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The Orphanage

By Peter McCambridge

On 06, Mar 2014 | In | By Peter McCambridge

The Orphanage

The Orphanage

a politician’s autobiography
by Richard Bergeron
Baraka Books, Montréal, 2012

“A childhood of suffering: Bergeron’s autobiography is a gripping page-turner.” – Henry Aubin, The Gazette

“I was a big boy. Soon, I would be four years old. The four of us—the four oldest—were in the back seat of our father’s car. The baby was just six months old. He wasn’t with us… Everything felt heavy and sad. We could feel it from the back seat. We didn’t dare move, didn’t dare open our mouths. But where were we going anyway? They must have told us, the older children, but we didn’t understand…”

The Orphanage

Richard Bergeron is a well-known Montréal city councillor who has twice run for mayor. His short and moving autobiography explains why, although both parents were alive, he and his four brothers lived in an orphanage for five years.


We drove on and on.

It looked as though we had arrived at last. A
huge building began to take shape, bigger than
any I had ever seen. And the car stopped in front
of what looked like the main entrance.

We got out of the car. My older brother and
I each took the hand of a younger brother. We
walked up the steps to the main door. The door

Two funny-looking women welcomed us.

Funny, first because of the way they were
dressed. They were all in black, from head to
toe, with a veil over their heads. Their faces were
hemmed in by a piece of white cloth that opened
out at the shoulders to become a broad collar.

I would learn later, much later, that this piece of
clothing is known as a wimple.

The ladies’ foreheads, necks, and hair were all
hidden. Did they even have hair?

The whole time we were there, we children—all
the children, not just me and my brothers—would
wonder if they did. Without ever being able to
know for sure, one way or the other.

Funny-looking women, too, because of the way
they spoke. Softly, with pretension, with pursed
lips, carefully chosen words, and, most of all,
looking as though they were overflowing with

It was definitely the first time I had ever seen
women like these.

In fact, they weren’t funny at all. Funereal
would be a better word.

If I didn’t know this word when I was four, I
knew what I was feeling all the same. Scared.

Especially since, in this immense entrance hall,
the voices of these ladies, weak though they were,
resonated as if in a drum.

My father tried to adjust to the way they talked.
He spoke quietly too. But there was nothing he
could do about his diction and vocabulary: every
time he opened his mouth it was clear he was a
construction worker, in 1959.

He also kept his head down as he spoke, not
daring to look the women in the eye.

Submissive. Humiliated by his lack of educa-
tion, compliant to what appeared to be figures
of authority, my father said no more than a few

Uncle Léopold didn’t have the same self-control.
Uncle Léopold always felt comfortable, no mat-
ter what was happening. Uncle Léopold wouldn’t
stop talking.

Did I tell you about his voice?

Imagine it in a huge hall like that, its walls
smooth and hard. It boomed like thunder. It rolled
around forever.

Someone must already have told me about hell,
without me ever being able to picture it. It was
there and then that I discovered it for myself.

I had never been as scared in my life. I think I
might well have peed my pants. And I wasn’t the
only one.

Baraka Books

You can read more about the book and purchase it from the publisher here.