Tribute to Francine Lelièvre
December 15th, 2020

A life dedicated to highlighting heritage

A life dedicated to highlighting heritage

Francine Lelièvre has dedicated her life to preserving and highlighting heritage. She transformed Pointe-à-Callière, to which she now bids a fond farewell after 30 years, into a true gem as Montréal’s largest history museum, Canada’s only major archeological museum and a world-class institution. She discusses her journey and lets us in on some of the Museum’s secrets.

Q. You began working on the Pointe-à-Callière project in 1989, when you conducted the feasibility study that would lead to the Museum’s creation in 1992. On April 4th of that year, a small aircraft carrying six passengers crashed on Mont Saint-Joseph in Gaspésie. One person died, and you were among the five survivors. Where did you find the strength to take up the challenge to found and build Pointe-à-Callière following such a tragic event?

A. I had so many projects to deliver that year, so I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself. In the few months that the governments took to finally agree to the project, I had time to recover after the accident.

I was hospitalized for a long period. I had seven fractures and was immobilized, but I’ve always felt very fortunate to have survived. Life gave me a second chance, like extra time that makes every new day a gift. I had always lived life to the absolute fullest, and I remember thinking that I’d try to live a more balanced life once I recovered. But as soon as a I was better, I was back to my old self. I understood then that we remain ourselves despite life’s events from which, of course, we grow. We always measure ourselves by the obstacles we face. I also learned that human relationships become essential in difficult situations. You don’t question anything, you just lend a hand. After that, I think I became more inclined to take risks and follow my instincts.

We were all seriously injured, and our tiny group survived in the snowy forest for 24 hours as we waited for help to arrive because we were able to handle the accident like we’d manage a project. The report by Transport Canada investigators clearly stated that we had no chance of surviving: the crash site was unknown, the overcast skies made it impossible to launch a search, the weather was snowy and cold, there were wild animals and we had all sustained serious injuries. But we survived because everyone was so courageous and we made the right decisions. That’s how I came to understand how enormously valuable project-based management could be.

Q. Is Pointe-à-Callière still in line with the vision you had for the Museum when you built it?

A. The vision around which the Museum was built still stands today, although it has evolved. It was rooted in authenticity and the priority granted to historical and archaeological sites to showcase their remains. Any intervention affecting the remains had to be visible and reversible. We also had a vision to create a multidisciplinary museum that reflects society—an archaeology and history museum, of course, but also one that considers urban planning, sociology and anthropology.

Our architectural program required that we respect every period in Montréal’s history. That meant any new building had to be of its own time. The Éperon, our main pavilion, truly reflects this. We chose to feature the people who dreamed and built Montréal in a contemporary showcase and through new technologies. Finally, we chose to present the history of Montréal through a human approach.

Q. What broad management principles influenced your leadership?

A. In my 13 years at Parks Canada, where I worked to develop historical sites and national parks, I was trained by engineers who specialized in project management—a method that was uncommon in the cultural sector. I also relied on management by objectives, and, still today, our management committee meets weekly to facilitate teamwork. Each person shares her or his point of view on the projects and developments in all the Museum’s sectors. In addition, I look to participative management, which seeks a range of outlooks that help enrich the product and decisions.

Equity, creativity, rigour, commitment and product and service excellence are the values that guided my leadership. I also asserted my leadership in development by taking calculated risks, which, I believe, enabled the Museum to stand out through the high-quality accomplishments that stemmed from the efforts invested by all its teams.

Current and past Pointe-à-Callière employees, summer 2017.
Photo: NH Photographes

Q. Which successes are you most proud of?

A. First and foremost, I must mention the birthplace of Montréal—the major historical find we made when we uncovered the remains of Fort Ville-Marie, the first French settlement of the women and men who founded the city. In 2017, we inaugurated a new pavilion to showcase the discovery made as part of the work carried out in partnership with Université de Montréal by the Pointe-à-Callière Archaeological Field School, which I helped create.

