|Gabriel Lavoie of Alma, Que. has learned to read and write at age 73. (JEAN-LUC DOUMONT/QMI Agency)
ALMA, Que. - When former truck driver Gabriel Lavoie finally learned to read and write at age 73, choosing his first real-life writing task was a no-brainer.
The native of Alma, Que., north of Quebec City, created a thank you card for the daughter who had pointed him to a literacy class that helped him overcome his lifelong disability.
Lavoie drove trucks for 20 years without understanding warning signs or even the names of cities and towns that he visited for deliveries.
He had travelled countless kilometres and eaten in untold numbers of restaurants without being able to read the menu.
"In a restaurant, the waitress told me what was on the menu," Lavoie said. "I always ordered the special of the day, to avoid reading the menu. I ate the same thing twice a day so people wouldn't discover that I was illiterate."
Behind the wheel of his rig, Lavoie used a keen sense of direction to get around.
"I have a good memory," he said. "I memorized some houses or monuments to keep my bearings. When I saw that I was lost somewhere, I followed the other trucks."
Last Christmas, his daughter, aware her father couldn't read or write, offered him a gift that would change his life.
"She gave me a gift card to come to the Alma Reading and Writing Centre. I'm in my fourth session with them," he said.
He still can't function at an advanced level, and he was forced to learn to write with his left hand because of an old head injury that paralyzed his right side. But that didn't stop Lavoie's first act of gratitude -- sending a card to his daughter.
"I wanted to prove to her that I could send her a message of love to thank her for giving me this gift," he said.
Lavoie hopes his story will motivate other Canadians in his situation.
As many as 20% of Canadian adults are functionally illiterate.