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A Tribute to Winnifred Sim

Written by Margot Sim, with contributions from MCA

Winnifred Sim passed away peacefully on May 1, 2024 at the age of 93. She was predeceased by her husband Bill, and their children Bryan, Paul and Merrily.

She is dearly missed by her daughter Margot, her nine grandchildren and her four great-grandchildren. Winnifred was born in Winnipeg and attended Cecil Rhodes School and Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute. She met “bicycle Bill” while working at the City of Winnipeg Parks and Recreation Department. They were married for 58 years and happily travelled the world together.
Even at age 3, it was apparent that Winnifred was musically gifted. She was an exceptional accompanist and recitalist, often performing on CBC radio and television. She played for the Manitoba Opera Company, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Rainbow Stage, and soloed with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Winnifred’s love of sacred music began at age 17 when she became organist at Sparling United Church. Her deep love for the music of the church continued for over 60 years as Organist/Choir Leader at Westworth United Church, Elim Chapel and Grace Bible Church (‘filling in’ long past her retirement). Her affiliation with CBC television’s “Hymn Sing” spanned 30 years (1965-1995), first as organist and then as Musical Director.

A tireless committee member and encourager of young musicians, Winnifred was a founding member of the Manitoba Choral Association. Winnifred's dedication to the goals of MCA began as she and Henry Engbrecht lobbied for the formation of a Choral Director’s Association from a table at Tempo 75. She became a champion of the organization and in 1984, chaired the committee that founded the National Youth Choir, which continues to this day. In 2006, she and a team of twelve enthusiastic promoters established MCA’s Endowment Fund with The Winnipeg Foundation. The Fund launched its kick-off at the Provincial Honour Choir’s concert, where it was received with such fervour that the committee broke into a spontaneous rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus! Winnifred chaired the Endowment Campaign, seeing it through to its $250,000 goal, with the slogan “Let’s Keep Manitoba Singing”. She was named an Honorary Member of MCA in 2007.
Winnifred’s association with choirs began in High School when she played for the Daniel McIntyre graduation choir (conducted by Lola MacQuarrie) in 1947. Soon after, she became the accompanist for Filmer Hubble’s Young Women’s Musical Club Choir (later known as the Winnipeg Ladies’ Choir). She held that position for nearly 10 years and was “trusted” to conduct the choir when Filmer was absent. Winnifred became organ accompanist for the semi-professional choir, “The Choristers”, conducted by noted Winnipeg musician and composer, W.H. Anderson. She also learned much as accompanist for Richard Condie (The Mormon Tabernacle Choir) and Robert Wagner (The Robert Wagner Chorale) when they visited Winnipeg as guest conductors.
As a church choir director, Winnifred was a strong believer in the ‘graduated choir system’. In addition to weekly Sunday services, her adult church choirs presented oratorios and cantatas in concert: Handel’s “Messiah”, Haydn’s “The Creation”, Poulenc’s “Gloria” and Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”, to name a few. She would conduct from the organ bench (very rarely hiring an ‘outside’ organist). Her graduated choir system began with Cherubs (pre-school), then a Junior Choir (Grades 1-6) and Intermediate Choir (Teens). Children in the church would experience the love of singing at age 5 and eventually ‘graduate’ (with great fanfare) into the Adult Choir. In her spare time, Winnifred also encouraged and oversaw the development of instrumental ensembles, children’s musicals and a church orchestra.
Winnifred’s work as a choral composer began in 1970 when she quickly hand-wrote an anthem as a birthday present for Doug Watson (at an island cabin that had no piano). ”He Shall Sustain Thee” was later published by Waterloo Music Company. In 2000, Winnifred was commissioned by the MCA to write an anthem for ChoralFest. That anthem, “Think On These Things”, became one of her favourites. Winnifred’s compositions, and those of other Winnipeg composers, became a part of Waterloo Publishing’s “Sacred Choral Series” and “Hymn Sing Choral Series”.
Winnifred applied her personal mantra, “Good, better, best – never let it rest – until the good’s the better and the better is the BEST”, to everything she did. Her influence as a performer, teacher, adjudicator, clinician, conductor and composer is widely known across Canada. She was the recipient of the YM-YWCA “Women of Distinction” award in 1993 and is listed in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada and the International Who’s Who in Music. She has been labelled a “trail-blazer” by the Winnipeg Free Press. All accolades aside, Winnifred simply wanted to be remembered as a “lively person with a zest for life”.
A celebration of Winnifred Sim’s life was held at Grace Bible Church on Saturday, May 25. In lieu of flowers, Winnifred asked that donations be made to the Manitoba Choral Association Endowment Fund. Through those donations, her legacy will live on and benefit choirs for years to come.
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