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Our history, our museum

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Alphonse Desjardins's life

Alphonse Desjardins's life

History

The history of Desjardins Group is thoroughly intertwined with that of modern Quebec. For over 100 years now, the development of the Desjardins network and the diversification of its activities paralleled the social and economic boom of the province. Desjardins, one of the biggest financial groups in Canada today, has always been true to the philosophy of its founder: to contribute to the well-being of individuals and communities.

Alphonse Desjardins, founder of caisses populaires, was born on November 4, 1854, in Lévis. Over the course of his lifetime he was in the military, a journalist, editor of Legislative Assembly of Québec proceedings and French stenographer at the House of Commons in Ottawa. Building on his personal experience in the area of association and local development in Lévis, he began seeking a financial solution to the socio-economic problems of his fellow citizens.

By championed the idea of cooperation to curb usury1, improve conditions for the working class and contribute to the economic development of French Canadians. After much research, he founded the first caisse populaire in Lévis on December 6, 1900.

He died on October 31, 1920, after personally helping found 163 caisses populaires in Quebec, 18 in Ontario and at least 9 in the United States, not to mention a few credit unions.

Learn more - Alphonse Desjardins (1854-1920)

1. The practice of lending money at unreasonably high interest rates

Alphonse Desjardins in 1913 Alphonse Desjardins in 1913 (A.G. Pittaway, FCDQ)

Dorimène Desjardins was born on September 17, 1858, in Sorel. She married Alphonse Desjardins on September 2, 1879, in Sorel, and their union yielded 10 children. Like many women of her time, she lived in her husband's shadow. But each time the opportunity arose, she played an important role in the promotion of caisses populaires.

Between 1903 and 1906, in particular, she managed without title or salary the Caisse populaire de Lévis. After her husband's death in 1920, many called upon her to interpret his thoughts. This led Dorimène to acquire great moral authority, particularly with officers of Quebec City area caisses who consulted her on verification practices and the idea of a central caisse.

She died on June 14, 1932, in Lévis. She can in many ways be considered the co-founder of Desjardins caisses populaires.

Learn more - Dorimène Desjardins (1858-1932)

Dorimène Desjardins in 1913 Dorimène Desjardins in 1913 (A.G. Pittaway, FCDQ)

View an illustrated timeline of the historical milestones of the pioneers of the cooperative financial group, from its onset to today:

  • Before the caisses (1844-1900)
  • First steps (1900-1920)
  • Consolidation and growth (1920-1944)
  • Gaining strength (1944-1971)
  • Innovation, growth and change (1971-today)

Learn more - Timeline

The founder of Desjardins Group, Alphonse Desjardins was the figurehead of the fledgling caisse network until his death in 1920. He held no official title other than president of the very first caisse.

The presidents who followed left their mark on the history of Desjardins Group. Each worked in a different context with his or her own skills and experience.

Learn more - Desjardins Group presidents

3 graphics showing the history of Desjardins Group, and more specifically, the number of members, caisses and service centres as well as total assets of this constantly growing cooperative financial institution.

Learn more - History in numbers

Desjardins Group's logo has evolved throughout its history, all the while retaining some basic components. In addition to official logos, Canada's leading financial cooperative has used a variety of images to represent it.

Learn more - Logos and other symbols

The history of Desjardins Group is a broad subject. If you'd like to know more, here is some suggested reading. You can also read an original text composed by Alphonse Desjardins.

You can direct questions about Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins, the history of Desjardins caisses and Desjardins Group to Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins, which offers historical consultation services.

Learn more - Works and articles

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins is a museum devoted to promoting the origins of Desjardins Group and the history of its founder and co-founder, Alphonse Desjardins and Dorimène Desjardins.

It was the Desjardins family residence for more than half a century and housed the head office of Caisse populaire de Lévis from 1900 to 1906. It was between these walls that the project to found the first savings and credit cooperative in North America was developed.

Since it was built in 1883, the house served many purposes. It was a private residence for nearly 100 years and in 1981 became the property of Société historique Alphonse Desjardins. First converted into an interpretive centre, it became a recognized museum in 2001.

Since it was opened to the public 30 years ago, several thousand visitors from here and abroad visit the house each year to learn its fascinating history.

