A village woven around the school

Parents who eat every lunchtime with their children, employers who easily free their employees to offer workshops at school… The ecological city of Ham-Nord, in the Bois-Francs, was built around from his school!

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Parents who eat lunch with their children every day, employers who easily free their employees to offer workshops at school ... Ham-Nord ecological city, in the Bois-Francs, was built around his school!

The ecological city of Ham-Nord is a small community of a hundred souls installed a little away from the rest of the village, in a row where the asphalt has not yet blackened the roads. But it was not the bucolic landscape that attracted some pioneer families here almost 30 years ago. It's school!

It all started with the organization of a simple summer camp focused on nature. Building on his success, Michel Deunov Cornellier, its founder, has seen bigger things. He dreamed of an alternative school based on learning outside and respect for nature. Several parents of children who attended the camp were interested and in 1984, more than twenty families, including ten education professionals, chose to leave home, friends and jobs to build the city. These modern pioneers first created the school (a form of home education before the acceptance of the alternative school project by the school board) and then businesses so that parents could earn a living.

The school now has about twenty students from preschool to secondary school, supervised by two teachers paid by the school board. “Each youngster has a 10 foot by 10 foot garden. They make the plan, the crop rotation, they learn a lot through that, ”says Chantal Michaud, who has been teaching there for 24 years. Teachers also get a lot of help from the community. Parents who want to offer lessons in sports, singing, cabinetmaking, etc. The few premises of the school are located in a large building which also houses the bakery, a large hall with a stage for shows and other meetings as well as a community kitchen. This is where families and other members of the community meet for lunch. Organic food, of course!

A "dream school"

This “dream school”, Julie Perreault attended during her childhood. She has never left the community since. When the father of her two sons left her and moved out of the city, she chose to stay there after weighing the pros and cons at length. “For me, it was important to keep my lifestyle. I love the human touch that I find here. And what I had experienced at this school was so trippy that I wanted to give it to my sons, ”she says.

A nursery of entrepreneurs

The ecological city of Ham-Nord is part of a larger environmental movement that has led to the creation of several communities around the world. The Global Ecovillage Network has more than 500 communities, one of the core values of which is life in harmony with nature. However, not all of these communities were based on an educational project, as is the case with the ecological city of Ham-Nord. In addition to its environmental component, the Cité's educational project is to integrate school life with the world of work. There is close collaboration between the school and the companies in which the parents work, not only to free up their time, but also to welcome young people on internship. "At the end of their fifth secondary, the children took part in projects in all the companies", says Marie-Josée Vaillant, general manager of the Cité and one of the founders of Kheops international, manufacturer of "new age" objects such as incense, angels, Buddah statuettes, meditation articles, etc. Young people are also strongly encouraged when they want to start a project, so that the small community is a real breeding ground for entrepreneurs. It must be said that the survival of the community has been linked to the entrepreneurial spirit that reigns there.

Dark days

In the 1990s, a controversy erupted around the ecological city where the family of Minister Robert Dutil lived. She was portrayed as a cult and rumors of abuse spread. Although investigations have whitewashed the small community, the story scared tourists away and caused a bankruptcy that practically got the better of the city. Its residents had to roll up their sleeves to save what could be saved and start new ones companies. Today, business is going quite well, to the point where the members are no longer sufficient for the task.

A tightly knit community

Not everyone is made to live in this ecovillage. To say that the small community is tightly knit is an understatement. In addition to dining and working together, most of the citizens live in the same apartment buildings, both for the sake of economy and ecology. Decisions that affect the community are made as a group at quarterly meetings

Moreover, we do not move overnight in the city. First of all because vacant housing is very rare. Until recently, the zoning by-law of the municipality of Ham-Nord did not allow new constructions. But above all, the small community wants newcomers to fully adhere to its philosophy. “When someone wants to come and live here, we ask to come first several weekends, then a few weeks and a few months. It allows us to see our values, our way of life. It's a two or three year process, ”notes Ms. Vaillant. However, the Ecological City is not closed to visitors. She has started welcoming tourists again.

Whether we were made to live there or not, we must admit that there are inspiring initiatives at the Ecological City. Here, the expression "it takes a village to raise a child" takes on its full meaning!

Read also :

A free school project in Montreal

A new alternative school on the South Shore of Montreal


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About the Author

Nathalie Côté
Nathalie Cote
Nathalie is a journalist. His favorite themes are family, education, health, consumption, the environment and social phenomena. She contributes in particular to the newspaper La Presse.

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