Cassandra’s Lilacs succeeds in “gentling the condition”

By Beryl Wajsman on October 16, 2008

“This story shall the good man teach his son;We few, we happy few,we band of brothers;This day shall gentle the condition;”~ Henry V

Some 600 people came to the Théatre St-Denis Thursday, October 2 and took part in a unique celebration of community activism and community solutions. It was the Garceau Foundation’s first major benefit called Cassandra’s Lilacs, The “Gentle the Condition” Concert. Put on in co-operation with the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal, the concert was a rare multi-artist and multi-charity event.

Beaconsfielder Brigitte Garceau, an attorney with Robinson, Sheppard, Shapiro and well-known community activist, conceived the Foundation as a way of channeling professional, organizational and fund-raising expertise to charitable organizations working in the frontlines for better healthcare, against hunger and retraining the homeless. The beneficiaries of this premiere event were three remarkable groups. Dr. Nicholas Steinmetz’ and Dr. Gilles Julien’s Fondation pour la promotion de la pédiatrie sociale tackles the health needs of poor children. Helping thousands in Montreal’s Côte des Neiges and Hochelaga- Maisonneuve districts, the Fondation cares for the physical, psychological and educational needs of children who are products of underprivileged homes. It not only provides immediate help, but follows the children through years of schooling to ensure that the work is having an effect.

It takes a totally holistic approach to childhood development.

La Maison du Partage d’Youville is a community kitchen and food bank that for 25 years has served Pointe St. Charles, Verdun and Little Burgundy. La Maison meets the food needs of hundreds of people every week. It is desperately short of space and resources. It must move to more efficient and affordable space in order to continue doing its essential work. De la Rue…à la Réussite, takes homeless men and women and provides them with the necessary tools and employment opportunities to reintegrate into the workforce. This remarkable organization, founded by the indefatigable Sue McDougall and her late husband Jean-Pierre Chartrand, doesn’t just get people on their feet, it gets them back into life. It understands that it’s about more than just getting people a paycheque; it’s about giving them back their purpose.

The concert was inspired by a real life Cassandra, Garceau’s 10-year-old daughter. The Grade 5 student had been involved in class fundraisers at her school, Collège Charlemagne, where she took part in a drive to send school supplies and clothing to children in Africa. In November, while attending an AIDS benefit concert featuring Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne and John Mayer at the Bell Centre, Cassandra wondered why a fundraising concert for Montreal’s underprivileged couldn’t be held. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the concert was not only about entertainment. It was half policy conference as well. The evening began with an emotive keynote from Andrée Ruffo, among the most compelling voices for the vulnerable in this country. MC Dennis Trudeau brought his trademark intelligence and authenticity weaving a thread of continuity through all the speakers and artists. Brian Morel produced incisive and touching videos of the charities involved. The audience not only met the people behind these groups but also met some of the people they had helped and heard their inspiring stories. One of the most striking aspects of those gathered was that leaders of industry stood shoulder to shoulder with labour presidents and streetfront community activists.

But the music was outstanding. Headliner Ranee Lee sizzled with her hallmark cool. Texan Meredith Marshall wowed the crowd with incredible song stylings. Legendary bluesman Slim Williams not only accompanied Marshall, but stirred the hall with his own composition “Victorious” from his new CD. Montrealer Sandra Brandone was white heat singing from her newly released debut CD Nothing Feels as Good. Thirteen-year-old sensation Sara Diamond belted it out to everyone’s glee in a voice that belied her tender years. Gospel singer Kiralina was a delight as she performed with two virtuoso dancers. And finally, but not least, the Imani Family and Full Gospel Church Children’s Choir stole everybody’s heart.

The music, the words and the images of the concert pierced everyone’s souls. In their own words, the organizers wanted participants to come away from the evening with a greater ability “to see the world through the eyes of its victims”. And to understand, intuitively, that “the less educated are not less intelligent and that the less affluent are not any less human.” In short, to be moved to “gentle the condition”. From the looks on all the faces, that is exactly what the Cassandra’s Lilacs concert did.

Anyone wanting to make a donation to the Garceau Foundation can e-mail , call 514-393-4022 or send contributions to the Garceau Foundation,

c/o Brigitte Garceau, Robinson,Sheppard, Shapiro, 800 Place Victoria, suite 4600, Montreal  H4Z 1H6.



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