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Hélène Baillargeon-Côté Fonds (P132)


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

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

(CURTSY) Hello, 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
    • P132/A.1 Chez Hélène. Episodes 1-25 [script]. - 1959-1960. - 1 textual record ; 36 x 23 cm.
      Digitized document: 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: The document is in English and French.

  • P132/B Storybooks

  • P132/C Sheet music
    • 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

  • P132/E Photographs

  • P132/F Audio recordings


Last update: August 30, 2017