A familiar face on Moncton's downtown streets remembered for helping others

He was a familiar face on Main Street in downtown Moncton. Frenchie, born Ronald Joseph Albenie LeBlanc, has lost his battle with cancer. Frenchie was often seen panhandling for change, and is being remembered for helping others.

"Frenchie was a kind and generous soul once you got to know him. He was rough on the edges."

Frenchie was a familiar face in downtown Moncton. Born Ronald LeBlanc, he was often seen on Main Street. He is being remembered as kind and generous. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

He was a familiar face on Main Street in downtown Moncton.

With his weathered skin, grey beard and cane, Frenchie, as he was known, was often seen panhandling for change.

On Wednesday night, Frenchie, whose real name was Ronald Joseph Albenie LeBlanc died, following a battle with cancer. He turned 68 last week.

Serge Martin is a photographer who met Frenchie about 5 years ago.

"He was walking up the street and I looked at that face and I thought God I need a picture of that."

Friend and photographer Serge Martin says when he first saw Frenchie he knew he wanted to take his picture. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

That encounter led to a friendship between the two men.

A colourful character who lived part of his life on the streets of Moncton passed away this week. We talk with his friend, photographer Serge Martin about the man behind the smile. 9:23

Martin sells pictures of homeless people at the Moncton Market giving 20 percent of the proceeds back to his subjects. Frenchie was one of his favourites.

"One of the things he said was when you're on the street you're invisible. So I started to sell the pictures, show the pictures and talk to people about the guys on the street at the market and we became friends," he said.

"Frenchie was a kind and generous soul once you got to know him. He was rough on the edges," Martin said. "He left nobody indifferent."

Frenchie slept on a mattress in the underground parking garage of the Peace Center in downtown Moncton for a few months. '[It's] not my favorite picture of him but when I told him I was not printing that he said 'f--k you, it's a good picture, print it,'' said Martin. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

Frenchie grew up in Shediac.

His sister, Joanne Petitpas says Frenchie left home at an early age and worked for Campbell Amusements, making cotton candy and candy apples. Eventually he moved out west, where he worked for years as a roofer. Petitpas says he ended up falling and hurting himself, got hooked on pain medication and ended up with a drug problem on the streets of Vancouver.

Those who knew Frenchie say he was very observant. He always knew what was happening on Moncton's streets. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

He returned to Moncton about ten years ago.

Petitpas says although he didn't have much—he wouldn't hesitate to reach out to others.

"He's helped many people in life. He always was generous he would feed people. He'd taken people off the street that he knew he would feed him. He would try to clothe them he would tell them where services were he always was a kind and generous person," Petitpas said.

Frenchie's sister Joanne Petitpas says even though he didn't have much—he would never hesitate to help others. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

Petitpas says her brother started getting Canada Pension benefits when he turned 65 and he was able to get an apartment.

Moncton Councillor at Large, Greg Turner ran a business on Main Street for years and says Frenchie was a fixture in the downtown core.

"He was very observant. He really grasped what was going on in the downtown area. A lot of people might have dismissed him because of his street smarts but the reality is he was very observant and very in tune with what was happening on the streets. I enjoyed my chats with him," Turner said.

Martin says Frenchie liked to relax with friends at Assumption place in downtown Moncton. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

Turner says although Frenchie didn't have an easy life, he was always upbeat and positive.

"Everybody has a legacy and he touched a lot of people in downtown Moncton and over the years. People might not quite have known who he was but they saw him they recognized him and I think they had time for him and that's the important thing he certainly had time for everybody and everybody had time for him," Turner said.

Frenchie enjoyed a meal downtown with his friend Serge Martin in November. Martin says he wanted to sit by the window to see if any of his friends were around. (Serge Martin/Submitted)

Serge Martin says Frenchie will be missed.

"We had the talk Frenchie and I about the funeral and I told Frenchie, Frenchie there's going to be at least two hundred people when you die and the brightness of his eyes—that smile it was just awesome," he said. "I think I was lucky to have him as a friend."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.

Photographer Serge Martin says Frenchie was one of his favourite subjects. (Serge Martin/Submitted)