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1964: Jean Vanier opens first L’Arche house

The Story


For the mentally challenged, it's a radically different way of living. On Aug. 5, 1964, the first L'Arche house opens in a small village in France. In this house, several intellectually disabled men live together in a "family atmosphere" - a drastic change from the bleak institutions that are the norm in the 1960s. L'Arche is the brainchild of Jean Vanier, son of Canada's Governor General Georges Vanier. In this 1965 TV clip, CBC's Bill McNeil interviews Jean Vanier about his "extremely interesting experiment."

Medium: Television
Program: Across Canada
Broadcast Date: Jan. 26, 1965
Guest: Jean Vanier
Interviewer: Bill McNeil
Duration: 6:44

Did You know?


• L'Arche means "the ark" in French. Vanier named the program L'Arche after the biblical story of Noah's Ark.

• After the first L'Arche house was established in Trosly-Breuil, France, several more L'Arche homes began opening in the village. Residents took part in simple work projects, such as making fine hand-crafted items. Young volunteers from various countries began coming to help out in these houses.

• As the idea spread internationally, L'Arche houses started to open around the world. The 1970s were a decade of rapid growth for L'Arche internationally.

• By 2015 there were 147 "L'Arche communities" in 35 countries around the world, in such diverse locations as France, Australia, Uganda, Haiti and India. A L'Arche community consists of up to eight or nine homes and/or day programs integrated into local neighbourhoods.

• Canada's first L'Arche house opened in 1969.

• By 2015 there were 29 different L'Arche communities across Canada.

• The operation of L'Arche relies heavily on fundraising and volunteers.

• Jean Vanier has received countless awards and honours for his work over the years, including being named a Companion of the Order of Canada and an induction into France's Legion of Honour.  He was awarded the Templeton Prize 2015 for his "innovative discovery of the central role of vulnerable people in the creation of a more just, inclusive and humane society".


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