Sylvie is extraordinary

Sylvie worked 80 hours a week for more than two years. A day shift at the store and an evening shift at the restaurant. She then had a long career at Dollarama, but this time, there was no question of multiple jobs. A single mother, she worked to “provide for her children” and had to be there for them.

At the time, Sylvie Nadeau was living in public housing. Twenty-one years later, it still is. On the other hand, the 62-year-old woman today dedicates her daily life to volunteering. She is a member of 11 committees (11!), from the Federation of Low-Rent Housing Tenants of Quebec to the Food Carrefour and the Table for the Fight against Poverty… Sylvie invests more hours in her civic involvement than would require full-time employment. In the documentary Make communityshe also calls herself “benefolle”.

The short film focuses on the commitment of HLM residents who, like Sylvie Nadeau, strive to improve their living environment. The film takes us, for example, to the annual gathering of involved and concerted Citizen Tenants in Chaudière-Appalaches. Participants reveal the initiatives deployed in their community housing to promote the common good: coffee chats, book boxes, distribution of vegetable baskets, outings to the sugar shack, there are numerous ideas for “building community”. Above all, they are imagined and managed by those mainly concerned.

“We often see HLMs as ghettos where people who have problems gather,” laments Jean-François Vachon. By placing his camera on mobilized residents, the co-director of Make community hopes to show another side of the story.


Jean-François Vachon is co-director of the short film Build community.

We hear that HLM tenants are on social assistance, that they have no resources and that they are taken care of… But no! These are people who have skills and who are involved. There is a wealth of life experiences in HLM.

Jean-François Vachon. co-director of Make community

Sylvie Nadeau agreed to participate in the short film to unravel preconceived ideas: “I want to show that we don’t need to be afraid to ask for HLM or to be ashamed of living there! It can be very supportive and I think that we are all fighting for the same thing, deep down: so that the world can have very affordable housing. Now, affordable housing is not that affordable… Did you know that there are 38,000 households in Quebec waiting for HLM? »

I didn’t know it.

On the other hand, I knew that these environments can be a wonderful source of support. I have already written to you: I spent a good part of my childhood in an HLM1. I have experienced the contagious power of the dignity shown by tenants who lift others up.

I also wanted to show that volunteering can bring us a lot. It’s not just the weight we put on our shoulders! My family is my reason for living, but volunteering also keeps me alive. I’ll stop doing it when I stop walking.

Sylvie Nadeau

There are 67,000 HLMs in Quebec and citizen involvement has not always been valued to this extent. The construction of the first buildings dates back to 1969. For a long time, we were mainly concerned with their maintenance and management, as researcher Paul Morin points out in the book Our knowledge, our living environment: the practical knowledge of HLM family tenants. It was in 2002 that the tide changed since the Quebec government directly encouraged “housing offices” to “implement any activity of a social and community nature promoting the well-being of its clientele”.

Today, residents’ committees have access to funds to carry out projects, but nothing can be done without tenants who are organized and able to mobilize the troops. And as shown Make communityreplacements are sometimes difficult to find…

It was while working with sociologist Paul Morin, who has been directing his research towards HLM for 20 years, that Jean-François Vachon began to become interested in the subject. He also made it the heart of his doctoral studies in history. Then, he turned to documentary, convinced (like his mentor) that cultural mediation is a valuable tool when the time comes to communicate research.

And here, research tells us that it would be worth taking an interest in the citizen involvement that holds our HLMs together…


Sylvie Nadeau with Céline Fortier, also present in the film Make community

For Make communityJean-François Vachon joined forces with director Jean-Sébastien Dutil, with whom he notably signed The well-being, documentary about welfare recipients. Their cinema is designed to generate pride in those to whom they hand the microphone. Jean-Sébastien smiles as he points out that during the premiere of the film, on April 21, participants said they found themselves beautiful on the big screen. “You live in an HLM, you are a single parent, you may not achieve your aspirations… You could be defeatist,” he reflects. But not all! There is pride and it is really beautiful to see. »

It makes for a very nice film, actually.

“It’s easy to make a film when you’re an extraordinary person,” replies Jean-Sébastien. She’s the one working, you’re right there. »

And watching Sylvie Nadeau work is like receiving a vaccine against individualism.

I won’t say more because the “benefolle” is not the type to like having flowers thrown at her. She will probably disapprove of the title of this column, moreover, if I rely on this excerpt from our discussion:


Today, HLM residents’ committees have access to funds to carry out projects, but nothing can be done without tenants who are organized and able to mobilize the troops.

“I often say: ‘We are a team, we stick together, we find solutions together and no one is left out.’

— You are a great example to follow, Sylvie.

— Well, no. I’m a simple person who just wants to be happy. »

Make community will be screened at Café Baobab, in Sherbrooke, on May 21. It will also be possible to watch the short film online at the same time.

Book your ticket for the screening (in person and virtually)

1. Read the column “Tribute to my HLM”


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