Chavannes Wedding Gown (2012.1.1)

Marie Chavannes’ wedding dress being prepared for exhibit at the Fredericton Region Museum.

What do Fredericton, bubble-wrap, and opera all have in common? Stop into the Fredericton Region Museum on 571 Queen Street to find out! The local museum is now debuting an exhibit that showcases the lovely refurbished wedding gown of 1950s opera star Marie Chavannes. Her strange story just may prove that Fredericton’s footprint on the global opera scene isn’t so recent as one may think.

Before Measha Brueggergosman was even in diapers, the Fredericton-born Exa Marie Chavannes (née Lister) was the original Canadian opera superstar. Marie, as she was known on stage, received rave reviews in the New York Times, and went on perform in a number of operatic roles. She was also the founder of the Chavannes ensemble, a travelling chamber music group. As one reviewer stated in 1956, “Mrs. Chavannes’ unusual vocal control enables her to transcend the difficulties of early English music to convey the beauty inherent in their sustained lines. Meanwhile, her command of tonal color makes her a transcendent interpreter of German lieder and French chansons.”

Another interesting chapter in the Marie Chavannes story is that of her marriage: Marc Chavannes, her husband, was born and raised in Switzerland, where he got in start operating a successful latex processing business. After losing that fortune on Black Friday, he moved to the United States to pursue a career in physics. Chavanne’s most famous invention, however, is one that is immediately recognizable the world over as a household name: Bubble Wrap! Working with American inventor Alfred Fielding, the two founded the American Sealed Air Company with the purpose of developing and marketing their new product. Bubble-wrap was, of course, a massive success, and re-established both Chavannes’ fame and fortune.

The items on display were recently acquired from a cottage in Grand Lake where the Chavannes used to vacation, and were graciously donated last year. Please stop by and learn a bit more about the history of this odd couple, and to see a lovely piece of 1950s bridal ware brought to life. Don’t forget your bubble-wrap!

The Fredericton Region Museum was founded in 1934 by the York Sunbury Historical Society. In 1959, the Museum found permanent headquarters in the Officers’ Quarters (571 Queen Street) in the heart of downtown Fredericton. The Society and Museum remain a non-profit enterprise with a small paid staff and numerous volunteers who work tirelessly to create informative exhibits based on the history of Fredericton and surrounding areas, as well as publish a local history periodical, The Officers’ Quarters.