A talented leader, fundraiser, organizer and social activist, Almanda Marchand (née Walker) founded the Fédération des femmes canadiennes françaises (FFCF) in 1914 and ran the organization as executive director until 1946. Initially launched to support the war effort, the Federation broadened its activities after the war to improving the welfare of French Canadian families, with a special emphasis on women and child welfare. The Federation still exists under the name of the Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne.
Marchand lived at several addresses in Sandy Hill: 592 Rideau St. (1892-1900); 250 Laurier Ave. E. (1901-1908); 503 King Edward Ave., 284 Chapel St., 240 Charlotte St. (1909-1918); 58 Russell Ave. (1918-1927) and finally 54 Range Rd. (1927-49).
Almanda Marchand had nine children. One of her sons fought as a pilot and was taken prisoner in 1917. Her youngest son died in 1919 of the Spanish flu. Her husband Paul Marchand was a successful electrical contractor.
While the FFCF’s initial focus was the welfare of Canadian soldiers at the front, (in 1914, Marchand used the third floor of her house to store and sort the parcels being prepared for shipment overseas), after the war, the Federation shifted to women welfare issues. Inspired by her Catholic faith, Marchand sought greater justice at a time of profound social and economic changes. She lobbied in favour of government financial support for mothers living in poverty. She fought against Regulation XVII that severely restricted the teaching of French in Ontario schools starting in 1912. When the provincial government cut off funding to schools that refused to apply the regulation, she raised money to buy coal to heat the schools in winter. She fought (unsuccessfully) against the Dionne Quintuplets Guardianship Act that gave the Province of Ontario control over the raising of the Dionne quintuplets. But while she took on many causes in favour of education, children’s welfare and public health, she was always pragmatic and worked inside established power structures.
Not surprisingly, she had also a keen interest in politics and promoted a greater involvement of women in politics. For several years, she lived down the street from Laurier House and got to know the Lauriers well. She developed a personal friendship with Lady Laurier who helped her in her charitable work and even accepted to chair the FFCF’s annual general meeting in 1921. Marchand was active in Liberal women’s circles and in 1926, there was a strong movement to have her run for the Liberal nomination in Ottawa. Later, several women’s organizations supported her candidacy as the first female senator, a position that King ultimately gave to Cairine Wilson.