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Hélène Baillargeon-Côté Fonds (P132)

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Chez Helene, excerpt from script (detail), 1959-1960. Gift of Mrs. Hélène Baillargeon-Côté, Hélène Baillargeon-Côté Fonds P132, P132/A.1 © McCord Museum

Before Elmo, Cookie Monster and Big Bird, there was "Chez Hélène"

"HELENE SPEAKS THROUGH THE LITTLE WINDOW

MOUSE
Helene, this is my new friend, her name is Diana.

HELENE
Diane - c'est un joli nom! Moi, je m'appelle Hélène. Bonjour Diane. (OFFERING HER HAND)

DIANA
(CURTSY) Hello, Helene.

HELENE
(TO AUDIENCE) Bonjour mes petits amis. (GESTURING) Entrez, entrez - vous êtes les bienvenus chez moi!"

Long before "Sesame Street" entered the imaginary world of preschool children, "Chez Hélène," a program produced in CBC's Montreal studios, enthusiastically met the challenge of helping English-speaking children learn French. Premiering on October 26, 1959, this TV show was hosted by actress and singer Hélène Baillargeon-Côté.

The second-language teaching method of "Chez Hélène" encouraged comprehension rather than simply having children repeat French words. Every weekday morning, for 15 minutes, children were invited into the welcoming home of Hélène and her friends to have fun as they learned the language of Molière through songs, stories, and simple conversations in which the dialogue alternated between French and English. This successful approach was employed throughout the 14 years the program was on the air.


P132 Hélène Baillargeon-Côté Fonds. - 1960-1989. - 30 cm of textual records. - 5 photographs. - 17 audio recordings.

Biographical Sketch

Born in St. Martin de Beauce, Hélène Baillargeon-Côté (1916-1997) began her career as a folk singer and actress. A mother of three, she was best known as the main character on the CBC television show "Chez Hélène."

Produced in the national broadcaster's Montreal studios, the program was the first children's show devoted to teaching the French language to English-speaking preschoolers. It was inspired by the work of renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield, who believed that the ideal time to begin learning a second language was between the ages of three and seven. The content and pedagogical approach of "Chez Hélène" was based on the "Tan-Gau" method, which encourages comprehension rather than simple repetition, through exposure to simple conversations where the dialogue alternates between French and English.

For 14 years, from 1959 to 1973, Hélène and her friends Peter, Louise, Suzie the mouse and Compère L'Heureux were very popular. However, the show was cancelled in 1973 because CBC executives felt that it had been on the air long enough and that "Sesame Street," which included five minutes of French content, could adequately meet this pedagogical mandate.

From 1973 to 1985, Hélène Baillargeon-Côté worked as a Canadian Court of Citizenship judge in Montreal. She was also involved in numerous causes, notably as Executive Director of the Quebec Federation of Volunteer Bureaus (Fédération des centres d'action bénévole du Québec).

Scope and Content

This fonds focusses on the professional life of Hélène Baillargeon-Côté, particularly her work on the television program "Chez Hélène." It contains numerous annotated television scripts (from the years 1959 and 1960), books of sheet music, storybooks and phonograph records chronicling the content of this popular children's show and Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's involvement in its production.

Press clippings illustrate the social and cultural impact of "Chez Hélène" as an educational tool, an instrument for bringing the English and French cultures together, and an example of a successful professional woman in 1960s Quebec. They also document Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's professional activities after 1973.

In addition, the fonds contains several photographs of Hélène Baillargeon-Côté taken during filming of "Chez Hélène."

Language: The documents are in English and French.


The fonds is divided into the following series:

  • P132/A Television scripts. - 1959-1960. - 24 cm of textual records.
    Scope and Content:
    This series is composed of five volumes of scripts from the TV show "Chez Hélène," produced and broadcast by CBC. The first volume contains the scripts for episodes 1 to 25, broadcast from October 26 to November 27, 1959; the second, those for episodes 26 to 60, broadcast from November 30, 1959, to January 15, 1960; the third, those for episodes 62 to 85, broadcast from January 19 to February 19, 1960; the fourth, those for episodes 86 to 110, broadcast from February 22 to March 25, 1960; and the fifth, those for episodes 111 to 135, broadcast from March 28 to April 29, 1960.
  • The series documents the content of the popular children's TV show devoted to teaching the French language to English-speaking preschoolers. Using dialogue that alternated between French and English, the shows aimed to teach simple words associated with concepts like colours, animals, food, the furniture and rooms found in the home, clothing, things found in nature, opposites (hot/cold, big/small, clean/dirty) and action verbs (eat, drink, jump, hide, run, fly, laugh, dance). More abstract concepts like hunger, thirst, smell, sadness, fear, surprise and secret were also covered. The content of each show revolved around themes that would extend over multiple episodes, often inspired by children's stories (for example, "The Three Little Pigs," "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding Hood") or well-known songs ("Sur le pont d'Avignon," "Frère Jacques," "Quand les poules vont au champ," "Au clair de la lune," "Promenons-nous dans les bois," "Il était une bergère"). As the main character, Hélène Baillargeon-Côté carried the action. In addition to talking to her friends Suzie the mouse, Diana and her brother Peter, Compère L'Heureux, Pamela the butterfly and Riquet the dog, she would clearly illustrate what she was saying with the help of pantomime, images, figurines and scale models. She would also demonstrate various activities (baking cookies, making crafts, doing a jigsaw puzzle).

