• Meet a Donor: Maureen Shewchuk and Valerie Gow

    By COC Staff


    Maureen Shewchuk (left) and Valerie Gow (right) are long-time Friends members who have recently moved up into the Best Friends level of support. The pair recently shared with us what first inspired them to see an opera, why they're passionate about supporting the arts, and what "refreshing" changes they've noticed around the opera house.

    Tell us a bit about yourselves!

    Maureen: 
    I’m a chartered accountant and I work for SunLife. I live in Toronto and, aside from opera, I love cycling, tennis, bridge, and photography.

    Valerie: I’m a lifelong Torontonian who now lives downtown with Maureen. I work for Penguin Random House publishing – so I read a lot! But I also play tennis and we both travel a fair bit.

    Maureen and Valerie on vacation in Porto, Portugal last November

    What inspired you to try seeing an opera?

    Valerie: I was invited by a friend in 1990 to see Boris Godunov, which I think is about a five-hour opera {laughs} It seems funny to think about now and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as an entry point for people! But it really made a lasting impression on me and I knew I definitely wanted to keep seeing operas after that – shorter ones, mostly! 

    Maureen: I’m originally from small town Thunder Bay. When I moved to Toronto, I thought it was fun to do things that I couldn’t do when I was growing up – and going to an opera seemed like that would perfectly fit that bill of “doing something different.”  I actually don’t remember what my first opera was but I remember enough that I liked it and went to some more through the 90s. By the time the COC opened its new opera house, I was hooked and became a regular season subscriber.

    Do you have a favourite opera?

    Maureen: One opera that I remember really well and made a lasting impression was Götterdämmerung – mostly, I think, because I was terrified of the length!  But when we went to see it and it was over, I couldn’t believe that 5.5 hours had gone by and that I was not only awake, I was on the edge of my seat.  That was a pretty big, positive opera experience. I just remember being so surprised - and pleasantly so!

    Valerie: For me, any of the operas where I come out humming the music or tapping my toe… all of those are my favourites! Eugene Onegin, which played this past fall at the COC, is a great example.

                       A scene from the COC's 2018 production of Eugene Onegin (photo: Gary Beechey)

    How long have you been a COC donor?

    Maureen and Valerie: I think it’s about eight years now.

    There are so many causes that people can throw their support behind… why did you choose the COC?

    Maureen: For me, it was sparked by an awareness that my season subscription only covered a fraction of what the COC puts on.  Learning that made me feel like I wanted to contribute support to all the things the organization does.

    Valerie: I think that one year, I happened to be doing an inventory of organizations and causes that I support  – and I noticed that there were hospitals and advocacy groups on the list, but then I thought “Why not also support things that bring joy to myself and so many others?”

    How important is it to you to support the kinds of arts and culture that both inspires and challenges our city?

    Valerie: I think that arts are integral to living in a city and enjoying city life.  I think what Maureen said about things you can’t do if you live in rural areas or smaller towns is true  – we’re incredibly lucky to live where we do and have access to the kinds of arts scene that exists here.  A city’s population thrives when arts and culture is able to thrive.

    What changes have you noticed around the opera house?

    Valerie: There is something that happened recently that really stands out in mind – and that was being absolutely bowled over, in the best possible way, by the audience who showed up to see Hadrian, last fall. Seeing the modernism of the production itself was a treat but then seeing people that I hadn’t seen at the opera before… it was just a lot of fun to see and felt incredibly refreshing.

    What do you think people should know about who goes to see opera?

    Maureen: When colleagues and friends find out that we go to the opera and have been season subscribers for over a decade now, I still find that they’re kind of surprised; I guess we don’t typify what people perceive an “opera-goer” is.  But I hope that spotlights like this one help show that all kinds of people can and do enjoy opera  – it’s really for anyone and everyone. Opera for all!


    Valerie and Maureen with Mozart(!) their daschund, in 2016



    The COC gratefully acknowledges that we have been able to evolve into the innovative arts organization that we are today thanks to our generous donors, sponsors, and patrons. In fact, nearly a third of our operating budget comes from individual supporters who believe that opera can be a meaningful and enriching experience, and that a world with a thriving, artistically vibrant COC is a better world than one without it.

    Learn more about our community of supporters.
    Posted in Meet a Donor

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