Skip to content

Remembering the sweet woman with the sweet voice

Frances Mathieson's participated in multiple choir groups in her life and helped co-found a summer camp for young singers

Guelph resident Frances Mathieson spent much of her life in song with others. 

The passionate singer started in her hometown of Montreal with the Montreal Bach Choir, then going on to sing with the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and a group within it called The Festival Singers, where she was part of a professional core as a paid performer. A newsletter from Arbour Trials writes Frances also travelled to different countries around the world as part of the different choirs.

Described as a 'wonderful soprano,' Frances was still singing near the end of her life as a member of the Harcourt United Church choir.

On Oct. 29, Frances passed at the age of 93.

Her son Stephen Douglas recalls being a child when his father brought him to a concert in Toronto to watch his mother perform in Messiah with The Festival Singers and feeling proud.

"I remember seeing her on stage and thinking I could hear her voice," said Stephen. "She lived to sing. She had a wonderful voice and it was really clear that it was the most joyful thing she could do with her life."

Frances grew up in the St. Lambert neighbourhood in Montreal with her three other sisters and parents. In this neighbourhood also lived her cousin and Jocelyn Sherman, a lifelong friend.

"It was quite a nice place to live," said Sherman, who has been friends with Frances since they were five-years-old. 

"She was a very positive, upbeat sort of person, we had a lot of laughs together."

Meeting through their parents, Sherman and Frances went to elementary and high school together. While in school, they formed a close trio with another student named Pamela, who came from England. They were both each other's bridesmaids, and later on in life, both would move to Guelph and attend Harcourt United Church.

From their childhood, Sherman remembers Frances' father, Frank, could play the piano by ear and would perform whenever the family came over to visit. Frances and her three sisters, Betty, Barbs and Carol, would all sing together. This led the family to coin the name for the siblings, 'Four Corner Sisters.' As they got older, Frances and her youngest sister Carol would break out in song when spending time together in Grand Bend at the cottage.

"She was always singing with her sisters," said Stephen.

"I can still see her father at our old upright, banging and playing away at the piano and everyone enjoying it, there was a lot of music in her life for sure," adds Sherman. 

Singing also led Frances to meet her first husband, Carl Little, in Montreal. Sherman said Frances was a member of the church choir when Carl became the newest choir director and organist. They married in 1949 and went on to have four children before separating.

During their marriage, Frances and Carl helped co-found a musical summer camp called Canadian Amateur Musicians/Musiciens Amateurs du Canada (CAMMAC) with Carl's brother, George Little, and his wife, Madeleine Little, in 1953.

Stephen said the idea came from a conversation between the four of them about providing a program for amateur musicians to get professional help. That year, Frances and the group invited musicians from Montreal to come to Otter Lake where they held the first camp, and the idea grew from there. 

"It took off, tremendously successful, it's well known and it is still running today," said Stephen, noting the camp is now in a different location and is also held in Ontario, which he had attended near Peterborough.

After his mother's passing, Stephen adds he came across a former CBC interview which featured CAMMAC.

"I saw my mother, my father, and my aunt and uncle on this five-minute CBC episode, and I ended up writing to CBC and getting a copy of the episode," he said.

At one point in her life, Frances took a break from singing to help raise her family and worked for many years at CIBC. She was promoted to loans manager and remained in the position until she retired. 

Frances married her second husband, Murray Mathieson, in December of 1984. The couple lived in Toronto before moving to Guelph where they spent over 30 years within the community. Besides being involved in the Harcourt Church Choir, Frances spent time playing bridge, hiking and volunteered as a door greeter at the Arbour Trails community. 

"They enjoyed being there," Sherman said about Frances and Murray living in Guelph. 

Visiting over the years, Stephen shares a couple memories he made with his mother in the area, including going canoeing on Guelph Lake or singing in the Harcourt Choir together one Christmas Eve.

"Moments like that, those were tender moments for me," said Stephen. "We (my mom and I) talked about that for years."

Family and friends agree Frances was a positive person who had lots of energy to share with others. Her singing also influenced some of her children to follow their own musical passions. For Stephen, that was participating in choirs as an adult, where he performed Messiah with the Vancouver Bach Choir.

"I was standing on stage at the Orpheum, with tears in my eyes, thinking about how proud I had been when I saw my mom sing," said Stephen.