    In addition, the scripts provide information on other contributors to the show, such as J. J. Faure, Mervyn Rosenzveig, Lise Bourgeois, Simone Poitras, Raymond Duplantie, Marie Brewer, Paul Jodoin (Jodouin), Marion C. Demish, Maurice Gagnon and L. Shapiro. Numerous handwritten annotations illustrate Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's involvement in the production of the show. In the first volume, several press clippings pasted onto the endpaper, including a March 1960 article by Thelma Dickman entitled "Is Canadian TV harming your child?" chronicle the show's popular and critical success. Finally, the series contains a copy of the Debates of the Senate from January 27, 1960, which mentions television and radio programs, including "Chez Hélène," that encourage English-speaking Canadians to learn French.


    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.
    Language: The documents are in English and French.

    • P132/A.1 Chez Hélène. Episodes 1-25 [script]. - 1959-1960. - 1 textual record ; 36 x 23 cm.
      Digitized documents: Part 1 - Part 2

    • Scope and Content: This volume contains the scripts of episodes 1 to 25 of "Chez Hélène," broadcast on CBC from October 26 to November 27, 1959. It provides information on the content of the popular children's TV show, along with numerous annotations illustrating Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's involvement in its production. Several press clippings pasted onto the endpapers chronicle the popular and critical success of "Chez Hélène.

    • Source of supplied title proper: Official title proper.
    • Language du document: The document is in English and French.

  • P132/B Storybooks. - [1959-1973]. - 3.5 cm of textual records.
  • Scope and Content: The two volumes that make up this series, likely used as props for the filming of "Chez Hélène," provide information on the scenographic processes used in this TV show devoted to teaching the French language to English-speaking preschoolers, often with the help of children's stories.
  • The first is a Belgian edition of the tale of Pinocchio. The front cover of this illustrated children's book is completely recovered with a construction paper collage displaying the title "Chez Hélène" and a cut-out of a hand-coloured illustration of a boy holding a pail. The back cover sports a similar collage showing a fish in water surrounded by cattails and tall grass. The book is missing pages, and some pages have been torn out and put back in a different order. Several pages have handwritten notes and traces of scotch tape, indicating the former presence of other papers.

    The second volume is a hardcover notebook with the title Helene's Storybook printed in gold letters. It contains a series of handwritten notes, in no particular order, including Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's address at 3792 Wilson, in Montreal, and the names of Ateliers Legault, artist Jordi Bonet, Pierre Garneau, and Daryl and Delissa Novak. It also holds part of a script, along with several sketches done in ballpoint pen and some children's drawings done in coloured pencil. Evidence of scotch tape on some pages suggests that other documents, perhaps illustrations, were previously taped into the book and have been removed. In fact, these pages often have handwritten notes across the bottom that seem to have been descriptive labels (for example, "6 rabbits," "boat," "jump in the street?" "passengers?"), or could refer to specific characters, themes or songs used in the show ("For Susie," "The little hunter," "Tintin"). On the whole, however, most of the notebook is blank and several of its pages only have traces of scotch tape

    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.
    Language: The documents are in French and English, but primarily in French.

  • P132/C Sheet music. - 1960-1990. - 2 cm of textual records.
    Scope and Content:
    This series documents the central role played by music in Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's career, first as a folk singer, and then as an actress in the title role of "Chez Hélène," a TV show produced and broadcast by CBC from 1959 to 1973. The series is made up of three collections of sheet music and lyrics published from 1960 to 1969.

