Cooking a lifelong pursuit for Lesperance
By Chad Ingram
Published June 9, 2016
Marilynne Lesperance has been preparing meals since she was a child.
The Minden Hills resident is chairwoman of the Minden Food Bank and donates much of her time to the Minden Community Food Centre on Newcastle Street.
Born and raised in Windsor, Ont., Lesperance’s mother, a maître d’ at a dinner club, was murdered when Lesperance was just nine.
Her father turning to the bottle, it was up to Lesperance to raise her younger brother and sister.
“I learned how to cook the hard way,” says Lesperance, 70, seated in her office at the food centre.
She cooked at Windsor’s Killarney Castle restaurant while putting herself through business college, then worked as an expeditor for an appliance company.
Lesperance and her husband, Danny Pitcher, left Windsor in 1967, “because my husband couldn’t get a job there because he was too little,” Lesperance says, explaining the “big three” automotive manufacturers at the time had weight minimums for workers that Pitcher didn’t meet.
The couple moved to Toronto.
“When my children were born, I drove a school bus,” Lesperance says. “Then the union came. The CAW came to organize.”
Lesperance not only drove a bus, but became the president of her union local and was eventually hired as national representative in 1984, something unheard of for a woman at the time.
She held that position for 27 years and, notes with some pride, had only two strikes during that time.
“I believe in negotiating,” she says.
Lesperance also took labour relations courses at the University of Toronto and would eventually go on to lecture there, organizing mock negotiations between students and labour leaders.
“In the meantime, I was cooking all the time,” she says.
Twelve years ago, she retired and moved from Pickering to Haliburton County.
“I always wanted to retire on the water,” Lesperance says. “I had a friends who lived up here.”
She says she loved the area and also the fact it was only an hour-and-a-half drive from her two sons and six grandchildren.
Lesperance first got involved with Foods for Kids, volunteering with the snack and breakfast program.
“Joanna Penfold and Sheila Redpath wanted to start a community kitchen,” Lesperance says, explaining a group of volunteers working out of the Minden Hills Community Centre then began making meals for the food bank through a program with SIRCH Community Services.
Eventually the group began preparing meals directly for the food bank itself. With the opening of the food centre last year – a collaboration between the local Masons and the food bank –they now have their own kitchen space in which to do the cooking.
“Up until then, we had been dragging equipment back and forth from my garage to the arena,” Lesperance says.
Along with housing the food bank, the centre also offers a variety of food-oriented programming, including cooking classes for children.
“I find the cooking with the kids and the teaching is hugely satisfying,” Lesperance says. “It’s very gratifying. When you’re negotiating for people, you’re giving back . . . to the workers, to the companies and to the community.”
She adds the CAW is a very socially conscious union.
“I think my whole life was based on giving back,” she says. “For me, this is a transition and the next step will be succession planning . . that somebody takes over.”
Along with her volunteerism with the food bank, Lesperance is chairwoman of the board for Fuel for Warmth, sits on the Minden Hills property standards committee and is a member of Eastern Ontario Development Program committee for the Haliburton County Development Corporation.
Senior Spotlight is brought to you by CARP Haliburton Highlands Chapter 54. CARP is a national association whose mission is to protect and advance the interests of Canadians as we age. Your Haliburton Highlands chapter is actively working to bring additional value to your membership at the local level.