Article and Photo by Jason Setnyk
Cornwall, Ontario – The Ontario Government has announced the 2022-23 Attorney General’s Victim Services Awards of Distinction recipients. Among the distinguished recipients was Debbie Fortier, Executive Director of Maison Baldwin House, a renowned shelter for women experiencing abuse in Cornwall. On Friday, May 19th, the Best Western Parkway Inn & Conference Centre hosted an award ceremony recognizing Debbie’s unwavering dedication and outstanding achievements in supporting individuals affected by crime and advocating for victims’ rights.
Debbie Fortier’s remarkable journey at Maison Baldwin House began in 1983. Established in 1980 by the Sisters of Holy Cross, the shelter has been a sanctuary for countless women seeking refuge from abusive situations. Over the years, Debbie has played a pivotal role in its operations and has been instrumental in transforming the lives of survivors.
In 1999, Debbie assumed the position of Executive Director and has since become a respected figure in the field. Her passion for assisting victims of domestic violence has led her to mentor newcomers in the sector and advocate for victims’ rights through various committees and initiatives.
“Being a recipient of the Attorney General Victim Services Award of Distinction for 2022-2023 is something I am humbled yet very proud of for myself, Maison Baldwin House, and the Community of Cornwall. I feel the work I have done in our community over the past 40 years has been of value to the women and children who have used our services and has not gone unnoticed,” Debbie stated.
One of Debbie’s notable accomplishments is the creation of a groundbreaking committee that developed the first community police/shelter/outreach protocol for the Cornwall area. This collaborative effort aimed to improve the services provided by the Ontario Provincial Police, Cornwall Community Police Service, and Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service to women leaving abusive environments. The protocol established clear directives and guidelines to ensure the safety and support of survivors throughout their journey.
“Maison Baldwin House is a shelter for women over the age of 16, with or without children escaping situations of Domestic Violence. We provide a temporary safe place to stay. We provide information, informal counseling, and advocacy. We help women rebuild their lives in hopes of living a life free from violence,” said Debbie.
To secure additional financial support for Maison Baldwin House, Debbie took a proactive approach by launching Serendipity, a thrift store entirely managed by volunteers. The store’s proceeds have helped offset operational costs and provided a valuable opportunity for women residing at the shelter to gain employment skills, fostering empowerment and self-sufficiency.
“There are so many services that are doing their best with very little funding. Situations are more complex than they were 40 years ago when I started at the shelter. Today family dynamics have changed. Addiction issues, mental health issues, homelessness, and Human Trafficking make working with cases more complex. Non-profit agencies provide the services to the best of their ability, but funding is a constant issue. We have no choice but to spend time fundraising to make ends meet and provide the best services we can offer our clients. Constantly writing funding proposals is time-consuming, precious time we could be spending providing direct services if the funding was there,” said Debbie.
The Attorney General’s Victim Services Award of Distinction acknowledges the invaluable contributions of individuals and organizations dedicated to supporting crime victims and raising awareness about their issues in Ontario. Debbie Fortier’s relentless efforts and exceptional leadership have profoundly impacted the lives of countless survivors in the community.
In accepting the award, Debbie expressed her gratitude for the recognition while acknowledging the tireless efforts of her colleagues at Maison Baldwin House. She emphasized the importance of collaboration and community involvement.
Notable individuals and supporters attended the event. MP Eric Duncan, MPP Nolan Quinn, Cornwall Mayor Justin Towndale, and Senator Bernadette Clement all took the stage to express their admiration for Debbie’s work and shared personal recollections of her profound impact on the community. Their heartfelt speeches highlighted the significance of Baldwin House and its role in providing a safe haven for women escaping abusive situations. In addition to these esteemed speakers, members of the Baldwin House Board of Directors, dedicated staff, friends, and family were present to celebrate Debbie’s achievement.