Citizens
Portraits of Canadian Women of African Descent
  CITIZENS...
  CURATOR'S
THOUGHTS
  PHOTOGRAPHER'S THOUGHTS
  TESTIMONIES
  RESOURCES-CREDITS
Elisabeth Houndegla
Extrait sonore

The End of the Sewing Workshop
THE END OF THE SEWING WORKSHOP

"I shared so many things with these women, in this sewing workshop .Women who often came in demoralized, defeated, but who, in the end, left with something .They gave me so much. so much.I also learned a lot from them. They gave of their deepest selves. that's something money can't buy. It hurts me now to see this room empty.we worked so hard. But we're involved in other projects.always helping women."

Élisabeth Houndegla

I wanted to explore the world. It was the ideal age to leave, to break some of the ties with parents, to seek one's destiny. . . . They believe in that very much at home. When children say "I want to go see," they let them explore. But they also told me, "You know what you are leaving, but you don't know the place to which you're going. If you make a mistake, you can always come back." That helped me a great deal. It is what I repeat to my children today. That was in 1971.

My life as an adolescent ended here. I made my life as a woman here. My life as a mother is here. My home is Quebec. One day I asked my son, "Where is your home?" He replied, "You always say that where you tie up the goat is where she grazes. My home is here."

Remarks recorded during an interview.


Élisabeth Houndegla was born in Cotonou, Benin. Her desire to leave her country began in secondary school. "I was dreaming of seeing snow. I said to my mother, I would like to leave one day. Do you want to go to your aunt's home in France? No. I want to go to Quebec, in Canada. She was completely taken aback. Where did you hear of this country? Well ... in history and geography class!" During a celebration, a family member told her that one of her aunt's friends was leaving for Canada. Élisabeth wanted to follow this woman's example, and her mother give permission. At the age of 14, Élisabeth discovered Montreal.


Staying at first with her aunt's friend, she then found an "adoptive family". "The fact of living in a Québécois family helped me very much to understand the society, the people. Sometimes I forget that I am Black." Élisabeth decided to study dressmaking. The headmistress of her school seemed sceptical of her chances for success, but it didn't take long for Élisabeth to prove herself. "The headmistress said, 'First of all, she is too young and she doesn't have the necessary background studies. We'll take her for three or six months. If she doesn't measure up, we'll tell her to leave.' And this is how I got my professional diploma in haute couture!" After receiving her diploma, she returned to Benin, but very quickly began to miss Quebec. "It's odd for an African woman to come back home to Canada!" she says. On returning to Montreal, she opened an atelier in Outremont, where, for 23 years, she created evening gowns and wedding dresses. At the age of 40, considering her work too time-consuming - "in haute couture, you work almost around the clock; it was the pressure, it was too much!" - Élisabeth decided to pass on her passion to others. At Halte la Ressource, an organization that trains immigrant women in sewing, she gives a new dimension to her professional life. "Before, I was only dealing with 'high society' women. Here I confront the reality of Montreal. Real life, the problems that women encounter. They are disempowered, without work. We try to offer them a socio-professional integration into society." What interests her the most today is "the depth of soul in people, and not money-money-money. . . . A salary is needed to pay the bills, but what I do here has no price. When we help a mother, it is not only her we help but all those around her: the children, the husband ... It's work that is worth its weight in gold, work that has meaning."



Creations
CREATIONS

The Gift
THE GIFT

Halte La Ressource, Sunshine for Us All
HALTE LA RESSOURCE, SUNSHINE FOR US ALL

Magazine Article
MAGAZINE ARTICLE

Companions
COMPANIONS

Me at 16
ME AT 16

My Mother and My Aunt. Twin Sisters
MY MOTHER AND MY AUNT. TWIN SISTERS

Behind These Objects. My Mother
BEHIND THESE OJECTS. MY MOTHER