A born philanthropist, Jacqueline Desmarais led a happy, fulfilled life dedicated to family and friends as well as to the arts and community in Canada and abroad. Born in Sudbury, Ontario, on September 20, 1928, Jackie, as she was affectionately called, studied at the University of Ottawa and went on to practice nursing.
Her passion for music was inspired by her father, Ernest Maranger. She was an accomplished jazz singer and, at the age of 20, triumphantly shared the stage with none other than Duke Ellington, singing “Sophisticated Lady” at Standish Hall, a hotel and nightclub in Hull. She later developed a deep love of classical music and opera under the guidance of her cherished friend and mentor, the late Pierre Béique, former General Director of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, in whose honour she later commissioned the Grand Orgue of the Maison symphonique de Montréal, built in Quebec by Casavant Frères.
Over the last 40 years, she made a significant contribution to the vitality of the arts by offering her personal support to musicians, opera singers, symphony orchestras and other organizations, including the Opéra de Montréal and the Guilde de l’Opéra de Montréal, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestre Métropolitain, the Domaine Forget, the metropolitan Opera of New York, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Concours musical international de Montréal, the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute, Jeunesses Musicales Canada and the Festival d’Opéra de Québec. She sponsored The Met: Live in HD series, making it possible for audiences to attend simulcasts of operas in cinemas across Canada. She also maintained and abiding interest in the careers of many young artists, welcoming them into her home and giving them the opportunity to develop their talent and shine on stage.
Jacqueline believed in the importance of education, community development and health care. She supported numerous community organizations, including La rue des femmes, Centraide of Greater Montreal, the Jasmin Roy Foundation, the Université de Montréal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation, which inaugurated the Jacqueline Desmarais Pavilion in her honour in 2016.
Among other distinctions, Jacqueline Desmarais was named a Grand Officer of the Ordre national du Québec, Commander of the Ordre de Montréal, Companion of the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec and Officer of the Order of Canada. In France, she was granted the title of Chevalier of the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur. She also received an honorary doctorate from the Université de Montréal. “The Rubies” award from Opera Canada and the 2014-2015 Opus Hommage award from the Conseil Québécois de la musique. She was also inducted into the Canadian Opera Hall of Fame.The life of Jacqueline Desmarais was inspired and even cadenced by music. Those who crossed paths with her will forever remember her charisma, great generosity and lively spirit.
Provide financial assistance in the form of grants to young opera singers who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents.
The Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation for Young Canadian Opera Singers was officially founded in 1993, but took its current form only in 1997. A grant recipient selection procedure was put in place at that time to encourage the most promising young talents from across the country. Since then, many singers have submitted applications in hopes of obtaining financial assistance from the Foundation.
The Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation for Young Canadian Opera Singers holds annual auditions in Montréal to select grant recipients under its support program. To date, over 120 singers have been awarded career development grants. Singers can apply every year up to the age of 32. The Foundation’s financial assistance has allowed numerous singers to pursue projects that have proven decisive for their careers, with many going on to prominent careers on the national and international stages.