The Société de SAINT-VINCENT DE PAUL’s extensive network has been offering transitory help and community support for more than 165 years.

​Paris, 1833
In 1833, Frédéric Ozanam was studying law at the Université de la Sorbonne in Paris when he created – along with five of his friends – the entity which would eventually become the Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul. Thanks to its members, the SSVP deployed its efforts in the city’s impoverished neighborhoods, visiting the homes of the poorest people. This model would develop rapidly and within ten years, the Société’s membership numbered more than 6,000 volunteers in several European countries.

Following a trip to France, Quebec City surgeon Joseph-Louis Pincheau creates the Notre-Dame Conference*, enabling the Société de Saint-Vincent de Paul to take root for the first time in Canada.

Hubert Paré, a merchant and philanthropist, becomes president of the Montreal Conference*. The Société’s expansion follows the development of the city and springs up wherever need is felt. Pioneering the notion of social services before it ever existed, the SSVP makes up for the shortcomings of the system prevailing at the time. Apart from its direct and indirect actions to help Montreal’s needy, the SSVP gets involved whenever a catastrophe or tragedy strikes.

1850 – 52
In response to the 1850 and 1852 fires that swept through Montreal, special relief committees are set up to ensure transportation and distribution of goods coming in from the rural communities.

The Maison de Saint-Vincent de Paul is established and serves warm meals.  The following year, the Société opens up numerous soup kitchens – then called fourneaux économiques (thrift ovens) –, providing not only food assistance but also clothes, furnishings, heating coal and medicine.​

The Société co-founds the Saint-Charles Hostel to help the homeless. While it is now named the Accueil Bonneau, the shelter still operates today. 

* The word “conference” comes from the Société’s first designation – Conférence de Charité (Charity Conference). Its founder, Frédéric Ozanam, had borrowed the name from the Conférence d’Histoire, a discussion assembly which first came up with the concept of giving material help to destitute people and making home visits. The term Conférence has been kept to designate the staff working at a Help Centre who are part of the SSVP.

A few facts and highlights

Between 1848 and 1895, the SSVP helps more than 44,000 families.

The very first Guignolée is organized. Participating volunteers – called guignoleux – go from door to door to collect food and funds for Christmas baskets to be distributed to the poor. This tradition lives on in the province of Québec and occurs every year prior to the holiday season.

The SSVP is particularly concerned with children. Its contribution to the construction of the Saint-Arsène Orphanage demonstrates this consideration. Later, it becomes involved in the Goutte de lait (Drop of milk) childcare centres and partners with the Montreal Catholic School Board, to determine how many kids are skipping school because of their lack of clothing and to remedy the situation.

During the First World War, our volunteers boost the morale of our troops by providing them with the necessary supplies to write to their loved ones and by sending parcels to frontline soldiers.

In 1918, the SSVP plays a major role in the fight against the Spanish flu pandemic, which would claim the lives of more than 3,500 Montrealers.

During the Great Depression of the thirties, the Société significantly broadens its network. Some soup kitchens serve up to half-a-million meals per year. In response to governments’ requests, it takes charge of direct support to the population, which would eventually give birth to Employment Insurance programs.

In 1934, the SSVP creates the Grenier du pauvre (Pauper’s attic) shop. Volunteers start collecting old furniture, to be refurbished then given to underprivileged people. Nowadays, a similar workshop serves as the basis for our back-to-work program.

To this day, the Société remains a trusting resource when disaster strikes. Our team sees to the efficient management of large relief operations and participates to the effort anyway it can. As proof, one can only mention our involvement during the “Red Weekend” in November of 1974, the 1996 Saguenay floods or the ice storm crisis in 1998.

Today’s Société de SAINT-VINCENT DE PAUL

The SSVP pursues its mission and continues to provide its services through the province’s largest solidarity network. Our 1,400+ volunteers, affiliated with our 28 stores or 83 Help Centres, are ready to go whenever a tragedy occurs. The need is there and remains constant. More than 120,000 people are cared for each year – an achievement mostly funded by the generosity of the public.​
food baskets are distributed annually to families by our volunteers, thanks to your generosity.


17 500
people benefit from our food baskets each year.