. Albert T8N 1K1 or to the Musée Heritage Museum, 5 St. Anne Street, St. Albert, T8N 3Z9.


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