Estelle Klein, artistic director emeritus of the Mariposa Folk Festival, died in
Belleville, Ontario, on June 17, after a brief battle with cancer. She was 74.
Estelle was a fierce advocate for and mentor to countless musicians and was
affectionately regarded as the "Queen Mother of Canadian folk music." As the
artistic director of Ontario’s Mariposa Folk Festival for almost 20 years, she
transformed the annual event from one that focused solely on evening concerts
featuring headliners into a cross-genre format that placed equal emphasis on
daytime workshops, crafts, and children’s programs.Estelle was born on Feb. 3, 1930, in Buffalo, New York, and moved to Toronto in 1933
with her parents. She met her husband Jack when she was 15 during a visit to
Brampton, Ontario’s Camp Naivelt, a left-wing, politically charged camping
community for the Jewish working class, where folk music was an important part
of camp activities. The couple married in 1950. In 1954, Estelle devoted herself
to her work at the University of Toronto’s Settlement House where she introduced
music to children in addition to fighting tirelessly for better wages for local
In 1961, Estelle joined the Mariposa Folk Festival in an advisory capacity that
eventually led to a job as artistic director in 1964.
The festival began its life in Orillia and became one of Canada’s best-known
emblems of the sixties and was soon transferred to several sites around Toronto,
including Centre Island.
For Estelle, a multidisciplinary approach to the festival – including daytime
workshops and crafts – was "far more important for her than so-called
‘headliners,’ " recalls her husband. "Her primary purpose was to show the
cultural interaction that takes place when wonderful musicians, performers, and
dancers get together.
Estelle changed the world of folk music in Canada. As Artistic Director of the
Mariposa Folk Festival her innovative approach to intercultural programming and
organizational ability set a standard that influenced and shaped every major
folk festival in Canada. "In many ways what she did was establish a foot print.
I don’t even think she did it consciously. You can find Estelle’s foot print at
every festival in Canada," said Mitch Podolak, 56, founder of the Winnipeg and
Vancouver folk festivals.
After resigning from Mariposa in 1980, Estelle brought her unique
multidisciplinary approach to her work as a freelance arts consultant and her
work with the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. She was
also involved in arts programming for the Ontario Science Centre and Toronto’s
Most recently, she was instrumental in helping to form The ArtsCan Circle, an
organization dedicated to bringing music and a sense of hope to children in some
of Canada¹s most remote and distressed Aboriginal communities. She spent her
last hours listening to music and reminiscences from many of her closest friends
who paid tribute to Estelle at a benefit concert for ArtsCan Circle on May 9th
As the letter that her husband and son sent telling of her passing says, “To all
who knew her, Estelle was a true force of nature a very special person with an
unbridled passion for experiencing and embracing all that life had to offer
music, books, theatre, art and architecture, food, travel, crafts. Her
egalitarian approach and deep respect for people of all ages and backgrounds was
unwavering. Her strong sense of principle informed everything she did and
profoundly influenced those close to her.”
[This obituary is reproduced by courtesy of the