Leslie Sjoberg, left, long-time president of the Cowichan Music Festival, congratulates singer Shaylee Martin on being chosen to attend provincials at last year’s event. (File photo)

Cowichan Valley laments the loss of arts cornerstone Leslie Sjoberg

Long-time president of the Cowichan Music Festival dies on March 25

Leslie Sjoberg, the long-time president of the Cowichan Music Festival and perennial community volunteer, died on March 25.

Jean Davis, long-time friend and organizer of the festival, said Sjoberg did all she could to make the festivals the best they could be and encouraged the students to do the same, whether in dance, instruments, piano, speech, voice, classical or musical theatre.

“Whenever she could, she would be at the various sessions, cheering them on and they loved her for it,” Davis said.

“Leslie was a very generous person and always appreciative of things done for her. She preferred to be in the background rather than the forefront and was not great at accepting accolades, although there were many, including the City of Duncan Arts Award. I know Leslie was proud of receiving the Queen’s Jubilee medal.”

Davis said Sjoberg was a great champion for young people, whether in the arts or sports.

“Leslie was the one who drove her children and other students to the soccer matches, or the swimming pool,” she said.

“She worked tirelessly for the arts and sports communities and was one of the driving forces behind the building of the Cowichan Community Centre. She was the president of both the Friends of the Cowichan Theatre and the Cowichan Music Festival for many years, as well as being on the Provincial Music Festival executive a number of times.”

Cathy Schmidt, who has been on the festival’s board of directors for many years, said in a Facebook post that the Cowichan Valley owes a lot to Sjoberg, who she describes as an “amazing woman”.

Schmidt said Sjoberg knew the Valley was full of greatness and talent that needed to be celebrated.

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know her,” she said.

“Her encouragement and passion for the arts was amazing. Leslie founded the Friends of the Cowichan Theatre 30 years ago and it still goes on now.”

Lexi Bainas, former arts and entertainment editor for the Cowichan Valley Citizen before her retirement earlier this year, said in a column last year that Sjorberg was such an iconic and important part of the Cowichan Music Festival that it could have been spelled “Leslie Sjoberg”.

“This dainty but dauntless dynamo, and perennial music festival president, has been a stalwart supporter of young talent for decades, and a tireless volunteer and strong voice for the performing arts in the Cowichan Valley for well over half a century,” Bainas said at the time.

“On stage at the annual gala concerts that wind up the annual festival, Sjoberg can still be found, ready to hand out bursaries, awards, and the coveted invitations to take part in provincials. Her ready smile and willingness to help out is a byword in the Valley.”

Bainas said this week that she was saddened to hear of the death of her old friend.

“We first met in 2002 and we talked about the festival, the Cowichan Theatre and the history of the old Steinway Grand Piano that the theatre owns,” she said.

“We just got on so well. I respected her incredibly. She was such a great volunteer and her whole life was dedicated to volunteering and helping young musicians and amateur performers.”

A statement from the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre said the arts community is deeply saddened by the passing of Sjoberg.

“She was a fierce advocate for the arts in Cowichan, a proponent for the building of our theatre, the president of the Cowichan Music Festival for many decades, and the first president of the Friends of the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre,” the statement said.

“Her tireless devotion to our centre and her steadfast commitment to empowering young performers in our community will be sorely missed.”


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