    The first collection, entitled Vive la Canadienne (Éditions du Jour, 1963), is a selection of "77 wonderful songs from French Canada" taken from Baillargeon-Côté's repertoire, including well-known pieces like "À la Claire fontaine," "Partons la mer est belle," "Alouette, gentille alouette" and "Ah! Si mon moine voulait danser." The preface was written by Marius Barbeau, a folklorist at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa (in 1969, its anthropology division became the National Museum of Man, which is now called the Canadian Museum of History). The book is divided into a dozen or so sections (for example, songs about childhood, love, jobs, priests, rowing, dancing), including one devoted to "songs about marital woes" that offer a light-hearted look at the suffering of young people trapped in bad marriages. It includes songs from many regions in Quebec (Beauce, Gaspé Peninsula, Lower St. Lawrence, Mauricie, Lanaudière, Outaouais, Charlevoix, Montérégie, Montreal, Île Jésus, Kahnawake, Isle-aux-Coudres, Portneuf, Témiscouata, Île d'Orléans, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec City, Lotbinière). There are also several from Ontario (Sudbury, Werner, Lafontaine), Prince Edward Island and Acadian regions. Apart from a few words in English in "I went to the market" and the Iroquois lullaby "Ho! Ho! Watanay," all the songs in the collection are in French. The book was autographed by Hélène Baillargeon-Côté in July 1990.
  • Chantez, les petits (Gordon V. Thompson, 1960) is a collection of 57 short French songs, written and composed by Joseph Beaulieu. The book is designed as a tool to be used by English-speaking students learning French. The cover has a sticker with the name of Hélène Baillargeon-Côté and the stamp of the CBC Music Library, suggesting that songs in it may have been used on the TV show "Chez Hélène." It also contains several annotations, including marks pointing to certain titles in the table of contents. A photocopy of the song "Les petits oiseaux," taken from Chansons, rondes et jeux d'autrefois et de toujours (Éditions Bourrelier), is taped to the inside front cover.

    The last volume is a collection of songs used in the TV show "Chez Hélène." It contains traditional songs (e.g., "Frère Jacques," "Savez-vous planter des choux," "Fais dodo," "Il était un petit navire") along with songs written or composed by Francine Cockenpot, Hélène Baillargeon-Côté and Joseph Beaulieu, some of which were probably created especially for the show (e.g., "Susie, la souris" and "Susie est blottie").

    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.
    Language: The documents are in French and English, but primarily in French.

    • P132/C.1 Les chansons de "Chez Hélène" / published by Gordon V. Thompson Limited. - 1969. - 1 textual record ; 25.5 x 17.5 cm.
      Digitized document

    • Scope and Content: This songbook designed for preschool and elementary school students contains the sheet music for the songs sung by Hélène, the main character on the "Chez Hélène" TV show. The 61 songs were written and composed by Hélène Baillargeon-Côté or came from the traditional French repertoire. This document is evidence of the central role played by music in the way French was taught on "Chez Hélène.".

    • Source of supplied title proper: Official title proper.
    • Language: The document is in French and English, but primalily in French.

  • P132/D Press clippings. - [1960]-1989. - 1 cm of textual records.
  • Scope and Content: This series chronicles the career of Hélène Baillargeon-Côté, particularly her work as an actress in the title role of "Chez Hélène" during its 14 years on television. In addition, it chronicles the social and cultural impact of this TV show produced in the CBC's Montreal studios for English-speaking preschoolers wanting to learn French.

  • The series is composed primarily of press clippings from English and French daily newspapers, including The Gazette, The Globe and Mail, La Presse and Le Devoir. It also contains articles from magazines and regional newspapers. Several articles published in the 1960s document the show's critical and popular success. In an open letter published in the Montreal Star on October 17, 1966, for example, Kathleen Macpherson, from the organization Voice of Women, praises the CBC for airing shows like "Chez Hélène" that help children develop in a space "free of violence and discrimination." Thelma Dickman also speaks highly of the show in a March 1960 article entitled "Is Canadian TV harming your child?" A page from TV Radio Mirror indicates that the show placed second in the "Best Children's Show" category, just behind "The Friendly Giant," at the fifth annual Liberty All-Canada TV Talent Awards.
  • Several articles discuss the principles of the "Tan-Gau" method of language learning, which was the approach adopted by the show's creators. Most agree that a large part of the show's success was due to its playful tone and the warm personality of host Hélène Baillargeon-Côté. Quoting numerous testimonials from across the country and the United States, the articles also demonstrate that the show's influence extended far beyond its initial target public to reach television viewers of all ages. Some highlight the actress' professional success while noting the challenges involved in balancing such a career with the demands of being a mother. A 1963 article published in The Gazette reveals that the actress continued to maintain her career as a singer and folklorist, notably with appearances at international events.

    Finally, the series documents Hélène Baillargeon-Côté's professional activities after the show's cancellation in 1973. She is listed as a Canadian Court of Citizenship judge in a 1979 Citizenship Day program. Articles published for the 1986 edition of National Volunteer Week, of which she was the honorary president, recount her involvement in various charitable causes. In the late 1980s, she was interviewed for two articles about her life and career in which she looks back and discusses the innovative nature of "Chez Hélène."

    Source of title proper: Based on the contents of the series.
    Physical description: Some documents are photocopies.
    Language: The documents are in English and French.

  • P132/E Photographs

  • P132/F Audio recordings

 

Last update: February 25, 2019