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins holds a unique place in North America's collective heritage. The cradle of the cooperative savings and credit movement, it was the site of significant historical events. It received the visit of several influential people and saw the start of what would become the largest cooperative financial group in Canada.

The significant heritage and historical value of this commemorative site has been pointed out several times, receiving official recognition. Maison Alphonse-Desjardins is a "recognized museum", a "cultural property" classified as a "historic monument" whose first owners, Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins, were each designated a "National Historic Person". It housed the head office of Caisse populaire de Lévis, whose founding was recognized as a "National Historic Event".

A commemorative site to discover
Photo: Jacques Beardsell

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins and its first occupants have also received other recognition throughout the years: Recognition received by Maison Alphonse-Desjardins and its first occupants, Alphonse Desjardins and Dorimène Desjardins (PDF, 75 KB).

To learn more about the house's history:

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins invites you to take an intimate look at the history of a couple who, through their commitment and tenacity, worked to achieve a great dream.

The house was painstakingly restored in the Victorian style, transporting visitors back to 1906 when the Desjardins family lived there and operated the head office of Caisse populaire de Lévis out of their home. Guided tours give visitors an opportunity to see the context in which the major cooperative project emerged and a glimpse into the family's domestic world.

The permanent exhibit, The legacy of a couple, features the inspiring biographical journey of Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins. It includes artifacts, photos and recordings depicting the defining events in the couple's history and that of the caisses populaires. It is, for visitors, a touching encounter with the cooperators who faced many challenges to leave their fellow citizens a precious legacy.

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins offers customized, dynamic tours that reflect the unique character of the site. The museum is open year-round and admission is free.

See the promotional flier (PDF, 1.06 MB).

Learn more - Visiting Maison Alphonse-Desjardins

Permanent exhibit: The Legacy of a Couple
Photo: Marie-Michelle La Rue
Maison Alphonse Desjardins kitchen
Photo: Martin Bergeron

Boutique

Bring back a souvenir of your visit to Maison Alphonse-Desjardins to your loved ones.

The boutique offers a range of products with the image of the Desjardins residence: piggy banks, playing cards, pins, postcards, etc.

Also on sale at the boutique are publications, some of which produced by Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins historians.

All of these products may be purchased on site.

Publications on sale at the boutique

Travelling exhibit

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins has designed and helped design several exhibits featuring the history and legacy of Desjardins Group, its founder and co-founder.

Its achievements include a travelling exhibit entitled "Plus d'un siècle d'accompagnement à la prise en charge financière des individus et des collectivités", focusing on Desjardins Group's concern with cooperative, economic and financial education.

To rent the travelling exhibit, contact us. (Exhibit available in French only)

Détails sur l'exposition itinérante (in French only, PDF, 116 KB)

Loans and donations of artifacts

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins makes available to organizations promoting history and heritage a few artifacts from its collections to enhance their exhibits.

You may also, if you wish, contribute to the conservation of Desjardins Group's collective heritage.

To learn more about loans and donations of artifacts to Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins, see Other services and activities.

Special events take place throughout the year at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins.

Pampeligòsse show
October 24, 2014
2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.

In celebration of the 12th anniversary of the Festival international du conte Jos-Violon de Lévis, there will be a Pampeligòsse show at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins. People of all ages can meet French storyteller Daniel L’Homond. Come hear about the journey of Pontouquet, a man who thinks he’s simply going on vacation but encounters his true quest along the way.

General admission: $10
12 and under: $5
Reservation required

A Victorian Christmas at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins
November 27, 2014, to January 8, 2015

Photo: Claude Côté, Desjardins Group

With Christmas and New Year’s on the way, come experience the holiday magic at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins, which will be decorated according to Victorian tradition.

What’s plum pudding? Where do the Christmas tree and greeting card traditions come from? What was Mr. Desjardins’s favourite holiday meal? During your visit, you’ll learn about the traditions of this time of year and see how they came to life for the Desjardins family.

What a great way to get you in the holiday spirit!

Reservations required for groups of 8 or more people

Free admission.

Journées de la culture - “La surprise de Paul” show
September 27 and 28, 2014
10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

Photo: Claude Côté, Desjardins Group

As part of Journées de la culture, Maison Alphonse-Desjardins is opening its doors for an interactive and educational puppet show.

