This Week in History


Music to our ears

For the week of Monday May 23, 2005

On May 29, 1942, the Parliament of Quebec passed the Act Respecting the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec. Sponsored by the provincial secretary of Quebec, Hector Perrier, this act allowed for the creation of the first conservatory in Canada that was fully state-subsidized. Conductor Wilfrid Pelletier, who advocated the passing of this act, was appointed director of the conservatory.

Wilfrid Pelletier
Wilfrid Pelletier
© Montreal Symphony Orchestra Archives

Wilfrid Pelletier was born on June 20, 1896, in Montréal and died on April 9, 1982, in New York City. Pelletier, who came from a family of musicians, was introduced to music at a very young age. After a sojourn in Paris from 1916 to 1917, he moved to the United States, where he enjoyed a successful music career. He was a rehearsal pianist for the French repertoire at the New York Metropolitan Opera, before being named assistant conductor and then conductor.

While successful abroad, Pelletier maintained an interest in the world of Canadian music. In 1934, he became involved in the creation of the Montréal Symphony Orchestra, then known as the Société des concerts symphoniques de Montréal. He noted that only a small number of young Quebec musicians had professional training, so with Hector Perrier’s support, Pelletier endeavoured to have the Act Respecting the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec passed, in order to address this shortcoming.

The Montreal Music Conservatory opened on March 1, 1943, and Pelletier was its general director until 1961. At that time, the conservatory stood out from other institutions offering music and drama training in Canada because it was a secular establishment accessible to both boys and girls, and at no cost. Therefore, it was open to all students with artistic talent who wished to pursue a career in music. The conservatory also set itself apart with its high-quality faculty, as Pelletier strove to find the best musicians to teach there. 

Conservatoire de musique de Gatineau

Conservatoire de musique de Gatineau
© Parks Canada / Victoria Baranow / 2005


Today, the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique du Québec is composed of seven institutions devoted to teaching music, situated in various regions of the province, and two other institutions devoted to teaching drama - one in Montréal and the other in Québec.

In his role as director of the conservatory, Pelletier greatly contributed to enhancing the arts in Canada by providing professional training to numerous instrumentalists, opera singers and actors. He is also known for a long musical career that spread over a number of decades. Wilfrid Pelletier was designated National Historic Person in 1988 and a plaque was erected in his honour in Montréal in 1999.

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