Flora Gareau was born in Winnipeg in the early 1930s to a family originally from Quebec. She was raised in French in the downtown core with her four brothers and one sister.
“I attended the Sacré-Cœur French school for 11 years,” recalls the resident. “The school was on Bannatyne Avenue and was the only French language school in Winnipeg at the time. I then spent a year at St. Joseph’s Academy.”
After she graduated, Flora Gareau began working as a bookkeeper. “I spent a year and a half at my first job. Sometime after that, I started working for National Drugs, where I remained for 39 years.”
Flora Gareau was five years old when a polio epidemic broke out in Winnipeg. “Children were falling like flies! I got it in my left arm. I spent six months in the hospital and my arm never recovered. But I could work and earn a living for myself. I was lucky.”
After working for a few years, Flora Gareau decided to travel around Europe for six weeks with her best friend. “It was our first long trip. My friend, Lucy DeLuca, was in a wheelchair. When we talked about our plans, people said: Are you crazy? How are you going to manage on your own abroad? But I had a good pair of legs and she had two good hands. Between the two of us, we had everything we needed!”
Ever since she was very young, Flora Gareau had dreamed of visiting Lourdes. Her friend Lucy wanted to see Italy, the land of her ancestors. “We started in Paris and went on to Lourdes. It was amazing. We visited churches and prayed every night before going to bed, thanking God for all the wonderful things we were experiencing.”
The next stop was Rome. “We took tours so that we could visit several cities. We went to the Vatican, which was magnificent. And we saw the Pope. It was very moving, because we never thought we would ever get to see him one day. We surprised ourselves.”
The two intrepid travelers got the most out of their European adventures. “People were always ready to help us on our trip. Everywhere we went, everyone was very kind. Our parents had always shown us that if you were nice with others, they would be nice to you, so we showed our respect and people helped us as much as they could.”
The explorers wrapped up their trip in London. “Both of our mothers were happy and relieved to see us back home, even though they knew that we were two level-headed young women. We wrote to them regularly, and they enjoyed looking at our photographs.”
The adventures of Flora and Lucy continued over the years. “Our parents were a bit worried each time we set out, but they saw that we had become experienced travellers. We liked to laugh and have fun, and we tackled increasingly difficult trips. I watched my friend attempt to do things and, when she couldn’t, I would help her. We travelled to the US at least once a year. We went to Hawaii. We also took trips in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.”
Flora Gareau never married and always lived with her parents. “I took care of them my whole life. I was there when they got sick. We moved to St. Boniface for their final years.”
When Manoir de la Cathédrale opened, Flora Gareau went to live there with her sister.
After a fall, Flora Gareau decided to move to Actionmarguerite St. Vital. “I fell and was hospitalized for 11 weeks. The doctor told me that I could no longer walk or live alone. I chose this residence because I have always been a Francophone Catholic. I came here in December 2017, and have never regretted my decision. I feel at home here.”
While she doesn’t have any children of her own, Flora Gareau’s 12 nieces and nephews and their children pay her regular visits. “They always come to see me, even the ones who live far away. When they were little and their parents went out, I would babysit them. They always tell me that I’m their second mother. I know they love me, as I love them. They are the children I never had.”