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The School Caisse story


Who founded the School Caisse?



Alphonse Desjardins (1854–1920) founded the School Caisse in 1907. He had already brought the idea of the caisse populaire, or credit union, to North America just a few years earlier. On December 6, 1900, he established the very first caisse in Lévis, Quebec.


The idea to create caisses populaires came to him when he heard the story of a man who was forced to pay extremely high interest rates on some money he had borrowed. Before setting up the first caisse, he did a lot of research and also used his personal experiences to guide him. He wanted to help French-speaking Canadians improve their living conditions and economic situation by giving them access to savings and loans. By the time he died, on October 31, 1920, he had helped found 164 caisses populaires and credit unions, 136 of which were located in Quebec, 19 in Ontario and 9 in the United States. Alphonse was a passionate supporter of cooperatives.


He created the School Caisse to help young people become independent and responsible, and get into the habit of saving as soon as they start school. Alphonse believed that it was better to start saving while you're young. That's why he created the School Caisse program. It was also known as the penny saving scheme. You could deposit as little as 1 cent.

To this day, the School Caisse still works with parents and schools to educate children about saving.


Alphonse's life


Alphonse Desjardins was born on November 5, 1854, in Lévis, Quebec. He was one of 15 children in a family of modest means. The Desjardins family had to get by on very little money. Although money was scarce, Alphonse studied at the Collège de Lévis. However, he had to leave school at age 15 to help support his family. Throughout his working life, he held various jobs: soldier, journalist, editor of the debates in the Legislative Assembly in Quebec City, newspaper publisher and French-language stenographer in the House of Commons in Ottawa.


On September 2, 1879, Alphonse married Dorimène Desjardins in Saint-Pierre-de-Sorel Church.


Who was Dorimène?



Dorimène Desjardins was born on September 17, 1858, in Sorel, Quebec. She was the daughter of Joseph Roy-Desjardins, a steamship captain, and Rosalie Mailhot. In the 1860s, she went to school at the Couvent Notre-Dame-de-Toutes-Grâces, in Lévis. She lived with her uncle and aunt, Jean-Baptiste and Louise-Clarisse Thériault, who also had another one of Jean-Baptiste's nieces living with them.



Life as a couple


The Desjardins family grew quickly, as one child after another arrived: Raoul, Anne-Marie and Edgar, all born between 1880 and 1882. Determined to help the young couple, Dorimène's aunt and uncle gave Alphonse a vacant lot they owned at the intersection of Rue Guenette and Rue Saint-Joseph (later Rue Mont-Marie), right next to their own house. The gift included $500 for building a home. In exchange, Alphonse agreed to pay them an annual pension. Just 1 or 2 years later, Alphonse and Dorimène moved into their new home, where they ended up living for nearly 60 years.


The family grew further with the addition of Alice, Alphonse, Adrienne, Albertine, Paul and Léon, all born between 1884 and 1897. The last child, Charles, was born in 1902. Alphonse and Dorimène had 10 children in the space of 21 years.


From 1900 to 1906, their house also served as the first head office of Caisse populaire de Lévis. It was behind these walls that some of the plans were drawn up to establish the first savings and loan cooperative in North America. In late 1906, the Caisse de Lévis head office was moved from the family home to a building on Avenue Bégin in Lévis.








Dorimène took care of the family's everyday needs and looked after her youngest children, while the older ones went to school, in some cases as boarders. When Alphonse was unavailable, she even welcomed caisse clients into the family home. Like many women at the time, she lived her life in the shadow of her husband. But every time she got a chance, she played a major role in contributing to the success of the caisses populaires.


In June 1914, Alphonse was found to have an incurable illness called uremia. He died on October 31, 1920, aged 65.


After Alphonse's death, in 1920, whenever someone needed a clearer understanding of Alphonse's philosophy, they turned to Dorimène for help. This resulted in her becoming a great moral force, especially in her dealings with the managers of the caisses in the Quebec City area.


She died on June 14, 1932, aged 73, in Lévis. In many ways, she can be thought of as the co-founder of Desjardins caisses populaires. Desjardins Group has recognized her as such since 2008. Their daughter Albertine continued living in the family home until early 1939, when she sold it to Desjardins Group. After housing tenants for several decades, the building was turned into a museum. The Maison Alphonse-Desjardins has been open to visitors since 1982.


Source: Our History, Our Museum