Quebec philanthropist Jacqueline Desmarais dead at 89

Jacqueline Desmarais, the widow of Montreal financier Paul Desmarais, has died at the age of 89. She was known as a patron of the arts who devoted her life to supporting the music and opera world.

Widow of Paul Desmarais devoted her life to supporting music, arts

The family of Jacqueline Desmarais said a private funeral will be held in the coming days. A commemorative service will be set at a later date. (Radio-Canada)

Jacqueline Desmarais, a longtime supporter of the arts and widow of Montreal financier Paul Desmarais, has died at the age of 89.

Her family announced that a private funeral will be held in the coming days, in a statement released Saturday. A commemorative service will be set for a later date.

Desmarais, born in Sudbury, Ont. in 1928, was known as a patron of the arts. A key member of Canada's financial elite, she devoted her life to supporting music and opera.

"She was a wonderful woman with a heart of gold, with a profound attachment to Quebec and Canada," said former prime minister Brian Mulroney. 

Desmarais created bursaries for emerging musicians before starting a foundation in her name for young opera singers in 1997. 

She also supported the Montreal symphony orchestra and headed its guild from 1989 to 1999.

In 2011, Desmarais received the Legion of Honour from then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who called her "a great friend to France and a great lady of the arts."

She was also named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2013.

Opera performances to honour Desmarais

As part of her dedication to the arts, Desmarais was instrumental in launching the career of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Metropolitan Opera's music director.

Nézet-Séguin described Desmarais as deeply loyal and energetic.

"She was a lady who loved life," he said. "A lady who loved happiness and especially emotion. It was emotion she looked for in art."

The Met will dedicate its remaining performances of Elektra, conducted by Nézet-Séguin, in honour of Desmarais.

The Montreal symphony orchestra will also pay tribute to her on Tuesday with a special organ performance on the Casavant organ she helped pay for.

It will also dedicate one of its performances of Verdi's Requiem in late March to Desmarais.

With files from Radio-Canada