A piggy bank tells the story of a very important day in the life of little Paul Desjardins—the day he got a surprise from his father. Come hear a story full of music, puppets and imagination. But we can’t tell you what happens next—it’s a surprise!

For children ages 4 to 7. Reservation required.

Free admission.

Jazz music at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins
August 10, 2014
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Photographer: Michel Julien

In light of the Off Festival, part of the eighth Festival Jazz etcetera de Lévis, Maison Alphonse-Desjardins has invited a pianist to play. The jazz-swing piano recital is free. See you there!

Family spring break at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins
March 1 to 9, 2014, 10:00 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 5:00 p.m. weekends

Photographe : Claude Côté

Take a trip back in time to the last century and meet Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins. Children can dress up in the clothes of those who brought cooperation to life in the Desjardins family home. Whether you're a streetcar driver, farmer, wife of a shopkeeper or run the general store, all are welcome. Accompanied by a guide, take part in a rally during which you'll learn the fascinating history of caisses populaires.

No reservations required.

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins

Desjardins Group officers created Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins (SHAD) in 1979. Its mission is "to safeguard and promote the history and heritage of the Desjardins Group and its founder, for the benefit of current and future generations".

Owner of Maison Alphonse-Desjardins since 1981, Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins focuses on 3 main areas of activity: the safeguard and promotion of the heritage left behind by Alphonse Desjardins, Dorimène Desjardins and their successors, historical research and historical interpretation.

Its services are available to Desjardins Group officers, personnel and members, to cooperators in Canada and abroad and to the general public.

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins is a museum devoted to promoting the origins of Desjardins Group and the history of its founder and co-founder, Alphonse Desjardins and Dorimène Desjardins.

It was the Desjardins family residence for more than half a century and housed the head office of Caisse populaire de Lévis from 1900 to 1906. It was between these walls that the project to found the first savings and credit cooperative in North America was developed.

Learn more - Maison Alphonse-Desjardins

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins employs historians who research the history of Desjardins Group and the lives of Alphonse and Dorimène Desjardins.

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins also offers advisory services such as processing information requests, providing support for the research and writing of historical documents about Desjardins Group, and carrying out historical studies.

A promotional information guide about the history of Desjardins caisses, Investir dans notre passé, is also available to other businesses and organizations.

Feel free to contact us.

Aware that they were taking part in a lasting endeavour, Desjardins Group officers always saw the importance of conserving traces of the past. The collections held by Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins are the result of a long tradition of conservation.

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins collections now include over 6,000 artifacts.

The collections include property previously owned by Alphonse Desjardins, Dorimène Desjardins and their descendents, objects that depict the material culture of the founder's era and the history of Desjardins Group, as well as an important numismatic1 collection.

A glimpse at the diversity of our collections

1. Relating to coins and currency.

Travelling exhibit

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins has designed and helped design several exhibits featuring the history and legacy of Desjardins Group, its founder and co-founder.

Its achievements include a travelling exhibit entitled "Plus d'un siècle d'accompagnement à la prise en charge financière des individus et des collectivités", focusing on Desjardins Group's concern with cooperative, economic and financial education.

To rent the travelling exhibit, contact us.

Détails on the travelling exhibit (PDF, 1.7 MB)

Loans of artifacts

If you are part of an organization dedicated to promoting history and heritage and want to highlight a chapter in the history of Desjardins Group, Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins can loan you a few artifacts from its collections to enhance your exhibit.

To learn more, contact us.

Donations of artifacts

Société historique Alphonse-Desjardins collections come primarily from donations made by descendents of Alphonse Desjardins and Dorimène Desjardins, Desjardins Group caisses and components, and people who either played a significant role in the history of the institution or want to enhance its collections.

If you would like to contribute to the conservation of Desjardins Group's collective heritage, contact us.

Activities

Special events take place throughout the year at Maison Alphonse-Desjardins.

See Upcoming events.

Client services

Visit Maison Alphonse-Desjardins

Maison Alphonse-Desjardins
6, rue du Mont-Marie
Lévis (Québec) Canada G6V 1V9

See map

Visiting hours and school groups

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