Where Rivers Meet: The Story of Dr. S. F. Monestime Canada's First Black Mayor

By Doug Mackey
80 pages/8.5 x 11/Over 180 photographs

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When two diverse and distinct cultures meet in Mattawa in the 1950s it makes for an improbable story. Read about a remarkable Black doctor from the Caribbean nation of Haiti and an attractive Russian woman from wartorn Europe and their struggle to find their place in a multicultural Canada. Will integrity and hard work be enough to overcome the odds and make for a meaningful life? Read this powerful and moving story that unfolds where the Ottawa and Mattawa Rivers meet.

This book is a chronological history of the Monestime family from their places of birth to the present day. In the case of Dr. Monestime, it covers his life from his Haitian birth on December 16, 1909 through 100 years including his children and grandchildren, to the present day.  

This book is the story of a man, who was a doctor for forty years, including successful careers in Haiti and Canada, two long periods of medical training, thousands of operations as a surgeon, and many births as a doctor; he could be remembered for this alone. 

But the story is much more than that, when you add his widely recognized remarkable political career as Canada’s, if not North America’s, first Black mayor. The legacy of his achievements for the people of Mattawa and beyond has made him something of a legend.

Excerpt from Chapter One: Mattawa

In the summer of 1951 Dr. Monestime, a recently Canadian certified MD and his colleague Dr. G. Lamontagne heard about openings for doctors in Timmins and decided to drive there from Ottawa to look the situation over. At noon on the trip, as they approached the beautiful town of Mattawa, they looked for a place to stop for lunch. As they entered Main Street, the Chez Francois restaurant caught their eye and they stopped. “I didn’t intend to come here,“ Dr. Monestime recalled years later….

In 1951 Dr. J.A. Bergeron, one of Mattawa’s two doctors, died after 27 years of service. The records show that at least three doctors visited briefly as a possible replacement—none stayed.

The story of what happened next when our two doctors driving from Ottawa entered the Chez Francois restaurant on Mattawa’s Main Street is local legend. Dr. Saint Firmin Monestime, a Black doctor from the Caribbean nation of Haiti, later recalled: “When I sat down I saw the manager look at me in surprise and I thought he didn’t want me in his restaurant. This part of the country wasn’t too familiar with negroes.”

Dr. Monestime’s experiences with prejudice in his home country of Haiti and in the U.S. had made him unsure of what reception he would receive in Northern Ontario.


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