Project rolls through the past of Dans la rue 

By Karen Herland

Matthew MacDonald hops on board the Dans la rue van for the audio tour. Magnifying glass

Matthew MacDonald hops on board the Dans la rue van for the audio tour.

Young people on the street rarely meet anyone willing to pay attention to them or listen to their stories.

Twenty years ago, Father Emmett Johns (affectionately known as Pops by the Montrealers who perennially vote him Montrealer closest to sainthood in the pages of the Mirror) and a street kid named Chloe Guilherme decided to take the time to let them know that somebody cared.

Now, Dans la rue is celebrating its two decades working with street youth with the story of how the project got off the street and into a van that tours the parks and alleys kids call home. The organization took advantage of Concordia’s participation in the International Day for Sharing Life Stories (held around the world on May 16) to present the oral history for the first time.

As reported last term (see Journal Dec. 4, 2008), when Sue Medleg at Dans la rue decided to use oral history to present the history of the organization she has worked with for nearly a decade, she contacted our Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. Working with educational technology diploma student Matthew MacDonald, she found a way to edit and deliver those stories.

Inspired by Jasmine St-Laurent and Nancy Rebelo, who used the 55 bus route as the inspiration for a history of immigration in Montreal (see Journal, June 14, 2007), Medleg and MacDonald used the original route of the Dans la rue van as their blueprint. “There was almost nobody who remembered the stops the van used to make, because of institutional turnover,” said MacDonald.

The idea was to tell stories of each of the stops interspersed with information about how Dans la rue has grown over the years. They approached Julien Peyrin, the Dans la rue music therapist, for music to bridge the stories.

“We have some of the youth who use the program singing their stories, which adds another layer to the project,” said MacDonald.

Nearly a dozen people loaded into the Dans la rue van after a full day of workshops, presentations and exhibits to mark the international event. Sessions ranged from technical tips on improving interviewing techniques to theatrical and creative presentations of testimonials.

“Last year, the centre participated. This year we opened it up to our partners in the Montreal Life Stories project,” said project coordinator Eve-Lyne Cayoutte.
Those who stuck through the day to the evening tour were rewarded with an emotional tour of the city. The project underscored what has remained constant and changed over the years.

Dans la rue itself has grown to include a day centre and a shelter. The current van is much bigger than the original. It is outfitted with a generator and serves thousands of hot dogs (regular and vegetarian) as a means of making contact with those who need it. Pops, at over 80 years old, does not ride in the vehicle much himself, but it is still staffed by volunteers who provide support, food and emergency toiletries, instead of professional services. Guilherme put herself through Concordia’s Sociology program and is now a guidance counsellor at a local high school.

The van tour will be a regular feature of volunteer training and a tool to sensitize funders and board members to the issues faced by the project.


Concordia University