||October 26, 2007
Mattawa's Dr. Firmin Monestime
Thirty years ago tomorrow October 27, 1977, Mattawa's
remarkable medical doctor, Dr. Firmin Monestime, mayor and powerful personality
died at the age of 67. Recognized as Canada's first black mayor he is
remembered today for being an outstanding doctor, leader and family man.
||Dr. S.F. Monestime.
All of Mattawa's businesses and schools closed for his
funeral. The Monestime family through his Russian wife Zena and their children
were adherents of the Russian Orthodox Church and several church officials and a
church choir from Toronto and Ottawa were present. Clergy from the local Roman
Catholic, United and Anglican churches were involved. Members of Parliament,
local and regional politicians and members of the medical fraternity were
present. A large honor guard of local groups attended the funeral. The Haitian
Ambassador was present to recognize a successful native son and several Haitian
friends and relatives attended.
The Mattawa Museum has a display on his life and one on the
Russian heritage of his wife. A book on Dr. Monestime's life is in development
as is other recognition of his contribution.
Among the many achievements of Dr. Monestime is the
Algonquin Nursing Home which he founded and is a living tribute to his
leadership. His wife was administrator of the home until 2005 and their
daughter Vala is the current administrator.
||Dr. Monestime and family.
Dr. Monestime was born in Haiti in 1909 and went to school
with Dr. Duvalier who later became Haiti's infamous dictator. Dr. Monestime
specialized in rural medicine and wrote 3 books on the subject. At one point he
was the medical officer on the international route between Haiti and the other
half of that Caribbean island, the Dominican Republic. In 1937-38 the
Dominicans massacred 50,000 Haitians and Dr. Monestime was the only doctor on
duty. He was presented with the Legion of Merit by Haiti's president for his
As he became more disillusioned with life there he began to
write critical articles and radio shows. He eventually resigned from his civil
service position and looked for another country where he could practice. Since
he spoke only French he moved to Quebec City. In Quebec he began a long
struggle to have his degree updated, to learn English to get immigration status,
and to get citizenship.
In 1951 Dr. Monestime and another doctor were heading to
Timmins looking to start a practice there when they stopped in Mattawa for
lunch. That was the start of his Mattawa life because the owner of the
restaurant, a former patient, talked him into staying and supported his
In 1953 he married Zena Petschersky who had fled communist
and nazi regimes in Europe and who he met in Ottawa. They eventually had 3 sons
and a daughter. In 1956 he took a year off to do postgraduate work in
Scotland. In 1963 he ran for municipal council and won and in 1964 he ran for
mayor and won. After taking a year off for health reasons he again became Mayor
and remained so, often by acclamation, until his death. In the early 1970s he
became active in provincial Progressive Conservative politics and became a
National Director of the party and became an unsuccessful candidate for the
||Dr. Monestime display in Mattawa Museum.
In 1975 he built Mattawa's private Algonquin Nursing Home
which is highly respected in the seniors' community. Also in 1975 a provincial
township was named after him for his outstanding service to the province. In
1976 a surprise 25th anniversary party recognized his place in the community.
The one real tragedy in his Mattawa life was the shooting
death of his son Fedia in February 1977and what he considered the unjust
acquittal of the perpetrator.
I have had several conversations with people over the years
about Dr. Monestime and have been told consistently about his down-to-earth joie
de vivre, his engaging personality, his medical skills and his political
acumen. No one ever indicated that his colour was an issue. This is a credit
to him and to the people of Mattawa.
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