When Pat Hardt, BA 77, was approaching retirement age in 2002 — after a 25-year career working at Concordia’s Health Services Clinic and International Students Office — she began volunteer counselling once a week at Chez Doris, a downtown Montreal women’s shelter.
It was while working as a cross-cultural counsellor for international students that Hardt first heard about Chez Doris from a Concordia colleague. “I was in my 60s and had completed a Master of Education. I was working three days a week and really wanted to do volunteer work.”
Chez Doris was a reality check, she says. “My first client, a university graduate, was better dressed than I was, she was maybe 52. She had been fired from her job for stealing money to finance her gambling. It was a shock. I realized that life could change in an instant. You wouldn’t believe how people can fall off the wagon — not the drinking wagon, but the life wagon.”
For her community support and volunteer work at the shelter, Hardt was given the Centraide du Grand Montréal's Coup de Coeur Engagement Citoyen award in 2017. Four years later, she received the Rosario-Demers Volunteer Award by the Ville-Marie Borough for the “remarkable involvement, constant dedication, positive attitude and the impact” of her work helping homeless women. Hardt also served as a member of Chez Doris’s board of directors until 2022.
In 2021, Hardt self-published a book about her life, In the Crook of the Frangipani Tree. It’s pages describe her journey in 1958 as a “brown-skinned girl from Barbados to Montreal,” to study nursing at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Hardt went on to be a working mother, far away from her island roots and her aging parents. The book’s title refers to Hardt’s favourite childhood spot for dreaming — sitting in the crook of the frangipani tree on the grassy lawn in front of the old-stone plantation house.
It was her most recent Montreal writing group that inspired Hardt to publish. “I have been in this group for five years. I have always written; I have drawers full of stories, and people kept telling me to publish them,” explains Hardt, who includes the stories of some of the women she met at Chez Doris in her book.
‘They call me their Montreal mother’
When thinking back on her job helping international students at Concordia, Hardt says, “It was the most wonderful job in the world.” Her responsibilities included giving orientation sessions to groups of new students, information on immigration and referrals to academic advising, health services and other university resources. “And most important of all, an open and supportive environment when a student came into my office,” she adds.
Hardt says being an immigrant herself helped her understand the challenges faced by international students. “I cannot tell you how many students said: ‘If she can do it, I can do it, too!’ I met students from 130 different countries, and I am still in touch with quite a few. Many have graduated and are now Canadian citizens, married and with families; I have been to a few of weddings. I call them my Montreal children — and they call me their Montreal mother.”
The former counsellor is still not ready to truly retire. She says she dreams of one day writing the story of Doris, the homeless woman in whose memory Chez Doris was named. Doris was a Black woman from Nova Scotia whose description of the ideal social support was as “a place to go without prying eyes and too many questions.” She was raped and brutally murdered in 1974. “Doris’ simple desire informs the approach of the Chez Doris Montreal shelter,” says Hardt.
“I’d like to write more, but life is not long enough!” she adds.