Lise Bissonnette, OQ, journalist, businesswoman and author (born 13 December 1945 in Rouyn, Québec). A graduate of the Université de Montréal, where she studied education science, Bissonnette was the first woman to head one of the oldest daily newpapers published in Canada, Le Devoir. For 11 years, she was chief executive officer of the Grande bibliothèque du Québec, which, under her direction, became the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (National Library and Archives of Québec). The author of some 10 works, she has received nine honorary doctorates and earned many prestigious awards, including the Ordre national du Québec (National Order of Québec), the Ordre de la Pléiade, and the French government’s Légion d’honneur.
Education and Early Career
Lise Bissonnette was born in Abitibi to Antonio Bissonnette, who was a shopkeeper in Rouyn, and Victoria Carbonneau. After earning degrees in pedagogy (1965) and education science at the Université de Montréal (1968), she pursued doctoral studies in France (1968–69), first at the Université de Strasbourg and then at the École pratique des hautes études (graduate school for practical training in basic and applied research) in Paris. The focus of her research was systems of higher education.
She interrupted her studies in 1970 to help establish the first office of institutional studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), which itself had just been established the year before. Starting in 1972, she was responsible for coordinating programs in the faculty of arts and later coordinated the teacher training program.
Career in Journalism
In 1974, Bissonnette began her career in journalism at the daily newspaper Le Devoir. She worked as an education columnist (1974–75), parliamentary correspondent in Québec City (1975–76) and Ottawa (1976–78), editorialist and assistant editor-in-chief (1978–80), editor-in-chief (1981–1985), and senior analyst (1985). After a falling out with management, she left Le Devoir in 1986 and became a freelance journalist. She wrote weekly columns for various newspapers and magazines, including Le Soleil and The Globe and Mail. She also wrote for L’Actualité, Montreal Magazine, and Forces magazine, for which she was the guest editor-in-chief in 1988.
Publisher of Le Devoir
In June 1990, Bissonnette returned to Le Devoir as editor-in-chief and publisher, becoming the first woman to run the newspaper. Making it her goal to rectify the paper’s financial situation, she administratively and financially restructured Le Devoir and completely changed the paper’s marketing, layout, and editorial content. She placed greater emphasis on arts and culture and adopted a distinctly nationalist direction, while remaining independent of political players.
One of the most memorable moments of this period came in July 1992, when she published her one-syllable editorial, “NO,” in response to a constitutional agreement that paved the way for theCharlottetown Accord. During the 1995 referendum, she took a position in favour of the “Yes” side, making Le Devoir the only newspaper in Canada to openly support Québec sovereignty.
CEO of the Grand Bibliothèque du Québec
Beginning in 1995, Bissonnette participated in discussions on the future of Montréal’s Central Library. In August 1998, she was appointed chief executive officer of the Grande bibliothèque du Québec (GBQ), a newly created institution that she had called for in the pages of Le Devoir. In 2001, the GBQ merged with the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec (BNQ) and, from 2004 on, Bissonnette spearheaded the amalgamation of the BNQ and the Archives nationales du Québec to form the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in 2006. Under her direction, the Grande Bibliothèque building opened its doors in Montréal in April 2005. After 11 years at the helm of this major cultural institution, she stepped down in 2009.
That same year, Bissonnette resumed doctoral studies at the Université de Montréal, which she had interrupted in 1970, and undertook research on Maurice Sand with a view to writing a thesis in literature. From May 2011 to December 2012, she was chair of the advisory committee on the future of Montréal’s Olympic Park (see Montréal Olympic Games). From February to September 2013, she was co-chair, with John R. Porter, of a working group on framework legislation for Québec universities. The working group was created following the Sommet sur l’enseignement supérieur (summit on higher education) organized by Pauline Marois’ government (see 2012 Québec Student Strike). She has also chaired UQAM’s board of directors of since March 2013.
Her involvement in education, particularly higher education, has included sitting on the advisory board of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University (1979), on the Montréal Committee of the Canadian Organization for Development Through Education (until 1985), on the advisory committee of the University of Alberta’s Centre for Constitutional Studies (1987–89), and on the board of directors of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (1988–90).
Bissonnette was also program director and advisor on Canadian and Québec affairs for the CRB Foundation (1986–90), which at that time produced the Heritage Minutes, vice-president of the Canadian Institute for International Peace and Security (1986–90), member of the Canadian Committee for the World Decade for Cultural Development (1989–90) and the National Statistics Council (1990–91), and co-chair and founder of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (1990).