We also met the bold challenge to welcome 500 000 visitors, including some 100 000 young people, annually. I am very pleased to have made Pointe-à-Callière an intergenerational museum visited by 60% of Montrealers. In terms of our international exhibitions, it was truly rewarding to bring exceptional collections from our human heritage, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as rare pieces from prehistoric Japan, the Etruscans and Egypt and spectacular compendiums from ancient Greece. Finally, judging from the awards and prizes it has received, the Museum has gained much recognition from its peers that has reflected on all its teams for the past 30 years.

Q. Why should Montrealers, the city of Montréal and the Museum’s partners and donors continue to support Pointe-à-Callière?

A. Because Pointe-à-Callière is a museum with a purpose owing to the authenticity of the historical sites that it comprises. It’s unlike any other museum; it embodies the essence of the city and is specific and distinctive. It houses all of Montréal’s history in one place.

If Montrealers have developed a strong sense of belonging to the Museum, it’s because this world-class institution contributes to their pride. Indeed, it’s the only site that conveys their past to better understand the present. The Museum puts the city on the map and has real economic value.

To continue to grow, Pointe-à-Callière needs public and private support. The Museum receives funding from the city of Montréal but no public operating funds from Québec, unlike some 400 other museums across the province, and we must continue to support it. I know I certainly will.

Queens of Egypt exhibition
Photo: Caroline Thibault
Queens of Egypt exhibition
Photo: Caroline Thibault

Tributes to Francine Lelièvre

Testimonies of respect and admiration

As your retirement approaches, now is the time to celebrate your extraordinary career, which has literally marked the history of Montréal. In 1992, the year of Montréal’s 350th anniversary, you founded the museum at Pointe-à-Callière. Since then, the institution has become one of the city’s quintessential destinations. From the young to the young at heart, countless children, families and visitors have discovered the history of Montréal and some of its best kept secrets thanks to your vision. And because your passion never waned, 25 years later, in 2017, you gave us the Archaeology and History Complex—an innovative link between a dozen heritage and historical sites. Your contribution to the history of Montréal and its dissemination is invaluable, and your career evokes admiration and respect. Your departure will certainly leave a great void, but I am convinced your love of Montréal will continue to be passed on from generation to generation. Enjoy your retirement, Madame Lelièvre!

Valérie Plante, Mayor of Montréal

As the chair of the board of directors of Pointe-à-Callière and on my own behalf, I would like to sincerely thank Francine Lelièvre for dedicating the past 28 years to the Museum’s success. She is the heart and soul of Pointe-à-Callière. With her teams, Francine made the Museum one of which Montrealers can be proud. Thanks to her, the institution’s future is bright. We will miss you, Francine. Happy retirement!

Daniel Desjardins Ad. E., Ad. E., Bombardier Transport
Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière since 2019

Pointe-à-Callière’s renown and reputation are not a matter of chance but rather the reflection of Francine’s vision. As a cultural entrepreneur, she dedicated 30 years of her career to preserving our local heritage and the memory of our society. As a Montrealer and the chair of the board of directors of the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation, I would like to thank you, Francine, for your passion for helping us understand and appreciate the history of Montréal.

Robert Dumas, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sun Life Québec
Chair of the Board of Directors of the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation since 2016

Francine Lelièvre is a tireless builder who has given the city a gem of a museum.

Sophie Brochu, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hydro-Québec
Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière from 2008 to 2012

Sharing the same determination to preserve and showcase our cultural and historical heritage, Québecor had the immense privilege of collaborating with Francine Lelièvre over the past few years. We are proud to have worked alongside her as partners to develop and inaugurate Fort Ville-Marie—a major project that constitutes a considerable asset for our society and future generations. On the occasion of Francine’s retirement, we want to recognize her significant contribution, which has made Pointe-à-Callière the leading cultural institution it is today!

