Opera legend dies
On June 16, former chancellor to Wilfrid Laurier University, Maureen Forrester, died at the age of 79.
The world-renowned contralto vocalist put Canada and Laurier on the map for producing quality musicians.
“She always took an interest in what was going on here musically and was very proud of being associated with the school,” said Lorin Shalanko, accompanist and coach at WLU, who was a student during Forrester’s years as chancellor.
Beginning her professional career in singing at the age of 21, Forrester would go on to have countless performances with major orchestras and choirs around the world including the Toronto Symphony and the New York Philharmonic.
“Her association with Wilfrid Laurier is really unfathomable,” said WLU associate professor Kim Barber on Forrester becoming chancellor in 1986.
“We had a big name associated with us and her presence here made us all feel more legitimate,” echoed Shalanko, also noting that the music program at Laurier was still developing in those years.
Barber, who knew Forrester both personally and as a mentor, reflected on the impact Forrester had on her career.
“She supported me and encouraged me in what I was doing and that was enormous for a young singer,” said Barber.
Forrester encouraged and inspired countless musicians who admired her work. Barber noted that it was her international acclaim that allowed “Canadian artists to believe that we can make an impact outside our borders.”
Serving as chair for the Canada Council of the Arts, Forrester was able to contribute to the music community, expressing her desire for philanthropy.
“She was really influential in keeping grants and not having cuts made to the arts and ensuring the artistic integrity of Canadian musicians would be supported for the years to come,” explained Barber.
The combination of great performance and advocacy defines the legacy Forrester has left at Laurier.
WLU president Max Blouw commented on the strong heritage of the voice program that she fostered, fulfilling the positive influence the role of chancellor entails.
“She must have been an enormous presence on the stage conferring the degrees on students who convocated in those years,” said Blouw.
Shalanko, who received his degree from Forrester, confirmed the effect that she had on the graduating class.
“When we had a chance to get our diplomas from Maureen it was great to stand beside someone who was a great Canadian and a great success,” he reflected.
Forrester’s scores, speeches and photos are kept on archive at WLU with the permission of her family to celebrate her legacy.
“She’s a great Canadian,” said Shalanko, “She’ll be missed.”