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Going Back to Our Roots

Updated: May 9

Sophie Courchesne, Research Assistant, Team Canada


Growing up in the greater Montréal area, I always thought I knew the city I was born and raised in. However, my engagement with Montréal’s community organizations has showed me a different side of the city; one which I have found really inspiring. I have been really struck the by the capacity and determination of Montréal’s powerhouse civil society. Through our interviews for this project, my colleagues and I came out more profound understanding of just what civil society accomplished during the pandemic.


Of course the pandemic proved challenging, and some managed or “adapted” better than others. What I did not know (and learned more about through this research) is that Montréal’s civil society, because of its valued commitment, due diligence, and strongly established foundations, took the adaptations needed in their stride – taking a ‘business as usual’ approach.

Everything will be alright”, popularized slogan in the province of Quebec, which was translated from the original Italian one.

The adaptive capacity of these organizations, we discovered, was fueled by the pre-established practice of holding neighbourhood roundtables. They played a significant role in coordinating support to vulnerable populations. These roundtables were introduced in Montréal in 1995 with 12 roundtables – today, that number is in the 30s. They bring together a mix of representatives from schools, CLSCs (local government health agencies), the police, shops, the public, community groups, and alongside any person that provides that added insight and empowers civil society.


They come together with the sole purpose of bettering their neighbourhoods for all parties involved. These roundtables effectively demonstrate how collectives should come together to confront a crisis. Almost as soon as the pandemic hit, the pre-established practices, bonds, combined know-how, and networks kicked out into action. Through the forces of pretested mechanisms – referrals, co-developed programs, shared funding information, or even moral support – these roundtables played a crucial role in coordinating the efforts to address community needs.


Through our discussions of neighbourhood roundtables and the roles of community organizations, both within our interviews and within our own team, we are starting to better understand and piece together the importance of civil society, their established bonds and practices which make community players so crucial in contending with crises, particularly when it comes to supporting vulnerable members of society. No one knows local communities better than the people who live there and work to support them. That much has been instantly clear.


I feel privileged to be able to participate in this project, which has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my city. It’s sometimes easy with hindsight to criticize all the things that could have gone better during the pandemic. However, engaging with community organizations and learning more about the rich social fabric of my municipality helped me appreciate how much work and thought went into supporting the various communities in Montréal. It’s empowering to realize how much power individuals have in impacting their communities for the better.

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