Gisèle Lalonde, former Vanier mayor and SOS Montfort leader, dead at 89

The longtime Franco-Ontarian leader received both the Order of Canada and France's Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’honneur.

Received Order of Canada and France's Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’honneur

Gisèle Lalonde, pictured here in 1997 as president of SOS Montfort, led the five-year effort to save the Montfort Hospital. (Radio-Canada)

Former Vanier mayor Gisèle Lalonde, who was a leader in the successful fight to save the Montfort Hospital from closure in the late 1990s, has died at age 89, according to her family.

Lalonde studied at the University of Ottawa to become a teacher, then worked in education for about 30 years ending in the early 1980s.

She was mayor of the pre-amalgamation city of Vanier from 1985 to 1991 and in 1997, emerged as a key figure in the SOS Montfort campaign.

That year, the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris announced it would accept a recommendation from its health services restructuring commission to close the hospital.

SOS Montfort's efforts to stop that, with Lalonde as its president, included 2,000 students forming a human chain around the Montfort and a pep rally of 10,000 supporters at Lansdowne Park.

In the end, Ontario courts put a wrench in the provincial government's plan after the hospital and its supporters launched a legal battle to keep the hospital open. In 2002, the province announced it wouldn't appeal its latest loss in court.

Lalonde went on to receive both the Order of Canada and France's Chevalier de l'Ordre de la Légion d'honneur. A high school in Orléans is named after her.

She received a standing ovation at a 2017 event marking the 20th anniversary of the Lansdowne Park rally.

Gisèle Lalonde gives an interview in 2017. (Radio-Canada)

"Today, the entire Montfort family is in mourning. Gisèle was a great lady and we owe her a lot. We will remember her energy, her good [humour] and contagious laughter," said the Montfort in a series of tweets.

"Above all, we will forever be in debt to Gisèle for her determination."

Mayor Jim Watson called her a force of nature and her death a significant loss for the city and country in a French tweet. He said flags at city hall and the Centre des services communautaires Vanier will fly at half-mast.

The hospital said it's lowering its flag and the Franco-Ontarian flag until sunset on the day of her funeral, which has not been announced.