Melvin Boutilier is an incredible entrepreneur and trailblazer of social enterprise, whose commitment to community has helped two generations of those in need in the greater Halifax Regional Municipality.
Melvin Boutilier was born in a rural community in Nova Scotia on January 29, 1928. He was one of ten children and felt early in life the pain of poverty. It was here in this humble setting that he developed his sensitivities to the needs of the poor and underprivileged. At eight years old he set up a podium (a wooden orange crate) and spoke to an imaginary audience. He told them that he intended that “when he grew up, to make a positive difference in the lives of others, relieving want and hardships wherever he could do so.”
After a successful career in government and the construction industry, some people may look to quietly take an early retirement but not Melvin Boutilier; he took the opportunity to fulfill his dream as a volunteer and focus on addressing challenges in the Halifax community. His wife was also shared his dream and was happy to assist him by remaining in her career for 65 years.
In 1983, with no funds and a limited food source, he and five friends established Community Care Network (commonly known as Parker Street Food Bank) in a single car garage. This venture grew more rapidly than expected and exposed many other needed services such as providing clothing, shoes, household items including furniture. A furniture bank was started in a rent-free building and was a great help to many families. An emergency fund was created to care for crisis situations in low-income families such as being unable to pay for heating fuel, power or fill medical prescriptions. Two thrift stores were set up to help support these programs. Later, it was possible to buy a warehouse in which all the services could be housed with greater efficiency.
The necessity of another step to help eliminate poverty was clear, people wanted and needed self-sufficiency. Training began with computer skills for students supported by the provincial government. Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) assessed the program and determined that the program could be used as credit for students who wished to continue at NSCC. Every student was given a donated computer refurbished by the program’s refurbishing department, staffed by two full-time technologists. Later an adjacent building was purchased and used as The Skills Development Centre. Working with the provincial government, Nova Scotia Community College and Millwright College, over 100 students in various trades graduated and 80% found employment.
After being Executive Director of the Community Care Network for 31 years, Mr. Boutilier left the network and organized another charity named the Metro Care and Share Society. This charity is centered on education and using knowledge to help eradicate poverty. The Halifax Scholars Program (HSP) provides guidance to students currently in high school and awards scholarships to those facing financial and other barriers, hindering their access to post-secondary institutions. HSP wants to cultivate in youth the presence of hope, determination, and a realization of the importance of education.
After decades of service to his community, it is fitting that Mr. Boutilier’s work has been recognized by the municipal, provincial and federal governments and 15 community organizations. Among his recognitions are: the Order of Canada, Order of Nova Scotia, Red Cross Humanitarian of the Year, and the Theresa Casgrain Award for Outstanding Volunteerism, awarded yearly to one man and one woman in Canada.
Mr. Boutilier is a role model for the graduates of Saint Mary’s University and demonstrates the values that help to build stronger and healthier communities.
Saint Mary’s University is honoured to bestow a Doctor of Civil Law, Honoris Causa to Melvin Boutilier.