WHEN Jean Giguère was nominated for a performing arts award from Gov. Gen. David Johnston for her volunteer work, she was taken aback.
Johnston presented Giguère with the 2014 Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Volunteerism in the Performing Arts in Ottawa last month for three decades of volunteering in Winnipeg, including work with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) and Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (MTC).
Giguère is also involved with Culture Days, Canada’s annual national cultural celebration, and serves on boards of Business for the Arts and the Canadian Museum of History.
She said receiving the award caused her to reflect on the past three decades and think about the number of people who worked together to improve the organizations with which she has volunteered.
"I don’t feel the award belongs to me," Giguère said. "I feel the hundreds of volunteers that support the arts across the country have a piece of it. It’s a tribute to them, and it was an honour to accept it on their behalf."
After finishing university in Montreal, where she was born and raised, Giguère worked as a flight attendant for Air Canada. The company relocated her to Winnipeg one February. Unaccustomed to brutal Winnipeg winters, Giguère said she sat in her hotel room, "whining and waiting for spring to arrive."
A phone call with a family member changed her perspective.
"(They) said, you’re in the cultural centre of the country. You can get tickets… get moving and touch base with this whole community."
Giguère fell in love with what Winnipeg has to offer and today considers herself "a born-again Winnipegger." She believes a strong arts and culture landscape makes for a strong city.
"If you took all of that out of everybody’s life, this city would be a very soulless, heartless place," Giguère said.
She joined the RWB board in 1997 and served for five years as board chairwoman. In 2011, she was appointed chairwoman emeritus.
Giguère currently sits on MTC’s advisory board and in the past, served as vice-president (community support), special-events chairwoman and as a member of the executive committee.
Her expertise in the arts led her to help establish Culture Days, an initiative committed to having Canadians make culture a daily habit. She is a member of the national executive, co-chairs Culture Days Manitoba and will chair the 2014 National Culture Days Congress.
Giguère said one of the benefits of volunteering is she learns from each experience. "Some things I’ve jumped into without a lot of knowledge and expertise and emerged richer and smarter."
Giguère said the first volunteer experiences she had after moving to Winnipeg laid the groundwork for what she does today.
That included serving on the board of the United Way and volunteering with the Manitoba Riding for the Disabled Association, a non-profit that provides a therapeutic riding program for children with disabilities.
Her various volunteer efforts have allowed Giguère to see the impact different organizations in the city make. It has also exposed her to a variety of different people, including those who are less fortunate than her.
"I think everybody should be weaving in and out of these (volunteer) opportunities. It takes you out of yourself and into what’s really important."