Pierre Karl Péladeau, President and Chief Executive Officer, Québecor

Long before the success of Pointe-à-Callière, there was an iron-willed, tremendously curious woman with a vibrant spirit and seemingly boundless energy who built an impressive career marked by such a broad range of achievements. From the sometimes unruly girl from Gaspésie to the founder and director of Pointe-à-Callière, Francine Lelièvre has always been driven by the passion to develop, launch and spearhead major initiatives. She is among the very few individuals who can say they have always followed their instincts toward what rings truest. Thank you for the inspiration!

Laurent Lapierre, CM, PhD (McGill), emeritus professor, HEC Montréal
Chair, Pierre-Péladeau Chair of Leadership

Hers is a life dedicated to Pointe-à-Callière’s creation, development and international reach. I would like to pay tribute to Francine Lelièvre, the soul of this Museum, and recognize her vision, tireless commitment and admirable passion for history, art, culture and the people who keep them alive. The Museum, Montréal and all the communities that make up the wealth of the city and Québec owe her a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Francine. It has been a privilege to work with you.

Jean-Yves Leblanc, corporate director
Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière from 2002 to 2008

Louis-Hector de Callière would have had a soft spot for Francine Lelièvre, who founded Pointe-à-Callière on the site on which his home once stood. He would have admired her boldness, determination, vision and energy to create a prestigious and welcoming educational site that crystallizes the key moments in our history for Montrealers and the tourists who visit us. What is more, Francine Lelièvre did it all out of her love for Montréal, commitment to history and archaeology and support for culture. Working with her was a great pleasure and most enriching experience, since Francine meets challenges with expertise, strategy and passion. Pointe-à-Callière is her legacy, and we must all be grateful. We must also continue to support the Museum’s development and uphold the values Francine has imparted. Thank you, Francine!

Jacques Parisien
Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière from 2012 to 2014

From the earliest days of my professional career, I have always given of my time in Montréal, and I consider myself very lucky to have been part of the team led by Francine that brought about the emergence of the new Museum. In 1996, I was a member of the institution’s board of directors, and several years later, chaired that very same board of directors with, of course, Francine still at the helm! I must admit I learned a great deal from Francine’s wisdom, judgment and actions, and this is why I would like to thank her personally and wish her a wonderful and well-deserved retirement. I am proud of Francine. It all started here, with her!

Andrew Molson, Chairman, AVENIR GLOBAL
Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière from 2014 to 2019

Some sports leagues have a hall of fame to honour the athletes, coaches and builders who indelibly changed their sport through their achievements and contributions. In the Museum’s hall of fame, Francine Lelièvre would most certainly be inducted as a builder. Through her hard work and unwavering confidence and energy, she led the founding and development of the Museum we know today. Francine, Pointe-à-Callière is forever indebted to you.

John LeBoutillier, Chair of the Board of Directors, Groupe Deschênes inc. Chair of the Board of Directors of the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation from 1994 to 2001

I congratulate Francine Lelièvre for having demonstrated exemplary leadership and passion in her 30 years at the helm of Pointe-à-Callière. Francine’s vision to make Pointe-à-Callière an important Canadian and international archaeological and historical museum became a reality because she would not accept anything less. It had to succeed, and Francine made it succeed. Many thanks for sharing this passion with all Montrealers and Quebecers.

Russell Goodman
Chair of the Board of Directors of the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation from 2011 to 2015

Francine Lelièvre is among Montréal’s leading figures. Immensely talented, perseverant and resilient, she built the Archaeology and History Complex. I met Francine when this amazing adventure was just getting underway. The first segment of the Museum started with the desilting of the historical site and discovery of the remains of the foundations of the Royal Insurance Building and first dwellings on which the new edifice was erected. This major feat of urban, architectural and structural integration was led with the great engineer Jacques Chartrand and his colleague Franz Knoll, who worked with us to devise a structure that would protect the archaeological remains on this founding site. Francine Lelièvre, who has a passion for contemporary architecture, encouraged and supported the architectural design—a collaboration with my colleague the late Dan Hanganu—even in its initial sketches. She has always understood the importance of creating architecture of its time through exceptional interventions of the highest quality. She established one of the best archaeology museums in North America and the world. She has left her mark and conveyed her passion to the community and to the many politicians who supported her ambitions for Montréal. Thank you for the tremendous legacy you have given Montréal.