A woman of culture and an art lover, Bissonnette has been the honorary president of numerous cultural and artistic events: the exhibits and auctions À l’ombre du génie (In the Shadow of Genius), for the benefit of the Mental Health Foundation (1989–90), and Les Femmeuses (Famous Women), Pratt & Whitney Canada (1989–95); the exhibit Dans dix ans l’an 2000, Maison de la culture de Montréal (1990); the trade show Entrée libre à l’art contemporain, Montréal (1991), the 4e Biennale des arts visuels de la Côte-Nord (1992), the competition La bibliothèque idéale, Association des bibliothèques publiques du Québec (1997); the event Artefact 2004 – Sculptures urbaines; and the shows Œuvre de femme (2006) and Vincent et moi (2008). Bissonnette also wrote the introduction to artist Suzelle Levasseur’s brochure Présence (1996).
Bissonnette regularly sits as a member or chair of various award juries, including those for the Prix Paul-Émile-Borduas, which is one of the Prix du Québec awards; the Governor General’s Literary Awards; the Prix des cinq continents de la Francophonie; and the Prix Gilles-Corbeil, Fondation Émile-Nelligan.
In addition to having contributed to the development of various cultural institutions and universities, Lise Bissonnette is the author or co-author of 11 works: two collections of articles, two essays, three short stories and four novels. She has been a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards three times: for La passion du présent (1987), Marie suivait l’été (Following the Summer) (1992) and Quittes et doubles (Cruelties) (1997).
In March 2015, Bissonnette defended her doctoral thesis at the Université de Montréal’sDepartment of French Literature.
The Fonds Lise Bissonnette (collection of Bissonnette’s papers, recordings, photographs and other graphic arts) (CLG66) is kept at the Vieux-Montréal archives centre of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.
Honours and Awards
Lise Bissonnette holds nine honorary doctorates, all from different Canadian and American universities: State University of New York (1986), Concordia University(1986), Laurentian University (1988), Université de Sherbrooke (1992), Université Laval (1996), UQAM (2003), Université de Montréal (2006), McGill University (2007) and the University of Ottawa (2011).
Bissonnette’s successful career as a journalist, writer and administrator is highlighted by her many honours and awards:
Honour Roll, Association mondiale des femmes journalistes et écrivaines (World Association of Women Journalists and Writers) (1988)
Woman of the Year (special jury prize), Salon de la femme (Women’s Fair) (1991)
Journalism Award, Société des musées québécois (1991)
Membre de l’Ordre des francophones d’Amérique (1991)
Mérite du français dans la culture, Union des artistes (1993)
Honoured alumna at the graduating class of 1968’s 25th anniversary, Université de Montréal (1994)
Member of the Academy of the Arts and Humanities, the Royal Society of Canada (1994)
Bob Edwards Award, the Calgary Public Library Foundation (1995)
Induction into the Canadian News Hall of Fame (1996)
Officer of the Ordre national du Québec (1998)
Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Pléiade, Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie (1998)
Medal from the Académie des lettres du Québec (1999)
Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, Government of France (2000)
Mérite d’honneur du français et de la francophonie en éducation (2000)
Member of the Académie des lettres du Québec (2004)
Personality of the Year (Business, Administration and Institutions category), La Presse (2005)
Prix de la personnalité (Personality Award), Richelieu International (2006)
Grand témoin de la Francophonie, XX Winter Olympic Games, Turin (2006)
Achievement Award, Réseau des femmes d’affaires du Québec (Québec Businesswomen’s Network) (2007)
Officier de la Légion d’honneur (2008)
Prix Fleury-Mesplet, Salon du livre de Montréal (Montréal Book Fair) (2009)
Prix Hommage, Institut d’administration publique de Québec (2009)
Member of the Academy of Great Montrealers (2009)
Prix Georges-Émile-Lapalme, Prix du Québec (2010)
Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation (2010)
Collections of articles
La passion du présent (1987)
Toujours la passion du présent (1998)
In collaboration, Le Devoir : un journal indépendant (1910 –1995) (1995)
Des lettres et des saisons (2001)
In collaboration, Avoir 17 ans (1991)
Quittes et doubles : scènes de réciprocité (Cruelties: Stories) (1997)
In collaboration, Montréal, la marge au cœur (2004)
Marie suivait l’été (1992)
Choses crues (Affairs of Art) (1995)
Un lieu approprié (2001)
La flouve – Le parfum de Balzac (2006)