Music teacher, polio survivor, teacup reader, aunt. Born April 16, 1917, in Transcona, Man., died Dec. 14, 2012, in Winnipeg of natural causes, aged 95.
Hélène Marie Désange Blais influenced many hundreds of children and adults in the appreciation and discipline of classical piano.
Starting in 1955, Hélène Blais Music Studios in the Transcona neighbourhood of Winnipeg provided opportunity for many young students and music teachers to get their start.
Each year, her baby grand piano was moved to a local auditorium for the students to have the experience of a public piano recital, accompanied by her percussion band, to raise funds for the Society of Manitobans with Disabilities.
Music was Hélène’s passion and a vocation she shared tirelessly for decades as the organist for numerous weddings and funerals and during weekly services at Notre Dame de l’Assomption Parish in Transcona.
She extended her calling beyond her music studio by creating the Hélène Blais Music Scholarship Fund through Conservatory Canada.
Born in Transcona in 1917 to Eusèbe and Eléontine Blais, Hélène was one of seven children. At the age of 3, her life was forever changed by polio, but the family ensured that she attended boarding school with her sisters at St. Charles convent and St. Joseph’s Academy.
Her lifelong commitment to music began with piano at the age of 12. Following the completion of a music teacher diploma in 1938 and a performance diploma in 1939, she began teaching piano from the family home. In 1944, she became a member of the Registered Music Teachers Association of Manitoba.
A single woman with a disability, she was independent and rose to be a successful business owner at a time when either one of those factors might have been a barrier.
Hélène was proud of her first car, a 1960 Ford Falcon, which gave her even greater independence. Nieces and nephews were often passengers on trips to the store or the bank. Hélène’s parking technique could be described as “feel parking.” She was a firm believer that bumpers were there to be used. This would often lead to embarrassing “bumps,” but no one would ever say anything to this very proper lady who walked with a cane.
Though she was a devoted Catholic, our aunt was called upon to tell fortunes as a teacup reader for years at various church bazaars and teas. Her readings were, more often than not, true predictions.
In her own words reflecting on her life, she wrote: “I’ve always been a fighter, and I don’t give up easily. Music is a great healer and, AMEN, I know it will help me cope with everyday life no matter what happens.”
Brian Everton is Hélène’s nephew.