Dr. Saint-Firmin Monestime was a Haitian medical doctor who became the first elected black mayor of a Canadian municipality. Not bad for a man who arrived in Canada with only a dollar in his pocket.

Contributions to Haitian society

Born in 1909 in Cap-Haïtien, Saint-Firmin Monestime was a doctor by trade who specialized in rural medicine. He wrote several books on the subject, and advocated for better access to health care, publicly speaking out against government policies and the conditions faced by Haitian people – a move that eventually drew discontent from government officials and led Monestime to leave his beloved island. 

Courage in the face of tragedy

In 1937, he was working in a Haitian town bordering the Dominican Republic when Dominican President Raphael Trujillo ordered the genocide of Haitians living on the outskirts of the Dominican Republic. Dr. Monestime worked tirelessly to tend to the infured during what is now known as the Parsley Massacre. His efforts were formally recognized by the Haitian Government. Monestime received the Chevalier de l’Ordre Nationale, Honneur et Mérite, a national honour recoginizing exceptional public service.

A new life in Canada

Dr. Monestime eventually immigrated to Canada in the 1940s, where he initially settled in Québec City. Like many new Canadians today, he went back to school to be recertified to practice medicine in Canada even though he was an accomplished doctor. After years of studies he became a licensed physician.

In 1951, while en route to Timmins, Ontario, to set his own pracice, he made a pit stop at a restaurant called “Chez Francis” located in Mattawa. It turns out that the owner of the restaurant, was a former patient of his, who recommended that Dr. Monestime stay in Mattawa to replace the doctor who had recently left his job.Dr. Monestime agreed, and took up residence in Mattawa.

Making Canadian history

At a time where independence movements worldwide bore fruit, and at the height of the civil rights movement in the U.S., Dr. Monestime made Canadian history.

In 1962 he was elected to Mattawa’s municipal council and in 1963 he was elected mayor. With the exception of one year taken off for medical reasons he remained in office until his death in 1977. He met his wife, Zena Petsche in Mattawa, and together they had 3 children. One of whom died tragically.

Together, Dr. Monestime and his wife established the Algonquin Nursing Home in 1975. It was owned and operated by family members for over 35 years before it was sold in 2013.

Saint-Firmin Monestime embodied the courageous and entreprising spirit of the Haitian people who, by their industrious nature, leave their mark on the communities they call home.

The legacy of Saint-Firmin Monestime

Dr. Monestime’s contributions are chronicled online and in a plethora of news articles. A quick Google search will bring up informative details about this historical figure. Those who prefer an analog experience should check out Doug Mackey’s book, Where Rivers Meet.