Maureen Forrester was one of the world’s leading contraltos, a former chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, and a tireless supporter of the arts in Canada.
Forrester served as Laurier’s third chancellor from 1986 to 1990, and paid special interest to the students and professors of the Faculty of Music’s voice performance program. In 1994, the university named its recital hall for her and established a scholarship in her name.
Born in Montreal in 1930 into a working-class family, Forrester made her professional debut at the age of 21 with the Montreal Elgar Choir. She went on to perform with the Montreal Symphony and the Toronto Symphony, and made her European debut in Paris in 1955.
At the height of her career, “Canada’s grand dame of song” gave as many as 120 performances a year and performed with nearly every major orchestra in the world under famous conductors such as Bruno Walter, Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein. She was known for her versatility – performing classical musicals, operas and even cabaret – but she was acclaimed for her performances of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies.
“Perhaps, once I am gone, the one thing I might be remembered for is having sung a great deal of Mahler with a great many phenomenal conductors,” she once said. “It is wonderful music, very spiritual.”
Forrester received many awards and recognitions over the course of her career. She was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1967, was chair of the Canada Council from 1983-1988 and received the Order of Ontario in 1990. She was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame in 1990 and is also a member of the Juno Hall of Fame. In 2000, Forrester was awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. She also has 30 honorary university degrees, including one from Laurier in 1975.
She passed away June 16, 2010 at the age of 79. To preserve her legacy, Laurier established the Maureen Forrester Legacy Collection and The Maureen Forrester Archive. The extensive collection includes musical scores written for her and dedicated to her, photos, concert memorabilia, press reviews and sheet music with her notations.