Friday, May 15, 2009

Les Lavigueur

image from

This picture shows the Lavigueur family, who lived not far from where I live now.

In 1986, they won what was then the largest lottery jackpot in Canadian history, $8 million dollars.

Pictured, left to right, are: Yve, who later wrote a book about their story, which was turned into a popular 6-part series on Quebec TV; Sylvie, who opened a hair salon with her money, and has mostly avoided the public eye; Jean-Guy, the father; William Murphy; and Jean-Marie Daudelin, aka Oncle Sourire, Jean-Guy's brother-in-law who helped raise the children after their mother (his sister) died of heart failure two years before the lottery win.

Not pictured are Michel, the youngest child; and Louise, the youngest daughter, who was living with her boyfriend and was not in contact with the family at the time of the lotto win.

Their story became part of Quebec pop culture for a number of reasons:

--The family was relatively poor and the father, Jean-Guy, who was illiterate, had been unemployed for a year after working for 36 years in a bedding factory. (The media falsely reported, and it was therefore widely believed, that he had always been on social assistance.)

--Jean-Guy lost the winning ticket two days before the draw, and it was found by an unemployed Anglophone from Vancouver, named William Murphy. As the Lavigeurs picked their numbers at random, they had no idea they had won. Murphy, after realizing he had the winning ticket, used the ID in the wallet he had found, tracked down the family, and gave them the ticket. The family chose to share the prize with him, dividing it equally between him and the five family members who had bought the ticket.

(Amazingly, he came to the door half-drunk at 11 pm, and since he spoke no French, Yve, the oldest son, who spoke no English, chased him away with a baseball bat, having no idea what he was saying and assuming he was a random crazy person. He returned again the next day and spoke with Jean-Guy, and was able to explain that the family had won the lottery.)

--The youngest daughter, Louise, 18 at the time, sued the family for a share of the winnings, under pressure from her boyfriend, who was 37, and a small-time drug dealer.
The case was reported in minute detail in the Quebec media.

From the win onwards, their lives were of endless interest to the QC media, including writers and photographers from Le Journal (Mtl's version of the Sun) who followed them around 24/7. They were depicted satirically in TV shows, comic strips, movies, and every deed (and misdeed) was reported regularly in the papers and on TV. The general (and not very true) impression was that they were little more than ignorant rednecks who had accidentally struck it rich.

the aftermath:

--Louise died at age 22, in 1991, of heart failure, from a condition that affected many of the women in their family (two sisters had predeceased her in infancy from the same condition).
--Oncle Sourire died in 1995 from complications due to weight problems.
--Jean-Guy, who in 1996 sold the mansion the family had bought, and who moved back to a small apartment in his old neighbourhood, died in 2000 from emphysema.
--Michel, who was married and had two children, took his own life in 2004 (the media reported this may have been due to criminal investigations relating to the arrest of several high-profile Hells Angels)
--Yve and Sylvie have mostly avoided the public eye. In 2000, two weeks before his father's death, Yve published a book titled Les Lavigueur: Leur VĂ©ritable Histoire. The TV series, which came out in 2008, was a somewhat fictionalized version of his book, and Yve collaborated with the producers and directors of the show.

In short (unlike this post), this story is an incredible and heartbreaking Canadian tragedy, as brilliant and convoluted as anything the ancient Greeks ever came up with.
It is now generally agreed that the family, despite their typical problems, despite their relative poverty, and despite Jean-Guy's recent unemployment, was exceptionally tight-knight and loving, and that the problems associated with their lottery win (and the media attention that came with it) more or less destroyed them--personally, and as a unit.

A writer in Le Devoir said, when the TV series came out, that it was a story that no self-respecting fiction writer would ever have even tried to create, since it seemed too incredible to have been real.

I just finished watching the TV series yesterday, and ben collis osti mon tabernac it has given me a lot to think about.

(Also, and mostly unrelated, perhaps, I just read over Sept-Dec 2006, and the volume and quality of work we've generated on here in our 4581 posts is nothing short of incredible. I hope we're all proud of this blog, b/c we should be.)

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