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lives lived

Jane Desjardins.Courtesy of family

Jane Desjardins: Artist. Mother. World traveller. Nature lover. Born June 30, 1934, in Nottingham, England; died May 27, 2022, in Montreal, of a stroke; aged 87.

Jane Desjardins was the head artist in our family of artists, she showed us how to appreciate life’s details. She taught us how to look at things differently, how to be brave and how to love deeply and unapologetically.

When she was a young child during the Second World War, Jane’s father served in the British military and the Allan family travelled to several countries in the Far East to escape capture by the enemy. She told stories of fighter planes shooting from the night skies, sleeping in culverts with her mother and younger sister and leaving everything behind, including beloved family pets. They lived in Singapore, in India (on a tea plantation) and then in Australia, before reuniting and returning to the U.K.

At 27, Jane left to explore Canada, arriving in the port of Montreal in June, 1962. Later that year, she crossed paths with tall, handsome Pierre Desjardins while leaving a party. Before she managed to get out the door, he got her phone number.

After a whirlwind courtship, Pierre proposed two weeks later. She paused, accepted and then revealed she was 28, not 27 years old, as she had previously told him! They married in April, 1963. Jane’s plans had changed, she stayed in Canada about 60 years longer than originally planned.

Pierre and Jane sailed around the world, living in obscure and beautiful bays, often in faraway countries. They had two children: André and Claire, with whom they shared their love of adventure, returning to Canada only for the mandatory school year.

In 1962, Pierre had purchased undeveloped land in Vermont with a friend. In 1965, Jane and Pierre built a small cedar bungalow on it and the family spent weekends and summers there if they were not off sailing. Being the only youngsters around for miles, Jane encouraged her children to create their own fun: drawing and painting, making moss gardens, getting to know the dairy farmers (and their cows) and they were taught how to fish and pick mushrooms.

Throughout her life, Jane made friends wherever she went. Her family got used to waiting for her, as she delved into conversation with strangers on the bus, in the metro, at the grocery store … She was interested in everyone’s story and had the gift of getting people to talk – even when unknowingly arriving at the wrong party. Jane got to know the guests while waiting for her husband to arrive, but it turned out that she was mingling at a party one street over from where she was expected to be.

Coming from a long line of artists, Jane always had her sketchbook and she journaled the entirety of her travels and life experiences. She observed the world through the lens of her artistic eye, translating it into her painting. She had a number of exhibitions in Canada, the United States and in France. In 2006, she received a Lieutenant Governor’s award for her art, one of several awards that she received during her lifetime.

She taught art workshops to children and adults and immediate family members who, subsequently, all became artists (including Pierre, the insurance salesman).

Jane Desjardins holds a painting she had just finished for a wedding present in Oct. 2016.Courtesy of family

In her 80s, Jane suffered from Alzheimer’s and stage 1 bladder cancer. She expressed great disbelief at both diagnoses, suggesting that the doctors must surely be mistaken. Mostly, she could not fathom that her mind was going, though her family was well aware of it.

During the pandemic, Jane wrote about her adventures and travelled through her words, reliving her childhood memories. Despite failing health, she kept up with her walks around the neighbourhood. Meeting new people and observing the world around her gave her the stories she needed to occupy her mind. She persevered even during Montreal’s brutal winters and made sure to get outside daily.

Jane was gentle, kind and creative. She deeply touched the lives of others and never lost her spirit, right up until the end.

Claire Desjardins is Jane’s daughter.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide