Community group affiliates with Concordia to record history 

By Wendy Smith

Twenty years ago, homeless youth outreach organization Le Bon Dieu Dans la rue consisted of one priest, one volunteer and one beat-up Winnebago. Father Emmett Johns, later joined by a woman named Chloe, trundled through Montreal’s streets, dishing out hot dogs and a side of compassion to the kids they met along the way.

Now, the venerable institution is one of Montreal’s highest-profile charities, with 65 employees and 145 volunteers, an emergency shelter, and a day centre providing a wide range of educational and integration programs.

As Dans la rue gears up to celebrate its 20th anniversary this month, Concordia’s oral history lab is helping the organization tell its stories.

Before embarking on a partnership with Concordia, Dans la rue development coordinator Sue Medleg didn’t know much about oral history. But she did know that she gets goosebumps when she listens to Johns, 80, recount those early van trips.

“It’s a rich history, That’s what we want to share. It’s a wonderful way to fête those who weren’t acknowledged before the 20th anniversary – people like Chloe, the first employee, who was so important to establishing the organization.”

Medleg had originally approached the McCord Museum for help, who then pointed her toward Concordia’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. Educational Tech-nology diploma student Matthew MacDonald, who also holds a BA in History from Concordia, is assisting Medleg with the nuts and bolts of the project.

“They basically said to me, ‘We’ve got all our stuff but we don’t know what to do with it,’” said Macdonald. With his experience as a volunteer on the Life Stories project (see Journal, Oct. 25, 2007), he was able to sort through the archives of cassettes, begin to develop a storyboard, and start interviewing and digitizing.

“I’m following his lead,” said Medleg. “We want to capture the essence of Dans la rue, and [the oral history lab] has a structure and a format for me to do that. It’s a real gift to the organization. I think it’s inspiring.”

The Concordia collaboration is nothing new to Dans la rue — the university has supported the organization in many ways over the past two decades. For seven years, the “Concordia Dans la rue” course has been pairing up design and computation arts students with young people at the Dans la rue school. Last March, three business students raised over $38 000 for the charity, while the Empty Bowls Project and annual CASA Cares fashion show have succeeded in raking in thousands of dollars annually. In 1997, Concordia awarded an honorary doctorate to Father Johns.

“The support from Concordia has been amazing,” Medleg said. “The university has always been very important. It’s one of our major supporters.”

Dans la rue will unveil its series of commemorative events next week during a press conference. For more information, visit


Concordia University