Élizabeth Mongrain

March 2017 was an important month for Library and Archives Canada (LAC): that's when we received our automated external defibrillators. This initiative, an integral part of LAC's Wellness Strategy, was the result of sustained efforts by some of our employees, including Élizabeth Mongrain.

Photograph: David Knox

Returning to Ottawa after spending three years in Shawinigan working for the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien (from whom she learned how to work with VIPs, interact effectively and respectfully, and negotiate in the best interests of LAC), Élizabeth found herself in charge of Governance and Political Archives. She is surrounded by colleagues for whom she has the greatest respect: "Here, I am working with intelligent people who have a long-range vision for archives, who understand history, and who identify and seize opportunities. I am surrounded by individuals with great professional courage who push me to be the best manager I can be."

For a long time, Élizabeth had been wanting to get involved in volunteer work and was interested in the Canadian Ski Patrol. However, she wasn't confident in her ability to provide first aid. She could never have imagined that a simple family vacation would be the start of an unforgettable adventure, in both professional and personal terms, and would lead to her joining the Canadian Ski Patrol.

In 2014, Élizabeth and her parents took a trip to Croatia and Italy to celebrate their birthdays (two 70th, one 40th). While they were in Venice, her father went into cardiac arrest on the street. Two doctors who happened to be there administered heart massage and asked Élizabeth to provide assisted breathing.

She was able to stay calm until the paramedics arrived, even taking down the names of witnesses in case the insurance company asked for details: "Thanks to archival science and my experience as a manager, I was able to remain calm. I had learned that when I was uncertain, I needed to take notes and let go of whatever I was unable to control. People were astonished that someone going through a traumatic family situation was able to do that. But for me, it was just a work-related reflex."

After the longest 15 minutes of Élizabeth's life, her father was brought back to life by the paramedics and a defibrillator. Amazingly, he experienced no after-effects, despite being in a coma for 28 hours. Élizabeth had her father back with the help of heart massage, assisted breathing and an automated external defibrillator.

(Left to right) Jackie Danger Stephens, Nastasya Henault, Jennifer Lazuk and Élizabeth Mongrain.
Photograph: Jay Rached

After this happened, Élizabeth made two important decisions: to join the Canadian Ski Patrol and to do everything she could to have LAC install defibrillators in its buildings.* As a result, since March, LAC, like other institutions concerned about the health and safety of its employees and the public, has had automated external defibrillators in all its buildings.

This story illustrates the influence that archival science has had on Élizabeth's personal life and how her personal life has, in turn, influenced LAC. It shows that our passion for our work is reflected in every aspect of our lives and that it pushes us to go above and beyond by doing extraordinary things.

*The project to install defibrillators at LAC was launched a number of years ago by Caroline Hogan, a colleague whom Élizabeth decided to support with the help of other employees, particularly Michel Pelletier, who had lost his wife, Geneviève Allard (another LAC employee) following cardiac arrest. They used existing forums to increase awareness of this issue and to encourage their colleagues to join them.

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