He grew the best tomatoes, big cucumbers, squash and whatever the soil would allow. He grew a business that has been a second home to generations of Lowellians and a destination for those from near and far searching out authentic Quebecois comfort food.
Tonight, the Lowell City Council will vote on Councilor Marty Lorrey’s motion to name the Whiting Street community garden in honor of Wilfred Levasseur, longtime proprietor of Cote’s Market on Salem Street.
“It’s an honor for me to be able to put forth a motion to name this garden after Mr. Levasseur, who built a business that has become part of Lowell lore and has stayed in the Acre all these years,” said Lorrey.
In the early 1950’s, Wilfred Levasseur took the reins of the market his father-in-law Joseph Elphege Cote founded in 1917. He had served as a dental assistant in the U.S. Navy during World War II and had wanted to study dentistry, but with a growing family to support, taking over the market was a natural.
It was he who adopted the famous Rochette’s bean recipe, including the actual pots to cook them in, the ovens and measuring cups, from Frank Rochette and made them a Cote’s staple and a mainstay on Lowell tables on Saturday nights next to a plate of hot dogs and brown bread.
Even after his “retirement” in 1983, Wilfred Levasseur could be found at the market every day. The apron-clad patriarch would peel potatoes, wash pot holder, clean the ovens . . . . whatever needed to be done. He also was known to hold court.
“He always had a story,” recalled Dave Ouellette, President of the Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood. “Even more so than Roger (Wilfred’s son who now runs Cote’s). Anytime you walked in there you could hear him telling stories and he was always smiling.”
Wilfred Levasseur passed away in 2007 at age 84 following a fall in his Dracut home.
The city-owned lot on Whiting Street, just around the corner from Cote’s Market was am overgrown eyesore; a magnet for drug dealing and illegal dumping.
In 2011, Ouellette was able to secure a $1,500 neighborhood grant from the city to kick-start what he had envisioned for that lot. Ouellette formed partnerships with several groups in the city including CTI Youth Build, Mill City Grows, Coalition for a Better Acre and the Lowell Alliance for Families and Neighborhoods.
Today, the lot has been cleared and Youth Build has constructed a pergola in the middle of the space, from which a bird feeder hangs. The Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust has donated two trees, which have been planted. Curbing that the city had discarded lines the border, where in the spring 14 raised garden beds will be built, giving tenement residents many of whom are immigrants from farming backgrounds, a place to grow vegetables.
Art will be displayed along the top of the fence behind the garden beds. It will be a place for neighbors to get to know each other, learn from each other and build a stronger, safer neighborhood.
Ouellette said there will be an official ribbon cutting an dedication ceremony in the spring and he cannot think of a better person to name it after; he is thankful that Lorrey has brought the motion forward.
“I think it is great,” Roger Levasseur said of the impending honor when reached at Cote’s early this morning. “My father would be very proud of having such a place named for him, especially with what they are going to be doing there. He was an avid gardener and very proud of it.”