Despite her father’s pleas of “Thérèse, parle en français,” Therese Côté Gerein couldn’t formulate a sentence in French at age 12.
Living in Victoria at a time when many Canadians thought francophones didn’t exist west of Manitoba, the Côté family built a legacy.
Last week, Côté Gerein received a plaque from the provincial government that commemorates her family’s contribution to the city.
“They maintained their French culture, for starters,” Côté Gerein said of her family.
“They gave back a lot to the community, mainly in the fact that they were business people and provided buildings where tenants lived. They were very invoved in the French community here in Victoria.”
Her grandfather, Joseph Napoléon Côté, and father, Joseph Henri Côté, moved to Victoria in 1945. They bought what was then called Beacon Cottage, at 30 Douglas St., the following year and Joseph Henri renovated it to include his signature octagonal windows. Soon, the building was renamed Beacon Lodge and expanded as a rental apartment building. The family bought, and still owns, several other properties in the city.
In 1977, after the death of Côté Gerein’s brother Raymond, the family started the Côté Family Memorial Foundation, which supports organizations such as the Our Place Society, Anawim House and the Victoria Women’s Transition House.
It was after Raymond’s and brother Robert’s deaths that Côté Gerein’s mother said the girl was the family’s last hope to carry on their native tongue.
Being part of the francophone minority in Victoria is getting easier, Côté Gerein said. Many schools offer French immersion and Côté Gerein said she frequently runs into other francophones around town.
The best way to learn, she said, is through song.
“My whole family used to sing,” she said. “And it was awesome in French – when you sing you’re not really conscious of trying to formulate a sentence and you can form the new language better with your tongue.
“That’s probably the biggest thing that helped me. I loved to sing in French and I still do.”
Did you know?
The Côté family received a commemorative plaque for Francophone Day, March 17.
It will be installed near the family’s Beacon Lodge apartments, 30 Douglas St., soon.