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Retired teacher passionate about art, history

Gilberte Mathieu retired in 2019 but still enjoys supply teaching

Gilberte Mathieu has spent more than 30 years teaching — and she really enjoyed all those years.

Mathieu, 60, is a retired teacher and a longstanding member of Centre Culturel La Ronde.

Over three decades of teaching at École secondaire catholique Thériault passed so quickly, she says. Having seen other teachers retire, she couldn’t believe it was her turn when the time came in 2019.

When she started teaching, she decided she would take it one year at a time.

“I said, ‘Oh my god, is it that awful?’ Am I at a good place?” she recalls thinking.

“That's why I'm still doing supply because I didn’t really leave because I was tired or I was not loving my job anymore,” she says explaining she had knee surgery and it was physically challenging to work. “I really enjoyed all my years.”

Raised in Mattice, Mathieu had three sisters and two brothers.

Mathieu’s father was a lumberjack, her mother stayed at home cooking and looking after the children. They weren’t rich, Mathieu says, but they had what they needed.

“The guys were helping dad on the farm and we did dishes or laundry. We had to help them,” Mathieu recalls. “They gave us what they could.”

She studied a fine arts and crafts program at Northern College in Timmins. Initially, Mathieu wanted to apply for an interior designer program in Ottawa but she wasn't accepted.

Feeling disappointed, Mathieu didn’t want to stay in Mattice, so when her sister-in-law suggested enrolling at Northern College, Mathieu applied there.

Coming from a French-speaking family, studying in an English program was a “big, big deal.”

“For me, I’m always thinking first in French. After, I will look for my words in English,” she says. She did the college program for two years and she had great teachers there. “I was telling people in my class to talk to me in English.”

Mathieu worked as a supply teacher for a year at Thériault and then obtained her teacher’s degree from the University of Ottawa, where studying was easier because it was in French.

In university, she really liked an art history class. So, when she was working at Thériault, she decided to organize school trips for Grades 10-12 to Europe.

They did fundraisers and their first trip occurred in 2005. There were 25 people who went to Paris.

After that, the trips took place every two years. Students visited Italy, Greece, Paris and Spain. The last trip included four destinations: Amsterdam, Paris, Belgium and England.

“I was always looking for history and art,” she says. Mathieu liked seeing students learn and be amazed when they visited various historical places.

In a few years, when she feels ready to travel, she’d like to visit Pompeii and the Greek islands. 

As a teacher, her specialty was in art, but Mathieu also taught French, geography and cooking classes.

In her cooking classes, students made Christmas dinners for teachers.

They also had to come up with vegetarian dishes and bring the recipes to school for the jury, which was comprised of teachers, to decide.

“They had to present to us and tell us what they put in the recipe and what they found was hard to do, how much it cost for them. It was a really nice experience too,” she says.

After she retired, she met one student in Gogama who asked Mathieu for one of her recipes. Another time, students wanted to have her recipe for a tomato and rice soup.

“It’s like souvenirs. They remember the recipe, the taste,” Mathieu says.

Mathieu likes cooking, learning and trying new recipes.

She takes an example from her mother who was a good cook and always made her own bread and dessert.

Mathieu has been married to Gilles for 35 years. They met in Timmins when Mathieu moved to the city for a summer job at La Ronde. Together, they have two children and four grandchildren.

Mathieu is glad her children, who are fully bilingual, have good jobs and know the importance of speaking both languages.

“The students don’t realize now how it’s important but they will learn when they’re looking for a job,” she says.

Once, when she was painting a peace pole for the new park in Schumacher, someone assumed she was from Quebec.

“I said, ‘No, we have French in Ontario.’ You have to teach people that we still have French people in Ontario, too,” she says.

Mathieu likes painting, mainly flowers, but doesn’t like to brag about her art.

“I don’t like to expose my art,” she says. “I’m not a lady to flash like ‘Oh, I did this, I did that.’ I have never been (like that).”

Starting next Thursday, Oct. 21, she’ll be leading in-person watercolour painting workshops hosted by La Ronde. The sessions will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

As a member of La Ronde who’s been supporting the organization for over 35 years, Mathieu always attended the Bonhomme Carnaval, music shows and events. Having an organization like La Ronde allows meeting other French-speaking people in the community, she says.

“It’s social. And it’s to recognize people (who are) French. In Timmins, lots of people are French but they’re talking together in English,” she says.


Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

About the Author: Dariya Baiguzhiyeva

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering diversity issues for TimminsToday. The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada
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