Claude Provencher, Senior Partner, Provencher_Roy

In French, le lièvre is the hare, as in the “The Tortoise and the Hare”, and Francine Lelièvre is a fable, even an epic, in and of herself. It is perhaps from the hare that she gets the mental quickness with which she designed and carried out the mandates she set for herself. The swiftness with which acted and reacted to the inevitable ebbs and flows of museum management matches the hare’s pace. But from the tortoise, Francine gets the patient persistence, formidable tenacity and smooth perseverance that brought her projects—from the most elementary to the most multifaceted—to life. Indeed, Francine always found a way to reconcile these two extremes, the tortoise and the hare.

Laurent Blanchard, Interim Mayor of Montréal, 2013

I would like to offer you my sincere congratulations for all you have achieved over the past 30 years at Pointe-à-Callière. I came to know your passion, commitment and dedication to the institution’s mission when I had the pleasure of cochairing the Cité en devenir fundraising campaign led by the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation. Through the years, you have made Pointe-à-Callière a museum and tourism complex like no other with a mission to preserve and showcase an exceptional cluster of major historical sites and buildings in Montréal. Congratulations and enjoy your retirement!

Louis Vachon, Chief Executive Officer, National Bank of Canada
Cochair of the Cité en devenir fundraising campaign led by the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation

It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of Pointe-à-Callière without thinking of you. The impact of your contribution to our Museum’s renown is felt everywhere. The list of major successes you have achieved thanks to the tireless efforts and tenacity you have always shown is truly impressive. You pass on a leading institution that will contribute to Montréal’s vitality and culture for decades to come. It was a great privilege to work with you. Thank you for everything.

David McAusland, Ad. E, F.ICD, Counsel, McCarthy Tétrault LLP Cochair of the Cité en devenir fundraising campaign led by the Pointe-à-Callière Foundation

We have come such a long way since 1992! I have very vivid recollections of my meeting with Jean Doré, who asked me to chair the board of directors of Pointe-à-Callière. He assured me the Museum was in good hands, adding that Madame Lelièvre had been mandated to lead its creation and expansion. My greatest concern was working with dreamers who couldn’t keep both feet on the ground and all that comes with that, especially from a business perspective, but, in just a few weeks, I knew that wouldn’t be the case. On the contrary, while the dream was front and centre, so was reality. Those three years were so enriching. I learned a great deal under the aegis of the excellent Professor Lelièvre, who was such a visionary. To the tributes that describe you as a bold, passionate and determined woman who strives for quality, I would like to add a character trait, which, I believe is essential to succeed at the highest levels: the ability to deliver on promises while still playing by the rules. The journey we’ve travelled since 1992 is immense, and you have been our pathfinder along the way.

Jacques Allard Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière from 1993 to 1995

Congratulations on the remarkable achievement that is Pointe-à-Callière. It was a pleasure and honour to be part of such a dynamic team from the very start, in 1992, and share those years with you. It was such a stimulating and enriching experience. Congratulations on this great success, which is a true testament to your vision, great talent, skill, innovation, audacity and inspiring leadership. I appreciated your trust and the importance you attached to the Museum’s communications. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!

Francine Bouchard, first director of marketing and communications at Pointe-à-Callière

First and foremost, Francine Lelièvre is a woman of passion and commitment. With nerve and determination, she created a leading museum, built a major complex and conferred a clear identity upon one of our city’s historical districts. Supported by a strong team and seasoned experts, she led major research projects and helped advance and disseminate archeological knowledge in Québec and around the world. Her rigour and creativity made Pointe-à-Callière a key partner and agent of change within national and international networks. Her legacy is invaluable, and, if the past is any indication of the future, she will surely continue to surprise us!

Claude Benoit, museologist

The work that Francine and her teams have undertaken over the past 30 years is masterful. From a municipal museum, Pointe-à-Callière has become one of North America’s leading archaeology and history complexes. It is the very heart of Montréal and drives cultural, urban and tourist development. The best way to honour her is to pursue her work and complete the Cité. Montréal explained to children, Montréal the capital of United Canada, Montréal and the Grey Nuns: there is no shortage of projects! Thank you, Francine, for giving our city a little more soul and meaning.

Jean-Robert Choquet, Chief of Staff of Mayor Jean Doré (1986–1994) and Director, Service de la culture de la Ville de Montréal (2004–2016)

I met Francine Lelièvre in 1965, when we were history students at Université de Montréal. I especially witnessed her at work at Pointe-à-Callière since 1990. I had the opportunity to appreciate the drive and leadership of this exceptional woman, whose work ethic is extraordinary. I was among the fortunate ones who saw firsthand her determination to mobilize forces for her museum, from its creation to its ongoing development. We must credit her with the institution’s outstanding reputation and all the recognition it has earned in Montréal and abroad.

Paul-André Linteau, historian and emeritus professor at UQAM

I am among those who have had the privilege of working with Francine Lelièvre since here first days at the helm of Pointe-à-Callière. For us architects, Francine is the embodiment great rigour and, more than anything, of the visionary acuity that is essential to the Museum’s major projects. With her, ongoing dialogue and discussions have always enabled initiatives to evolve beyond their initial phase. She was attentive and listened to our concerns carefully and with understanding. Thank you, Francine, for your tireless conviction and the sharp vision that brought an exemplary archaeology and history complex to the heart of Old Montréal.

Gilles Prud’homme, architect, EVOQ Architecture

It was such a pleasure to get to know and collaborate with Francine on the events to mark Montréal’s 375th anniversary. She is a woman of vision and ambition who is deeply devoted to our city, and she guided us with her expertise and historical knowledge. Francine, what you have built at Pointe-à-Callière and your commitment to broadening our city’s reach are a tremendous legacy for Montrealers. Let’s hope that future generations find inspiration in your achievements and vision, which we still need. A heartfelt thank you for the support you have given me and indeed all of us Montrealers.

France Chrétien Desmarais, former Chair of the Société des célébrations du 375e anniversaire de Montréal

On the eve of your well-deserved retirement after 30 years spent preserving and breathing new life into the history of Montréal through exceptional exhibitions, I would like to highlight the exemplary collaboration that unites our two organizations, the neighbours that are the Port of Montréal and Pointe-à-Callière. Your extensive expertise and deep love for the city’s history, including its port history, were the topic of many discussions at our business lunches, and I will not soon forget all the fond and precious memories! I wish you many surprises and quality time with those who mean the most to you in this new chapter of your life.

Sylvie Vachon, President and Chief Executive Officer, Montréal Port Authority

We began our decade-long collaboration back in fall 2009. I spent many happy years in the company of an exceptional woman in whom I discovered rare tenacity, resilience and generosity. In addition to her great professional achievements is the national and international recognition she has garnered. More than once, I told her how she attained amazing success in the smallest spaces in the greatest museums. She has earned a doctorate in heritage and made Pointe-à-Callière a great ship, as she herself would say.

Gérald Grandmont, associate professor, HEC Montréal

In 1992, Francine Lelièvre took a leap of faith and chose archeology as the best way to experience the history of Montréal. At Pointe-à-Callière, Montrealers were fascinated to discover the treasures buried underground on the very sites from which our city emerged. Nearly 30 years later, millions of visitors from here and abroad can testify to the accuracy of her vision.

Nicole Beaudoin, Chair, J. Armand Bombardier Foundation

I met Francine in the late 1980s. As the executive director of the Société immobilière du patrimoine architectural de Montréal (SIMPA), which was the project owner of the future museum, I was looking for an administrator to lead this key initiative to mark the 350th anniversary of Montréal. I had the opportunity to appreciate Francine’s dedication and determination as a project manager and as the museum’s first director. The circumstances were such that, just a few months before the building was delivered, the city asked SIMPA to oversee the institution’s development for at least a year. I could not have chosen anyone other than Francine, who had been such a brilliant project leader and possessed in-depth knowledge of the museum’s contents and envelope. Indeed, who else could have completed the assignment? A few months before the museum’s opening on May 17, 1992, I asked Francine for the impossible: to complete an immensely complex project in record time and assemble a team to manage the museum and its businesses—the boutique and restaurant. And her salary? Lower than what she earned as a project manager! Francine eagerly took up the challenge. These events illustrate how she truly embodies the spirit of the Museum and remains indissociable from its history. She leaves behind a great achievement and historical legacy for Montréal. She supported the Museum with such passion. Francine Lelièvre cannot be separated from the history of Pointe-à-Callière, to which she dedicated most of her career.

Clément Demers, architect and urban planner, former Executive Director of SIMPA

Francine Lelièvre leaves Pointe-à-Callière after leading it since its inception. In 1989, SIMPA hired her as a project manager to outline its content with Sylvie Dufresne so that architect Dan Hanganu could design and build the Museum. It was a daring challenge, since Pointe-à-Callière’s opening would officially launch the events to mark the 350th anniversary of the founding of Montréal on May 17, 1992. Francine came through with flying colours! As a steadfast, ambitious, hard-working and visionary executive director, she and her team led the Museum to international acclaim. Thank you for your dedication.

Florence Junca Adenot, former Chair of the Board of Directors, SIMPA

Under Francine Lelièvre’s leadership, Pointe-à-Callière moved beyond its founding mission. It generated a love for the history of Montréal and ties with museums abroad to showcase international exhibitions. Francine transformed the Museum into a world-class cultural and tourist destination while turning the spotlight on Montréal’s heritage. As chair of the Museum’s board of directors, I had the pleasure of seeing this visionary in action. She cultivated appreciation for the relatively unknown field of archaeology, and her bold exhibitions attracted young visitors and members of cultural communities. Francine possesses the traits of a true leader: agility, determination, solid communication skills, humility and empathy. She is a woman of development. Francine has preserved a unique site in our cultural heritage for future generations.

Monette Malewski
Chair of the Board of Directors of Pointe-à-Callière from 1998 to 2002

Francine Lelièvre, retired? Unthinkable! For the past 30 years, the history of Montréal has been tightly knit by one of our city’s tireless builders, a woman driven by actions and projects with a dual passion for her city and its history. There is no way to resist or refuse Francine. Indeed, her rigour, vibrancy and persuasive power know no limit. Her willingness to take action and leave the traces of centuries past on this new territory of Montréal have earned her far more than the admiration and respect of her partners, including Tourisme Montréal.

Our Pointe-à-Callière museum, the pride of Montrealers, is a municipal museum that hosts thousands of visitors every year. With Francine at the helm, the Museum quickly proved its value and became the standard-bearer for our history and place in the world. Each of Francine’s projects are a source of pride—the Mariners’ House, Memory Collector and exhibitions that are doors onto the world. I must also mention the many awards that Francine has received, including the 1994 Prix du tourisme Québécois and 2012 Prix Ulysse, which attest to her vision. Francine, retired? I doubt she will forget us, and I know we certainly won’t forget her. Thank you for all you’ve done, Madame Lelièvre!

Yves Lalumière, President and Chief Executive Officer, Tourisme Montréal

I want to say how much I admire all you have accomplished for Montréal since taking the leadership of Pointe-à-Callière after contributing to its creation. Among your many achievements, you renewed the concept of a history museum by transforming it into a popular, learned, pedagogical, fun, democratic, innovative and international space to encounter different cultures and a vastly popular institution visited by broad audiences. More than anything, you have made it a shared place of memory for Montrealers. You can certainly be proud of the legacy you leave for citizens. In short, you have shown vision and foresight for museums and museology.

Yves Bergeron, Chaire sur la gouvernance des musées et le droit de la culture at UQAM